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South Africa - Cape of Good Hope

During the Cold War Pretoria always claimed to believe, that the Soviet’s ultimate aim in Southern Africa was to install a puppet regime which, at Moscow’s behest, would close the Cape sea route to the west [and give control of South Africa’s mineral resources to the USSR, providing Moscow with a virtual world monopoly on various strategic and precious metals].

The Cape has a long and colorful history, largely due to the search for a sea route to the East, instigated by Prince Henry the Navigator. Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was the first to round the Cape Peninsula in 1488. He named it the “Cape of Storms”, for the notoriously bad weather, which can blow up quickly. By day, it was a landmark of great navigational value until the introduction of radar. By night, and in fog, it was a menace. Ships had to approach closely to obtain bearings and thereby were exposed to the dangers of Bellows Rock and Albatross Rock.

A decade later, Vasco da Gama navigated the same route and sailed up the coast of Africa, successfully opening a new trading route for Europe with India and the Far East. John II of Portugal later renamed it as the “Cape of Good Hope” because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of this new sea route to India and the East.

Although not a chokepoint, the Cape of Good Hope is a major global trade route. The Cape of Good Hope, located on the southern tip of South Africa, is a significant transit point for oil tanker shipments around the globe. EIA estimates about 4.9 million bbl/d of seaborne-traded crude oil moved around the Cape of Good Hope in both directions in 2013, accounting for about 9% of all seaborne-traded oil.

In 2013, 3.6 million bbl/d of crude oil around the world moved eastbound, originating mostly from Africa (2.1 million bbl/d) and from South America and the Caribbean (1.3 million bbl/d). Eastbound crude oil flows were nearly all destined for Asian markets (3.5 million bbl/d). In the opposite direction, nearly all westbound flows originated from the Middle East (1.3 million bbl/d), mostly destined for the Americas, with the United States making up a majority of the total.

The Cape of Good Hope is also an alternative sea route for vessels traveling westward seeking to bypass the Gulf of Aden, Bab el-Mandeb Straits, and/or the Suez Canal. However, diverting vessels around the Cape of Good Hope would increase costs and shipping time. For example, closure of the Suez Canal and the SUMED Pipeline would necessitate diverting oil tankers around the Cape of Good Hope, adding approximately 2,700 miles to transit from Saudi Arabia to the United States, increasing both costs and shipping time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A strange legend exists concerning the circumnavigation of Africa, to the effect that several vessels, manned by Phoenicians, commenced their voyage from the Red Sea, and sailed round Africa, so as to reach Egypt by the straits of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean. Strabo relates this voyage, and states that Eudoxus, in the reign of Ptolemy Euergetes the Second (170—117 12.0.) is reported to have made the attempt. Sir Thomas Herbert in his Travels learnedly descants upon this subject, and quotes “a like tradition of two Carthaginians, who at their return reported that they sailed from some part of India to the Atlantique Sea.”

If such voyages really did take place, it is quite clear that little gain to geographical knowledge was reaped from them, as Strabo described the entire African Continent as less than Europe, and shaped like a right-angled triangle, the base being the distance of Egypt from the Pillars of Hercules. But it is to be observed that, even in the beginning of the seventeenth century, absurd and incorrect ideas of South African geography were entertained.

It appears that in the ninth century the Arabs were acquainted with the African coast so far south as Delagoa Bay, but it is by no means probable that they extended their voyages to the more southern part of the continent. The Portuguese alone can prove a claim to the discovery of the Cape, as well as to the fame of having led the vanguard of European enterprise by that route to India.

The circumstances connected with the discovery of America, and of the passage round the Cape, are in some respects analogous. It was in the same city (Lisbon), and almost in the same year, that both schemes were concerted. Both projects had the East Indies in view as an ultimate object; Columbus merely finding the American continent in his endeavour, by a western route, to reach India. The results in each case were of the utmost consequence to commerce, for although Columbus opened a new world to mercantile enterprise, Diaz and Da Gama may be said to have unlocked the gates of the old one, and thrown open for traffic one of the great ocean highways of the world. The lives of Columbus and Diaz were also, in some important points, by no means dissimilar. The former was virtually supplanted by Amerigo Vespucci ; the latter by Vasco Da Gama.

The prosecution of trade, and the acquirement of riches, as well as the extension of Christianity, were the ruling incentives to maritime discovery. The destruction of the monopoly of Eastern trade enjoyed by the Italian Republics was the chief object which the Portuguese had in view when they fitted out expeditions to sail round Africa to India.

Bartholomew Diaz, a Portuguese navigator of noble birth, had the honour of commanding the first expedition which doubled the Cape, and it was John II., King of Portugal, whose wisdom and enterprise sent it forth. The Cape was doubled without being seen, and a portion of the eastern coast, as far as the mouth of the Great Fish River, reached. Setting sail again, a storm forced them to take shelter in Algoa Bay, Where they anchored on 14 September 1486. The name of Cape of Good Hope was conferred by John the Second, King of Portugal, for that hope which he conceived of a way to the Indies.

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Page last modified: 02-01-2017 19:48:35 ZULU