South Africa is at the southernmost part of the African continent and is a neighbour to Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The first European voyage to South Africa was in 1487 when Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias saw the Cape on his return from the eastern coast of Africa. The Portugese King John II renamed it the point the Cape of Good Hope. Later, Dutch colonisation began in the early 17th century but it wasn't until 1795 that the British occupied parts of the country.
The Union of South Africa was established in 1910, joining together the former British colonies of Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal. A stamp to commemorate the opening of the new Union Parliament was issued in November of that year, but it wasn't until 1913 that a new set of definitive stamps, inscribed with the name of the new country, was made available.
In 1926, a new series of pictorial definitive stamps were issued and would remain in use until 1954. The three values issued in 1926 – ½d Springbok, 1d “Dromedaris”, 6d Orange Tree were the first to be printed in the now-famous “bilingual pairs” format. Each sheet was inscribed alternatively in English and Afrikaans, the two official languages of South Africa at that time. Although pre-printed albums tend to only have spaces for horizontal pairs, collecting these stamps as blocks of 4 gives a much clearer picture of how the two languages alternated on the stamps.
South Africa's first commemorative stamp was that issued in 1910 for the opening of the Union Parliament, and it remained the only such stamp until 1933 when stamps were issued to raise funds for the building of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria. Others include the Silver Jubilee of King George V, the Coronation of King George VI, the “bantams” issued to publicise the World War II effort and a set of four commemorating the Bible Society of South Africa called the "Word of God" stamps.
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