The following lists events that happened during 1871 in South Africa.
- Governor of the Cape of Good Hope and High Commissioner for Southern Africa: Sir Henry Barkly.
- Lieutenant-governor of the Colony of Natal: Robert William Keate.
- State President of the Orange Free State: Jan Brand.
- State President of the South African Republic:
- 27 – British forces march into the Klipdrift Republic and annex the territory as Griqualand West Colony.
- Unknown date
- Gold is discovered at Pilgrim's Creek in the Pilgrim's Rest area.
- When an 83.50 carats (16.700 g) diamond is discovered, a diamond rush results and the town of New Rush springs up.
- 9 January – Eugène Marais, lawyer, naturalist, poet and writer. (d. 1936)
- 7 April – Charlotte Maxeke, religious leader, social worker and political activist. (d. 1939)
Railway lines opened
- 18 February – Namaqualand – Port Nolloth to Muishondfontein, 44 miles 40 chains (71.6 kilometres).
- Two 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge 0-6-0 tank locomotives are placed in service by the Cape of Good Hope Copper Mining Company, the first steam locomotives to enter service on the hitherto mule-powered Namaqualand Railway between Port Nolloth and the Namaqualand copper mines around O'okiep in the Cape Colony.
- Archontology.org: A Guide for Study of Historical Offices, Orange Free State: Heads of State: 1854-1902 (Accessed on 14 April 2017)
- Archontology.org: A Guide for Study of Historical Offices, South African Republic (Transvaal): Heads of State: 1857-1877 (Accessed on 14 April 2017)
- Bagshawe, Peter (2012). Locomotives of the Namaqualand Railway and Copper Mines (1st ed.). Stenvalls. pp. 8–11. ISBN 978-91-7266-179-0.