(AFRICA, EMPIRES and SLAVERY – continued)

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The Boers and British in South Africa, to 1860

The British had taken Cape Colony from the Dutch East India Company while the Netherlands was ruled by Napoleon, a British squadron of ships landing 6000 men and routing the local Dutch in 1806. The British used Cape Colony for provisioning its ships involved in tea and other trading with India and points beyond. At the close of the Napoleonic wars the Congress of Vienna recognized Britain's possession of the colony, the British agreeing to pay six million sterling for it and Guyana in South America, which had been owned by the Dutch West India Company.

The Cape Colony consisted of around 26,000 Europeans, the majority consisting of Dutch Boers (farmers) – as well as 30,000 slaves, 20,000 of mixed race peoples and a few Khoikhoi (Hottentots). Having outlawed the slave trade in 1803, the British were uncomfortable with the slavery that came with the colony. They establish a law that protected slaves from abuse. They encouraged the Boers to give up their slaves and they taxed them, and many Boers looked upon the British as oppressive and naive.

In June 1820 more than two thousand migrants arrived at Cape Colony from Britain – 1610 men and 659 women – looking for land to acquire, land made available by Boers moving just beyond the colony to escape the British. In the coming few years the new colonists were to communicate their disappointment with farming to people back in Britain, discouraging further migration for the purpose of farming.

Slave Emancipation and The Great Trek

In 1833, Britain's parliament passed the Abolition of Slavery Act, to be applied in all of the lands they controlled, set to take effect in August 1834. In 1835 the British began emancipating slaves in the West Indies and in the Cape Colony. Boers still in Cape Colony disliked it, and in 1836 from 10,000 to 14,000 Boers began what was to be known as their Great Trek away from British rule and towards new lands to occupy. The Xhosa people were blocking their movement eastward, and the Boers moved instead in a northern and eastern direction, on horseback and in covered wagons pulled by oxen. They had their slaves with them and their rifles and one book – the Bible. Their racism allowed them to be both libertarians and slave masters. They were militiamen, pioneers and patriarchal Biblical fundamentalists all rolled into one. They believed in their own version of ad hoc justice, and their chauvinism allowed them to believe that whatever land they could take should be theirs – by violence if necessary.

The Boers by-passed Basutoland, in the Drakensburg Mountains, and they made allies with the Rolong, who welcomed them as allies against the Ndebele (Matabele). The Ndebele were warrior-refugees from Zululand and Shaka's wars, and they had been rapacious in claiming new territory for themselves, but the Boers were too much for them. At the Battle of Vegkop, in October 1836, the Boers overpowered the Ndebele. They fought the Ndebele again in late 1837, defeating them decisively, the Ndebele losing an estimated 3,000 and the Boers losing none. The Ndebele retreated northward, and by around 1840 they settled in Matabeleland, on the Zimbabwe plateau, leaving what became known as the Transvaal to the Boers.

Boers also expanded eastward across the Drakensburg Mountains toward the Zulus and Natal. The Zulus attacked, and in December 1838 the Boers counterattacked, their force of 500 routing the Zulus. The River Ncome was renamed Blood River for having turned red with Zulu blood. The Zulu dead has been estimated at 3000.

The leader of the Zulus, Dingane (Shaka's successor) lost prestige. Some followers of Dingane moved their support to his brother, Mpande. Mpande collaborated with the Boers and in 1839 defeated a force led by Dingane. In January 1840, Mpande unseated Dingane, who fled to Swaziland, where he was murdered. Zulu resistance to the Boers had ended, and the Zulus evacuated all territory west and south of the Tugela River.

British, Boers and the Xhosa , 1842 to 1856

In 1842, British troops occupied Natal, and the British annexed the port in 1843 and made it a dependency of Cape Colony. A British company started cotton growing near Natal – the Natal Cotton Company – and one of the company's directors went to Germany in search of settlers. Economically these were hard times for Europeans, a time of bad weather and poor harvests, and in Lower Saxony he found Germans willing to plant cotton for the company. In 1847 the colonists settled in what was called "New Germany" just outside Port Natal, but their attempt to grow cotton failed. Some of the Germans began supplying vegetables to the growing town of Natal. The Natal Cotton Company disbanded and many of the settlers moved inland, forty miles from the coast, to Pietermaritzburg, a town that had been founded by Boers in 1838.

The Boer settlers, meanwhile, were in conflict with blacks called Griqua, just north of Cape Colony. The British intervened and declared the area a dependency of Cape Colony.

In December 1847, the governor of Cape Colony, Harry Smith, proclaimed the southern bank of the Orange River as the Cape Colony's northern boundary. The number of whites at Cape Colony was nearing 140,000, and by 1850 the colony was suffering from a need of skilled labor: bricklayers, printers, carpenters, dressmakers and gardeners.

In 1852, in what is called the Sand River Convention, the British recognized Boer independence, in other words their right to administer their own affairs beyond Cape Colony's border, with the caveat that the Boers end slavery.

The Boers were still fighting what were called Kaffir wars – kaffir a word used by the Boers for blacks. The Boers made incursions against Basutoland, and in 1856 they fought the people there, led ably by their leader, Moshoeshoe.

The Boers were also making incursions into the territories of the Xhosa and the Thembu, just east of Cape Colony. The Xhosa were suffering from diminishing herds, and in 1856 they responded to the hardship the way Jews did around the time of Christ and as Plains Indians soon would in North America: the Xhosa adopted an apocalyptic prophecy. A girl, it is said, had a vision while fetching water. Drawing from the prophecy the Xhosa sacrificed all their cattle and refrained from sowing grain. This, they believed, would bring their ancestors back from the dead, would sweep whites and doubters into the sea and leave them free from warfare and loss of land. Xhosa starved and they dispersed, looking for food and employment, and the Boers increased their expansion into their land.

David Livingstone

A 27-year-old ordained Scottish minister and member of the London Missionary Society, David Livingston, arrived at Cape Colony in 1841. He wished to convert Africans to Christianity, to fight slavery and to enlist Great Britain in his crusade. In 1843 he married the daughter of a British missionary in Africa, and he spent a few years in Bechuana learning languages and customs. In June 1849 he started a trek northward with his wife and two children, two other explorers and African guides. In 1851 he reached the Zambezi River, and in April 1852 he returned to Cape Town and sent his family to England to recover from the rigors of their travel.

Livingston was unpopular at Cape Town. He was believed to be too sympathetic to blacks and to have sold them guns. Opinion in Cape Town resulted in Livingston unable to buy ammunition even for his own weapon in preparing to return to his travels.

Livingston journeyed northward to the Zambezi again, then to Lake Dilolo in February 1854, and on to Luanda, on the Atlantic Coast at the end of May. He returned to the Zambezi River and in November 1855 found the great waterfalls, Musi-o-Tunya, which he named after Britain's queen, Victoria. On May 20, 1856, he arrived on the east coast, near the mouth of the Zambezi, and he returned to England where he was celebrated as a hero.


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