The Cape Times had its origins in the great economic and social boom years that followed the Cape's attainment of "Responsible Government" in 1872.  The first edition of the newspaper was published on 27 March 1876 by then editor Frederick York St Leger. It was the first daily paper in southern Africa, and soon became one of the principal newspapers of the Cape. Modelled on The Times, its primary target was the poor working class, as it attempted to expose early government corruption.
Estimates of readership are maintained by the SAARF with 95% confidence intervals of about 15%. Within the estimated error readership has remained constant since 2009. Methodological changes introduced in 2009 by SAARF make comparison to previous years difficult.