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Expanding frontiers and trade

Boer responses
By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Cape settlers were expanding their territory
northeast. The Trek Boers seeking fresh grazing for their cattle, primarily, led this
expansion. These cattle farmers had no fixed dwelling places and many led a semi-nomadic
existence, moving ceaselessly between summer and winter pastures. As most trek farmers had
large families, the system encouraged swift expansion. The Cape Government had done
nothing to hinder expansion inland since it provided a source of cheap meat.
As the trekkers expansion increased, they inevitably came into conflict with, first, the
Khoikhoi and later the Xhosa people into whose land they were encroaching. This marked
the beginning of the subjugation of the Tembu, Pondo, Fingo and Xhosa in the Transkei. The
Xhosa in particular fought nine wars spanning a century, which gradually deprived them of
their independence and subjugated them to British colonial rule.
In the towns, tension was also increasing between settlers and the Dutch authorities, with the
former becoming increasingly resentful at what they perceived as administrative
interference. Soon the districts of Swellendam and Graaff-Reinette pronounced themselves
independent Republics, though this was short-lived - in 1795 Britain annexed the Cape
This development and, in particular, the emancipation of slaves in 1834, had dramatic effects
on the colony, precipitating the Great Trek, an emigration North and Northeast of about 12
000 discontented Afrikaner farmers, or Boers. These people were determined to live
independently of colonial rule and what they saw as unacceptable racial egalitarianism.
The early decades of the century had seen another event of huge significance - the rise to
power of the great Zulu King, Shaka. His wars of conquest and those of Mzilikazi - a general
who broke away from Shaka on a northern path of conquest - caused a calamitous disruption
of the interior known to Sotho-speakers as the difaqane (forced migration); while Zuluspeakers call it the mfecane (crushing).
Shaka set out on a massive programme of expansion, killing or enslaving those who resisted
in the territories he conquered. Peoples in the path of Shaka's armies moved out of his way,
becoming in their turn aggressors against their neighbours. This wave of displacement spread
throughout Southern Africa and beyond. It also accelerated the formation of several states,
notably those of the Sotho (present-day Lesotho) and of the Swazi (now Swaziland).
This denuded much of the area into which the Trekkers now moved, enabling them to settle
there in the belief that they were occupying vacant territory. Of these Voortrekkers, about
five thousand settled in the area that later became known as the Orange Free State (present
day Free State). The rest headed for Natal (present day KwaZulu-Natal) where they
appointed a delegation, under the leadership of Piet Retief to negotiate with the Zulu King,

Dingaan (Shaka's successor), for land. Initially, Dingaan granted them a large area of land in
the central and southern part of his territory but Retief and his party were later murdered at
the kraal of Dingane.
The newly elected Voortrekker leader, Andries Pretorius, prepared the group for a retaliatory
attack and the Zulu were subsequently defeated at the famous Battle of Blood River, 16
December 1838, leading to the founding of the first Boer Republic in Natal.
Xhosa response
Europeans who came to stay in South Africa first settled in and around Cape Town. As the
years passed, they sought to expand their territory. This expansion was first at the expense of
the Khoikhoi and San, but later Xhosa land was occupied as well. During the later half the
16th century, the Xhosa encountered eastward-moving White pioneers or Trek Boers in the
region of the Fish River. The ensuing struggle was not so much a contest between Black and
White races as a struggle for water, grazing and living space between two groups of farmers.
The first frontier war broke out in 1780 and marked the beginning of the Xhosa struggle to
preserve their land, customs and way of life. It was a struggle that was to increase in
intensity when the 1820 British settlers arrived on the scene.
This embittered struggle involved some of the greatest War Veterans in South Africa's history
e.g. renowned warrior Maqoma (the father of Guerilla Warfare), Sir Harry Smith (military
legend and England's favorite General), Chief Hintsa (martyr) and Adriaan van Jaarsveld
(known as the ruthless 'red captain' among the Xhosa). It was also during these wars that the
Trek-Boers developed the technique of the Laager as a way of defending themselves against a
large enemy force.
Laager: A type of 'military camp', with 5-or more heavy wagons in a circle, and thorn trees
thrust between the openings. In the middle were four wagons in a square, roofed over with
planks and raw hides to serve as protection for women, children and the elderly. Here the
farmers could defend themselves until reinforcements arrived or the enemy decided to retreat.