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The Dutch in South Africa, to 1774

In 1652 the Dutch began anchoring their ships in a bay near the southern tip of Africa, halfway on their voyages to India, to replenish their supply of drinking water and meat. There they found brown-skinned hunter-gatherers called Bushmen and another brown-skinned people they called Hottentots, who called themselves the real people – Khoikhoi. The Khoikhoi were horse riding pastoralists. They welcomed the new opportunity to trade and sold to the Dutch their old and sick animals in exchange for iron, copper, tobacco and beads.

The Dutch sometimes wanted more animals than the Khoikhoi were willing to part with, and the Dutch stole Khoikhoi animals and sailed off, little worried whether angry Khoikhoi would retaliate against the next ship that anchored in the bay.

Dutch trade in India and beyond was in the hands of the Dutch East India Company, and the company decided to improve its position and provisioning at the bay. It built a fort, and it induced a few people to settle there – mainly soldiers released from their contracts who were promised land on which to farm. The new settlement began growing fruit and vegetables, and it built a small hospital.

In 1658 the settlers were given slaves, and the company established regulations for the care and maintenance of the slaves. Every slave transported to the settlement in company ships was to have his own ration of barley, beans and bacon, with pot herbs to flavor the food, fresh fruit, vinegar to make the water more palatable, and they were to be given occasional periods of fresh air on deck. And at the settlement a school was opened to teach the slaves the Dutch language and Christianity.

The settlement – to be known as Cape Town – grew to 6000 acres. There, Dutch ships were picking up a twelve to fourteen-day supply of carrots, beets and other vegetables and a few live sheep. By 1659 Dutch livestock was occupying some native summer grazing land, and Khoikhoi and Bushmen united against the Dutch. They learned the limits of the muzzle-loading guns of the Dutch and drove the Dutch back to their fortress.

Several attempts to break into the fortress failed. Unity between the Khoikhoi and Bushmen broke apart. The Dutch and Africans negotiated, the Khoikhoi arguing that there was not enough grazing land for both Dutch cattle and their cattle, that it was right that the invader give way and that the land the Dutch were expanding upon belonged to the Khoikhoi forever. For the Dutch East India Company the issue was merely power, and reinforcements arrived to bolster that power.

The Dutch and Africans began fighting again in 1673. Some Khoikhoi clans were more hostile to the Dutch than others, and some were more impoverished than others. The Dutch exploited these differences and old clan rivalries. They persuaded impoverished clans to attack the more hostile and prosperous clans. The war ended in 1677 with the more powerful Khoikhoi clan – the Cochoqua – weakened and the Dutch East India Company having larger herds of cattle and sheep.

In the 1680s and 1690s more settlers arrived at Cape Town, including around 200 Huguenots who had been driven from France. Also arriving was a group of orphan girls from Amsterdam – orphanages and poor houses being a source of settlers for the Dutch. And Germans also arrived, looking forward to acquiring farmland.

By the 1700s, local Khoikhoi were decimated. Survivors were attracted by European goods, especially tobacco and brandy. They had begun to sell themselves to the colony as laborers and as servants.

But the Bushmen were less interested in acquiring European goods. Traditionally they were more communal and more interested in sharing rather than acquiring wealth. They continued to resist Dutch expansion, killing settlers and driving Dutch cattle from their hunting grounds and watering holes.

The Dutch colony at Cape Town continued to expand. Settlers were leaving Cape Town in their creaking ox drawn wagons and moving into nearby fertile valleys. They were called Boers (Dutch for farmer), or Afrikaners – Dutch with a mix of Flemish, German and French Huguenot heritage. The Dutch East India Company allowed them to claim farms of 2500 hectares (about 1000 acres) or more.

The Boers were Calvinists, and those who could read had only one book: the Bible. They saw themselves as the chosen people of the Old Testament, and drawing from the Old Testament they concluded that slaves and other blacks were damned by God. Some Boers migrated northward along the coast and others toward the east. Then the northward migration shifted eastward, the two groups meeting half way to the Orange River.

Cape Town was growing in population and in the number of its slaves. Boers who had settled into farming were reluctant to journey there, afraid of leaving the farm unguarded during a trip that might take a couple of weeks. And selling their goods at Cape Town was risky because when they arrived they were taxed at the town's gate for the goods they brought with them, and when they left no tax returns were given for goods not sold. But the Boers had to go to Cape Town for marriage licenses and for wills.

By the late 1760s, Boers were confronting the Bantu-speaking people around Xhosa. The Bantu were also recent migrants to the area, and like the Boers they were eager to acquire land. Despite the view of Africans by Boers in general, some single Boer men married Bantu women, some in the Bantu custom of polygamy.

Boers and Bantu traded and lived side by side in peace, but by the 1770s a series of "frontier wars" – also called the Kaffir wars – began between the Boers and the Bantu, with African servants of the Boers fleeing to the Bantu.

The Boers were also fighting Bushmen, who were raiding Boer cattle and attacking Boer families. Boer raiding parties attacked the Bushmen, a raid against the Bushmen in 1774, aided by Khoikhoi trackers, killing around 500 Bushmen and taking nearly 300 prisoners. The Boers were driving the Bushmen toward the Kalahari desert and making servants of children orphaned during their raids.


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