Settlers and Khoekhoe
| The Khoekhoe watched
the arrival of Van Riebeeck without apparent concern. In various clans they
numbered between 4,000 and 8,000 in the region of the Cape Peninsula.
Khoe culture laid great emphasis upon the ownership of animal
stock - by which a man's status was determined. Leadership therefore rested
upon retaining large private herds. These also served for food and barter with
However, there was no concept of the private ownership of land.
The Khoe were semi-nomadic and each clan followed its own traditional migratory
Three different Khoe clans used land around the Cape Peninsula
to graze their herds of cattle and sheep. Land was shared and groups never
spent more than a few months in one area. They expected the Dutch to do the
same - that they would remain for a while and then sail away, as they had
always done in the past.
During the first year of VOC occupation, bartering continued as it had before
with passing ships. But as the Khoe continued on their normal migratory routes
they found the area of the gardens enclosed by thorn trees and soldiers warned
them off camping near the fort. The Khoe threatened to invade the castle, and
the Dutch backed down.
The Dutch pressed the Khoe to trade more and more animals, but the Khoe
refused, since their leaders feared that further losses of cattle would
diminish their political status. The Dutch did not understand this and took the
refusal as a slight.
The Dutch already held the Khoe in contempt. Recalling previous
hostilities, Van Riebeeck wrote 'they are not to be trusted, being a brutal
gang.. our people have been killed' (Worden et al pg 16). But he bided his
time until strong enough to enforce his will upon the Khoe.
Meanwhile, his men kept sheep on Robben Island and hunted
seals, penguins and wild animals, dramatically reducing the herds of antelope.
Nevertheless, with hard labour, disease and harsh weather their position and
morale became critical. Supplies of food had to be sent by the VOC to save
|Farmers Claim the Land
| The VOC intended the Cape station to produce goods not
available from the Khoe such as bread, wine and vegetables and to supply
firewood and workshop facilities. As relations with the Khoe deteriorated it
was clear that the small settlement at the Cape was precarious and that to be
able to supply its own needs and those of passing ships, the settlement would
have to become larger and develop several farms.
Thus it was agreed that some men should be released from their
contracts to become private farmers ('free burghers') and sell their produce to
the trading station. It was a fateful decision, that would inexorably lead to
colonial development. In due time these men became known as 'Boers'
| The first nine free burghers were allocated 20 acre plots
along the Liesbeeck river at Rondebosch in 1657. This was important grazing
land on the migratory routes of three Khoe clans, and as they arrived in early
summer, they broke down the new hedges and grazed their cattle on the farmland
- not recognising any right to private land ownership.
Tensions mounted. By the end of 1658 there were 51 'free
burghers'. In 1659 open warfare broke out and lasted a year. Inevitably, the
Khoe, lacking guns, came off worse. Van Riebeeck determined to secure the
peninsula and so in 1660 built watchtowers and planted a wild almond hedge (a
section of it's thick tangle still grows in Kirstenbosch gardens) - he thus
enclosed 2,430 ha (6,000 acres) and excluded the Khoe from vital grazing land
and water supplies.
War with the Khoe broke out again in 1673 and continued until 1677. The Khoe
clans, divided and overwhelmed, could not protect their herds and they were
raided by the settlers. If they were caught attempting to re-capture their
stock, they were chained, branded and imprisoned on Robben Island by the VOC.
Without cattle Khoe leaders lost authority and the clans
disintegrated as social structures. Families dispersed. Some fled into the
mountains to join the San. Others lost their pride and offered to work as
shepherds for the Boers.
|Slaves are Brought to the Cape
| Van Riebeeck was determined to complete ambitious capital
projects. He needed to finish the fort, work the gardens, build a strong jetty
and develop infrastructure. All of this required timber, which was not easily
available and the small forests nearby were rapidly depleted. He sent
woodcutters to Hout Bay and sent for non-indigenous trees and planted them in
With large on-going capital projects, security problems, farms
and gardens to be worked, sickness and mortality, Van Riebeeck faced acute
labour shortages at the Cape. The Khoe refused to work for the settlers and
sailors were reluctant. Therefore, van Riebeeck requested the VOC to send
slaves to the Cape, another fateful decision.
The first shipload arrived from Dahomey (Benin), and then more
from a captured Portuguese ship carrying Angolans. More slaves were brought
from Madagascar and Mozambique. In coming years many more slaves, convicts and
political prisoners arrived from VOC bases in India, Ceylon and Indonesia.
Soon, there were as many slaves as Europeans, with more
imported continuously, although with a high slave mortality there were always
roughly equal numbers of slaves and Europeans in the colony. In total, sixty
thousand slaves were imported to the Cape between 1658 and 1807, the most
common single origin being Sulawesi (Celebes) in Indonesia.
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