A chronology of key events:
4th Century - Migrants from the north settle, joining the indigenous San and Khoikhoi people.
1480s - Portuguese navigator Bartholomeu Dias is the first European to travel round the southern tip of Africa.
1497 - Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama lands on Natal coast.
1652 - Jan van Riebeeck, representing the Dutch East India Company, founds the Cape Colony at Table Bay.
1795 - British forces seize Cape Colony from the Netherlands. Territory is returned to the Dutch in 1803; ceded to the British in 1806.
1816-1826 - Shaka Zulu founds and expands the Zulu empire, creates a formidable fighting force.
1835-1840 - Boers leave Cape Colony in the 'Great Trek' and found the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.
1852 - British grant limited self-government to the Transvaal.
1856 - Natal separates from the Cape Colony.
Late 1850s - Boers proclaim the Transvaal a republic.
1860-1911 - Arrival of thousands of labourers and traders from India, forebears of the majority of South Africa's current Indian population.
1867 - Diamonds discovered at Kimberley.
1877 - Britain annexes the Transvaal.
1879 - British defeat the Zulus in Natal.
1880-81 - Boers rebel against the British, sparking the first Anglo-Boer War. Conflict ends with a negotiated peace. Transvaal is restored as a republic.
1880s - Gold is discovered in the Transvaal, triggering the gold rush.
1899 - British troops gather on the Transvaal border and ignore an ultimatum to disperse. The second Anglo-Boer War begins.
1902 - Treaty of Vereeniging ends the second Anglo-Boer War. The Transvaal and Orange Free State are made self-governing colonies of the British Empire.
1910 - Formation of Union of South Africa by former British colonies of the Cape and Natal, and the Boer republics of Transvaal, and Orange Free State.
1912 - Native National Congress founded, later renamed the African National Congress (ANC).
1913 - Land Act introduced to prevent blacks, except those living in Cape Province, from buying land outside reserves.
1914 - National Party founded.
1918 - Secret Broederbond (brotherhood) established to advance the Afrikaner cause.
1919 - South West Africa (Namibia) comes under South African administration.
1934 - The Union of South Africa parliament enacts the Status of the Union Act, which declares the country to be "a sovereign independent state". The move followed on from Britain's passing of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, which removed the last vestiges of British legal authority over South Africa.
Apartheid set in law
1948 - Policy of apartheid (separateness) adopted when National Party (NP) takes power.
1950 - Population classified by race. Group Areas Act passed to segregate blacks and whites. Communist Party banned. ANC responds with campaign of civil disobedience, led by Nelson Mandela.
1960 - Seventy black demonstrators killed at Sharpeville. ANC banned.
1961 - South Africa declared a republic, leaves the Commonwealth. Mandela heads ANC's new military wing, which launches sabotage campaign.
1960s - International pressure against government begins, South Africa excluded from Olympic Games.
1964 - ANC leader Nelson Mandela sentenced to life imprisonment.
1966 September - Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd assassinated.
1970s - More than 3 million people forcibly resettled in black 'homelands'.
1976 - More than 600 killed in clashes between black protesters and security forces during uprising which starts in Soweto.
1984-89 - Township revolt, state of emergency.
1989 - FW de Klerk replaces PW Botha as president, meets Mandela. Public facilities desegregated. Many ANC activists freed.
1990 - ANC unbanned, Mandela released after 27 years in prison. Namibia becomes independent.
1991 - Start of multi-party talks. De Klerk repeals remaining apartheid laws, international sanctions lifted. Major fighting between ANC and Zulu Inkatha movement.
1993 - Agreement on interim constitution.
1994 April - ANC wins first non-racial elections. Mandela becomes president, Government of National Unity formed, Commonwealth membership restored, remaining sanctions lifted. South Africa takes seat in UN General Assembly after 20-year absence.
1996 - Truth and Reconciliation Commission chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu begins hearings on human rights crimes committed by former government and liberation movements during apartheid era.
1996 - Parliament adopts new constitution. National Party withdraws from coalition, saying it is being ignored.
1998 - Truth and Reconciliation Commission report brands apartheid a crime against humanity and finds the ANC accountable for human rights abuses.
1999 - ANC wins general elections, Thabo Mbeki takes over as president.
2000 December - ANC prevails in local elections. Recently-formed Democratic Alliance captures nearly a quarter of the votes. The Inkatha Freedom Party wins 9%.
2001 April - 39 multi-national pharmaceutical companies halt a legal battle to stop South Africa importing generic Aids drugs. The decision is hailed as a victory for the world's poorest countries in their efforts to import cheaper drugs to combat the virus.
2001 May - An official panel considers allegations of corruption surrounding a 1999 arms deal involving British, French, German, Italian, Swedish and South African firms. In November the panel clears the government of unlawful conduct.
2001 September - Durban hosts UN race conference.
2001 December - High Court rules that pregnant women must be given Aids drugs to help prevent transmission of the virus to their babies.
2002 April - Court acquits Dr Wouter Basson - dubbed "Dr Death" - who ran apartheid-era germ warfare programme. Basson had faced charges of murder and conspiracy. ANC condemns verdict.
2002 July - Constitutional court orders government to provide key anti-Aids drug at all public hospitals. Government had argued drug was too costly.
2002 October - Bomb explosions in Soweto and a blast near Pretoria are thought to be the work of right-wing extremists. Separately, police charge 17 right-wingers with plotting against the state.
2003 May - Walter Sisulu, a key figure in the anti-apartheid struggle, dies aged 91. Thousands gather to pay their last respects.
2003 November - Government approves major programme to treat and tackle HIV/Aids. It envisages network of drug-distributon centres and preventative programmes. Cabinet had previously refused to provide anti-Aids medicine via public health system.
2004 April - Ruling ANC wins landslide election victory, gaining nearly 70% of votes. Thabo Mbeki begins a second term as president. Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi is dropped from the cabinet.
2005 March - Investigators exhume the first bodies in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigation into the fates of hundreds of people who disappeared in the apartheid era.
2005 May - Geographical names committee recommends that the culture minister should approve a name change for the capital from Pretoria to Tshwane.
2005 June - President Mbeki sacks his deputy, Jacob Zuma, in the aftermath of a corruption case.
2005 August - Around 100,000 gold miners strike over pay, bringing the industry to a standstill.
2006 May - Former deputy president Jacob Zuma is acquitted of rape charges by the High Court in Johannesburg. He is reinstated as deputy leader of the governing African National Congress.
2006 June - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits and promises to limit clothing exports to help South Africa's ailing textile industry.
2006 September - Corruption charges against former deputy president Zuma are dismissed, boosting his bid for the presidency.
2006 December - South Africa becomes the first African country, and the fifth in the world, to allow same-sex unions.
2007 April - President Mbeki, often accused of turning a blind eye to crime, urges South Africans to join forces to bring rapists, drug dealers and corrupt officials to justice.
2007 May - Cape Town mayor Helen Zille is elected as new leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).
2007 June - Hundreds of thousands of public-sector workers take part in the biggest strike since the end of apartheid. The strike lasts for four weeks and causes widespread disruption to schools, hospitals and public transport.
2007 December - Zuma is elected chairman of the ANC, placing him in a strong position to become the next president. Prosecutors bring new corruption charges against him.
2008 May - Wave of violence directed at foreigners hits townships across the country. Dozens of people die and thousands of Zimbabweans, Malawians and Mozambicans return home.
2008 September - A judge throws out a corruption case against ruling ANC party chief Jacob Zuma, opening the way for him to stand as the country's president in 2009.
President Mbeki resigns over allegations that he interfered in the corruption case against Mr Zuma. ANC deputy leader Kgalema Motlanthe is chosen by parliament as president.
New party launched
2008 December - A new political party is launched in Bloemfontein, in the first real challenge to the governing ANC. The Congress of the People - or Cope - is made up largely of defectors from the ANC and is headed by former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota.
2009 January - Appeals court rules that state prosecutors can resurrect their corruption case against ANC leader Jacob Zuma, opening the way for Mr Zuma's trial to be resumed, just months before general election.
2009 April - Public prosecutors drop corruption case against Jacob Zuma.
ANC wins general election.
2009 May - Parliament elects Jacob Zuma as president.
Economy goes into recession for first time in 17 years.
2009 July - Township residents complaining about poor living conditions mount violent protests.
2010 June - South Africa hosts the World Cup football tournament.
2010 August - Civil servants stage nation-wide strike.
2011 May - Local elections, with opposition Democratic Alliance nearly doubling its share of the vote since the last poll.
President Zuma mediates in Libyan conflict.
2011 October - President Zuma sacks two ministers accused of corruption.
Opposition Democratic Alliance picks a black woman - Lindiwe Mazibuko - as its leader in parliament.
Trouble within ANC
2011 November - The ANC suspends its controversial and influential youth leader, Julius Malema, for five years for bringing the party into disrepute.
National Assembly overwhelmingly approves information bill accused by critics of posing a threat to freedom of speech. The ANC says it is needed to safeguard national security.
2012 July - Member of white extremist group found guilty of plotting to kill Mandela and trying to overthrow government.
2012 August-October - Police open fire on workers at a platinum mine in Marikana, killing at least 34 people, and leaving at least 78 injured and arresting more than 200 others. Prosecutors drop murder charges in September against 270 miners after a public outcry, and the government sets up a judicial commission of inquiry in October.
2012 September - Former ANC youth leader Julius Malema is charged with money laundering over a government tender awarded to a company partly owned by his family trust. Mr Malema says the case is a politically motivated attempt to silence his campaign against President Zuma, in particular over the Marikana shootings.
2012 October - Platinum mine owner Amplats fires 12,000 striking miners as wave of wildcat strikes shows little sign of abating.
2013 December - Nelson Mandela dies, aged 95. Tributes to "the father of the nation" flood in from throughout the world.
Fall of Zuma
2013 March - The anti-corruption ombudsman heavily criticises President Zuma for a twenty million dollar upgrade to his private home.
2014 May - Ruling ANC party wins a majority in general elections.
2014 October - Paralympics athlete Oscar Pistorius - nicknamed the ''Blade Runner'' because of his prosthetic limbs - is sentenced to five years in jail for killing his girlfriend.
2015 February - President Zuma announces plans to limit farm sizes and ban foreign farmland-ownership in an attempt to redistribute land to black farmers - a longstanding ANC pledge.
Power utility Eskom rations electricity to prevent power cuts, blaming years of poor maintenance.
2015 March-April - A spate of anti-immigrant attacks leaves several people dead.
2015 June - Government receives unwelcome international attention over allegations of bribery to disgraced international footballing body Fifa to secure 2010 World Cup, and allowing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to visit despite International Criminal Court arrest warrant over genocide and war-crimes charges.
2016 March - Supreme Court rules President Zuma violated the constitution for not repaying public money used to improve his private residence.
2017 April - President Zuma dismisses widely-respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, leading to the country's credit rating being cut to junk status.
2018 February - President Zuma resigns under pressure from the governing ANC over corruption charges, which chooses veteran trade unionist and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa as his successor.