The 227 Years Of 19 Conquest Wars And Resistance
From 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape, starting with an almost immediate ‘cold war’ until 1658, the European colonists continued 19 wars of conquest over 227 years. From 1652 – 1806 these took place under Dutch rule and they continued until 1879 under British rule.
It is often falsely projected that the ancestors of those classified ‘Coloured’, Camissa Africans, whether San, Khoe or Enslaved Africans and Asians, did not resist the colonial onslaught. History however shows that not only did they resist but they did so more fiercely and for the longest period of any other people on the African continent.
Resistance has also purposefully been separated by colonial historians into ethnic silos and any forms of united action across ethnic lines has been airbrushed out of narratives. Throughout these wars of resistance one can see alliances between different African societies – Cape Khoe, Xhosa, Gqunukhwebe, San, Nama and Orlam where camaraderie ran very deep, regardless of European divide and rule tactics and the collaboration by some among all groups other than the San. Here follows the list of these wars and rebellions:
A cold war took place between the Dutch led by Jan van Riebeeck and the Watermans (ǁAmmaqua) led by Autshumao which involved seizure of the water resources (Camissa River), the forced physical removal of the ǁAmmaqua from the area today known as the City Bowl, and the ending of the Khoe free trade with visiting European ships. This cold war period ended with the incarceration of Autshumao on Robben Island as the first local political prisoner of the Dutch. This also led to the establishment of the first Dutch fortifications in the form of redoubts and a wild almond hedge barrier.
The first Dutch-Indigene war of resistance and conquest where the Khoe attempted to reclaim ǁHui !Gaeb(the Cape Peninsula). While the war led by Doman (Nommoa) ended in a stalemate the Dutch asserted the law of conquest (falling to the sword as asserted by Jan van Riebeeck in his journal) and succeeded in enforcing a peace that was favourable to themselves. This resulted in the expulsion of the Khoe from the Peninsula.
The second and protracted Dutch war of aggression against the Cochoqua Khoe in which land, livestock and water resources was targeted.
The third Dutch war of conquest targeted at the Cape San or ǀXam people in support of the new ‘grazing-rights’ system extended to the Trek-Boers by the VOC in expansion land grabs from the Khoe and San. It was met by fierce resistance of the San.
The fourth Dutch-Indigene war of resistance and conquest which created the new expanded Stellenbosch District alongside the Cape District and the militarisation of the frontier with a series of VOC military posts being established because of the long distance from the Castle of Good Hope.
The fifth Dutch-Indigene war of resistance and conquest saw the Nama in the west and Gqunukhwebe-Gonaqua in the east engage in guerrilla warfare against the Dutch for livestock defence from 1716 to 1719. The war saw the beginning of large-scale massacre and the complete seizure of their livestock herds at the hands of the Jacob van Heijden’s barter gang, who were nothing but thieves and murderers – privateers contracted by the VOC. During this war period the eastern push by trekboers into the interior opened two new districts – those of Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet.
The sixth Dutch-Indigene war of resistance and conquest was one of forced removals, pacification, and stabilisation of the long three new frontiers of the Cape from east to west. This was a paradigm-shift war that changed the nature of conflict between colonists and indigenes. It marked the first steps towards the consolidation of the emergent family of colonial districts of the Cape Colony – the original Cape District and three new frontier districts: Stellenbosch, Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet.
The seventh Dutch-Indigene war of resistance and conquest broke out when the Khoe, largely the Griguriqua and their ǀXam allies, grievances spilled over into rebellion and the Dutch settlers responded with laissez-faire commandos who meted out swift and brutal retaliation including public crucifixions and displays of dismembered bodies left in the sun to rot as deterrents. Many Khoe were also sent as prisoners to Robben Island.
The eighth Dutch-Indigene war of resistance and conquest was the start of a form of warfare that was different to that of the earlier years. During the 15-yearperiod from 1774 to 1789 the focus of the conflict was the Dutch mission to cleanse Bushmanland, or ǀXamka, and the mountainous territory through to the Eastern Cape of ǀXam people whom they regarded as non-human vermin that had to be exterminated. The ǀXam had shown that they had no interest in accommodating the Europeans or their farming way of life, and they would fight to the death rather than be forced into worthless peace treaties. The Dutch settlers backed by the VOC authority responded with genocide against the ǀXam with massacres of the ǀXam people becoming a common occurrence.
The ninth Dutch-Indigene War of resistance and conquest was a continuation of Veldkommandant Opperman’s offensive, but it was also one war where the ǀXam were the victors and made the settlers and commandos beat a retreat. It started in 1775 with the Seekoei Massacre, a sting operation where a hippopotamus was killed and left for the San and when they were feasting the commandos appeared and slaughtered as many San as they could. This outrage spurred the ǀXam on to launch their own offensive, moving in on farms, raiding large numbers of livestock and killing their opponents. The nature of the war changed dramatically under the direction of the legendary ǀXam leader Koerikei who held out in the mountains for many years and ran circles around the commandos. Casualties mounted. Opperman was outmatched, short on munitions and manpower, and the rear forces of the settlers and the VOC were slow to respond. By the time there was a response, Van Jaarsveld’s commando had abandoned the fight and retreated. The Sneeuberg and Camdeboo settler communities were left exposed, and they had to establish a new defence team using different tactics. The war was lulled to a stalemate by 1777.
The tenth Dutch-Indigene war of resistance and conquest started in 1778, which was the year the VOC governor at the Cape Joachim van Plettenberg embarked on a personal tour of the frontier, which for the first time was mapped, and formalised. The ǀXam were hunted and pursued to the last man with massacres of San becoming the order of the day. It was the period of systematic genocide against the Cape San leaving only around 10% of the population still alive in the region at the end of this period. A report to the British Parliament in 1837 by the Aborigines’ Protection Society gave just two examples of this genocide based on claims by European members of commandos of 5,900 killings that they were involved in. Between 10 000 and 15 000 Cape San were killed at this time of the last years of Dutch rule at the Cape.
The eleventh war of resistance or the first united Xhosa and Khoe wars of which there were nine and lasted for 100 years until 1879. These conflicts are known variously as the Xhosa Resistance Wars or the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars. The presentation of these wars simply as ‘Xhosa’ wars is inaccurate because throughout the wars the resister Khoe fought in unity with the Xhosa against the Boers, and then against the British after the Dutch. Both Boer and British forces were supported by collaborator Khoe militia. A leader such as Makhanda was in fact born of a Xhosa father and a Khoe mother. He was also married to Khoe leader, Hans Trompetter’s sister. The course of this first war was set when the Dutch-Boer commando under Adriaan van Jaarsveld, moved into the territory occupied by mixed Khoe and Xhosa communities in the Zuurveld district. It was occupied by the Gonaqua, Gqunukhwebe, Ntinde, Gwali, Dinge and the Mbala, and by the Rharhabe Xhosa, which by this time was the dominant grouping. By July 1781 Van Jaarsveld made an exaggerated claim to be victorious and said that all indigenous African forces had been driven out of the Zuurveld territory. As history shows, the Zuurveld was only cleared by the British under John Graham by means of scorched-earth and genocidal tactics in 1811.
The twelfth war of resistance and second united Xhosa-Khoe resistance started with trekboer raids on Khoe and Xhosa cattle herds in the contested Zuurveld terrain. But there also was conflict between some of the trekboers themselves. Rebel farmers among the settlers such as Barend Lindeque and Coenraad de Buys (who had taken Khoe, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana and Ndebele wives as he moved from location to location in his journey across South Africa) joined Ndlambe of the dominant Rharhabe Xhosa who were established within the Zuurveld. The Rharhabe incorporated the Gqunukhwebe which was a confederation of Xhosa, Gonaqua and other Khoe who had relocated to the Zuurveld after having initially been expelled by Van Jaarsveld’s commandos. The frontier farmers who had returned to the Zuurveld in the face of the indigenes returning fled once again. Once again, two government commandos from Graaff-Reinet and Swellendam tried to cleanse the Zuurveld of Xhosa and Khoe African communities. This continued until 1793 when a peace treaty was signed, with the Dutch forces conceding that the Xhosa could not be forced out of the Zuurveld.
The thirteenth war of resistance or the third united Xhosa resistance occurred after the government of the first British occupation at the Cape (1795–1803) sent a contingent of British soldiers under General TP Vandeleur to crush a revolt by Boers in Graaff-Reinet in 1799. It was during this time that Vandeleur met the Khoe on the road near Algoa Bay and that John Barrow, who had been with him, recorded the articulate protesting voice of Klaas Stuurman. In April 1799 a Khoe-Xhosa Confederacy had been established to resist the continued advance of trekboers into Khoe and Xhosa territory and the raiding of cattle by these invaders. The Khoe were also incensed at the brutal behaviour on farms bordering their communities where Khoe had been pressed into labour alongside the enslaved. In 1801 the Khoe under Klaas Stuurman, Hans Trompetter and Boesak united with Xhosa forces swooped on farms throughout the Zuurveld, down to Swellendam and right through to Oudtshoorn. Commandos from Graaff-Reinet and Swellendam were then quickly mobilised to counter the attacks, and the British and Boers were forced into an alliance of expediency. Colonists abandoned their farms in the face of widespread Khoe revolt. The issues of this war were socio-political and economic as the Khoe were now not just fighting about land, livestock and resources, but were also making demands for an end to conscription of Khoe, for freedom of movement, and for a halt to the violence and ill treatment of both Khoe and enslaved farmworkers. Before the British government ceded the Cape administration to the Batavian Republic in early1803, a peace favourable to the Khoe was signed by Klaas Stuurman. Neither the Khoe nor the Xhosa could be made to leave the Zuurveld, and there was an agreement that all Khoe labourers would have written contracts and better working conditions.
In the course of all of these wars were a number of revolts of enslaved and Khoe, but in 1808 one of these rebellions was numerically large and it took on the character of a military campaign.
The ‘Jij’ rebellion of enslaved and Khoe labourers on 25 October 1808 was the largest recorded uprising of enslaved people at the Cape and was followed by the largest-ever treason trial in South African history after its defeat. Though the rebellion was led by the enslaved, both Khoe and enslaved rebels participated in it. This uprising took on the character of a military-style campaign and culminated in a treason trial, followed by executions and other severe punishments. For three days, over 326 enslaved labourers, a few indentured Khoe labourers, and two Irish sailors participated in this organised rebellion plotted at a waterfront tavern and launched from the Swartland wheat belt. The leader of this rebellion was a 30-year-old enslaved man by the name of Louis van Mauritius. The participants in the Cape revolt had in a short period and in a relatively well-organised campaign, not without serious problems, taken over 40 farms and captured the farmers and their families. Using little violence, they covered the Malmesbury and Swartland areas, Blouberg, and Tyger Valley and managed to reach the outskirts of Cape Town at Salt River. Governor Lord Caledon sent out the dragoon cavalry from the castle, who checked the advance of the two columns of rebels at Salt River and rounded most of them up. The treason trial that followed labelled the revolt a ‘rebellion and evil deed’. A statement by Abraham van der Kaap was raised in court to define the revolt: ‘Tomorrow when the bloody red flag of battle goes up and the fight for freedom is complete, you will be able to address your owners as Sij (she) or Jij (you)’. Slave owners were entitled not to be addressed familiarly or equally as ‘jij’ (‘you’). They were only to be addressed as ‘master`, ‘madam’ or ‘thou’. The central point in the trial clearly illustrates the motive for the rebellion – a fight for ‘freedom and equality` – symbolised by these expressions of familiarity and of being on an equal footing. Sixteen of the rebels were condemned to death. The governor intervened to commute 11 of the death sentences. Louis van Mauritius, the Irishman James Hooper, Abraham van der Kaap, Jephta of Batavia and Cupido van Java were sentenced to hanging for their leadership in the act of rebellion. Most of enslaved rebels were given a broad sentence for being rebellious and handed over to their owners for punishment or ‘correction as they saw fit’. A group of 46 enslaved rebels were given various heavy sentences, including imprisonment on Robben Island.
The fourteenth war of resistance or the fourth united Xhosa and Khoe war of resistance came about after the British government at the Cape sent Colonel Richard Collins to tour the frontier areas in 1809 and assess the situation. Based on his recommendations, a decision was taken to expel all Xhosa and Khoe from the Zuurveld in contravention of the treaty concluded after the previous war.
The colonial authorities resolved that the Zuurveld be densely settled by Europeans, while the area between the Fish and the Keiskamma rivers should become an unpopulated strip of land with no occupants, whether settler or indigene. It involved the expelling of 20 000 Africans from their land and then settling that land with a mass influx of 5 000 British immigrants. In 1811, Colonel John Graham, allied with Landdrost Anders Stockenstrom of Graaff-Reinet who headed the free burgher forces, swooped on the Zuurveld with an army made up of British, Boers and colony-aligned Khoe militia. These forces drove every man, woman, and child -Gqunukhwebe-Gonaqua, Ndlambe Xhosa and other rebel Khoe, across the Fish River.
Governor John Cradock instructed Graham to follow a scorched-earth approach, referring to ‘the expediency of destroying the Kaffir kraals, laying waste their gardens and fields and in fact totally removing any object that could hold out to their chiefs an inducement to revisit the regained territory.’ On one occasion Graham told Governor Cradock that ‘the most effectual measure... would be to pursue parties of plundering Kaffirs to the kraal they belong to, and if possible, burn their huts and destroy every man Kaffir it contains.’ It is on record that the elderly Chief Chungwa of the Gqunukhwebe-Gonaqua was killed by soldiers in his hut while asleep. Rev John Campbell of the London Missionary Society, who visited the Zuurveld in 1813, said: ‘Formerly it was strewn over with Kaffir villages, but now not a living soul is to be found. Universal stillness reigns.’
The fifteenth war of resistance or the fifth united Xhosa and Khoe war of resistance occurred as a result of the British colonial forces, allied with Ngqika, in invading the Xhosa territory in December 1818 in violation of the earlier treaty recognising the land as Xhosa territory. They defeated Ndlambe, but when the British departed, a united force of Xhosa, dismayed at Ngqika’s collaboration with colonists against his own people, supported Ndlambe in defeating Nqgika. Late in December 1818 Ngqika and the British forces launched an attack on Ndlambe’s warriors to teach them a lesson. When they left, however, Ndlambe was again able to defeat Ngqika, and then assembled a large army led by his now powerful and popular military adviser, Makhanda, and took the war of resistance into the Colony in alliance with the resister Khoe under David Stuurman and Hans Trompetter. With a force of up to 10 000 men Makhanda attacked Grahamstown in April 1819. The attack was repulsed by the British on;ly with the fortuitous help of a Khoe collaborator, Jan Boezak, and 180 of his men. At a low point for the British garrison, which ran out of ammunition, Boezak saved the day for the British and allowed British reinforcements to defeat Ndlambe and push their control back as far as the Kei River. Concerned about the Xhosa losses, Makhanda, surrendered. He is quoted as telling the British: ‘People say that I occasioned this war. Let me see if giving myself up will restore the peace’. Along with David Stuurman and other Xhosa prisoners of war, Makhanda was transported by ship to Cape Town and sent to Robben Island. Makhanda drowned in an escape bid. David Stuurman survived the escape but was captured and exiled to Australia where he died.
The sixteenth war of resistance or sixth Xhosa war marked a new colonial push to expropriate land, important rivers and livestock of the Xhosa,and to extend the pacification and Christianisation campaign to subjugate the Xhosa. In 1829 Maqoma and his Xhosa people were expelled the Kat River area and pushed to the territory further east and later to the Tyume Valley, but in 1833 they and some other Ngqika leaders and their people were again forcibly removed. In 1834 the British authorities under Governor Sir Benjamin D’Urban attempted to institute a complex civil defence system in the region, and settlers formed militia that put increased pressure on the Xhosa. On 31 December 1834, the Xhosa, numbering 12 000 fighting men led by Maqoma, Tyali and other Ngqika Xhosa leaders, together with the Ndlambe Xhosa, revolted against the colonists and British forces. Initially the African forces got the upper hand, but the tide of the war turned when British reinforcements and armaments were brought in by ship. The Xhosa were defeated at Trompetter’s Drift on the Fish River, and at the Sunday’s and Bushman’s River. Maqoma, Tyali and Umhala retreated to the Amatole Mountains where they continued a guerrilla war.
In the meanwhile, D’Urban believed that Hintsa, the leader of the Gcaleka Xhosa, was responsible for the attack on the Colony and was in possession of the colonists’ livestock. He led a force of troops against King Hintsa at his residence across the Kei River and dictated terms to him. The territory between the Keiskamma and Kei rivers was annexed and declared to be Queen Adelaide Province of the British Colony of the Cape of Good Hope. All Xhosa were to be expelled from the territory except for those who declared loyalty to the Crown and accepted the terms defining loyalty. Hintsa was actually not militarily involved in the war, though had indicated his approval to the other Xhosa leaders. After the attack on his territory in which the British used scorched-earth tactics, in May 1835 Hintsa decided to go voluntarily to the British camp at Butterworth and negotiate with the British. Though he had been assured of his personal safety, Sir Harry Smith, who led the British forces along with D’Urban, held him hostage and demanded a ransom of 25 000 cattle and 500 horses. Hintsa refused and was taken away as a captive. On their way from Butterworth near the Nqabarha River, Hintsa tried to escape and was pursued by Smith and a colonial volunteer George Southey. When Smith and Southey had caught up with him, Southey shot Hintsa once in the leg and again in the back of his head. Hintsa’s body was mutilated, and his ears cut off.
Though Maqoma was the leading combatant, this war is remembered with two names, Maqoma’s War, and also Hintsa’s War, because the non-combatant peace negotiator was captured and killed and his body mutilated after an act of resistance. In 1836, after it proved impossible to expel all the Xhosa and the British Government’s refusal to endorse D’Urban’s annexation, a new set of treaties were drafted to make the various Xhosa leaders responsible for keeping order beyond the Fish River.
The seventeenth war of resistance or seventh Xhosa war of resistance began in March 1846 after a Xhosa ambush of a patrol sent to arrest one of their people accused of stealing an axe. This was followed by the Xhosa’s invasion of colonial-held territory and the raiding of large herds of colonists’ cattle. When Xhosa territory was invaded by an armed force under Colonel John Hare sent to control the situation, the British force was defeated by the Xhosa forces at Burnshill. In this war, a significant section of the Mfengu collaborated with the British in the same manner as the many Colony-aligned Khoe did. They accepted arms and military direction from the British to attack opponents of the Colony for reward. This new collaboration gave an advantage to the British, who defeated the Xhosa forces at the Battle of Gwanga. in June 1846. Boer forces under Andries Stockenstrom, together with some collaboration from Colony-aligned Khoe, also supported the British campaign. Together they forced Kreli, the king of the Gcaleka, to return the livestock captured in the war and to surrender all the Western Kei land of the Xhosa. The British continued the campaign, and the guerrilla forces of the Xhosa likewise. This again this led to the British using scorched-earth policies. By December 1847, after the valiant resistance could not be sustained, the last of the leaders were forced into submission. Sir Harry Smith, now governor and high commissioner of the Cape Colony, at this stage publicly dropped the pretence of treaties. In a theatrical display before King Sandile, he took a sheet of paper and tore it to shreds, letting the scraps fall, saying ‘There go the treaties . . . No more treaties’. Sir Harry Smith overstepped his authority during this war by reannexing the territory between the Kei and Keiskamma rivers as the Crown Colony of British Kaffraria, with a British high commissioner. This high commissioner would effectively abolish recognition of traditional leaders – the kings – and he would act as what the British called their ‘paramount chief.’
The eighteenth war of resistance or eighth Xhosa Resistance War together with the Kat River Rebellion of the Khoe and formerly enslaved people took place over the 200th anniversary of Jan van Riebeeck’s establishment of the Dutch Colony at Table Bay. When the British governor, Sir Harry Smith, called a meeting of all Xhosa leaders in October 1850, King Sandile of the Ngqika Xhosa refused to attend. The British then attempted to depose him. As a result, on 24 December 1850, the Ngqika Xhosa attacked a colonial patrol at Boomah Pass and other military encampments. In this they were supported by the Thembu, and they received some Gcaleka support too. They were later joined by a significant part of the mixed Khoe and ‘freed slave’ community at the Kat River buffer-zone settlement led by Hermanus ‘Ngxukumeshe’ Matroos and Khoe leader Willem Uithaalder. Effectively it was an allied resistance effort by all sectors of the oppressed. Matroos and Uithaalder were both experienced men with firearms as well as military discipline and skills. One of the biggest Khoe rebellions would be the Kat River Rebellion in 1851. The Kat River settlement had effectively been a cruel trick played on Khoe and people freed from slavery, whereby they were given the impression that they were awarded land tenure and given an opportunity to realise freedom and self-determination. The real motive behind the granting of the Kat River land to these groups was simply to create a protective buffer between European settlement and the Xhosa. When many of the Kat River residents realised this was the intent, they rose up in rebellion and sided with the Xhosa against the British.
By March 1851 the Kat River rebellion was crushed, although many of the fighters had by this time become mobile outside of the Kat River area. The Thembu and Gcaleka were defeated at the Imvani River in April 1851. The Ngqika fighters were mostly using firearms for the first time in this war. In 1852 the British relieved the infamous Sir Harry Smith of his command and replaced him with Sir George Cathcart. This gave a new lease of life to the British forces. After their defeat of King Kreli in December 1851, they focused on routing the guerrilla forces in the Amatole. It took until September 1852 before the Ngqika forces in the Amatole region were defeated. The last of the Khoe rebels were only defeated at the end of November. British Kaffraria was then administered by the governor in Cape Town as a Crown colony and European settlers were brought into the territory. The territory was fully incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1865, and the ‘reserving’ of Africans began whereby different kingdoms were forced into reserves. This system was the early beginnings of the Bantustan system that would be established under apartheid. Thembu, Gcaleka, Mfengu, Ngqika, and Rharabe were in demarcated districts and played off against each other. When Sir George Grey became governor of the Cape Colony, Britain allowed the colony to have its own Parliament with representative government in 1854. Responsible government was introduced later, in 1872. Grey adopted a new policy of de-Africanisation and bringing Christian civilisation to black people who, if they met the criteria, would be allowed a level of association with white people.
The nineteenth war of resistance or ninth Xhosa war arose out of tensions between the Mfengu and the Gcaleka in August 1877 and purportedly came to a head in a skirmish at a wedding party of some Mfengu. The Gcaleka who were driven off were rendered vulnerable, and came to understand that the earlier Mfengu-Gcaleka wedding conflict had been a side show and a pretext for the British to annex more African land. Sir Bartle Frere, the high commissioner of the territory, decided to attack and subjugate the Gcaleka Xhosa under King Kreli and forcibly remove and disarm them. Thereafter he planned to settle the area with Europeans. In the mayhem that was caused by Frere’s actions, some of the Gcaleka clans were chased into the reserve area of King Sandile of the Ngqika, resulting in Ngqika people opening fire on the police. This led to a united front of Ngqikas, Gcaleka and Thembu forces embarking on an all-out war on the Colony. It did not last long, however, as the balance of forces between the British and the Xhosa peoples was by this time extremely uneven. By June 1878 King Kreli surrendered and an amnesty was granted to all who accepted defeat. In 1875 Thembuland was placed under British protection, and in 1879 Griqualand East followed. In 1879 Mfenguland and the Idutywa district were annexed to the Cape Colony. Gcalekaland came to fall under the administration of the Cape Colony, which appointed a chief magistrate of the Transkei region. By 1886, Mount Ayliff was brought under the Cape Colony. By 1894 the Transkei and Pondoland rounded off the incorporation process. By 1895 the Cape Colony had a new finalised border extending to the Mtamvuna River, and all resistance by means of war came to an end. Within three years the focus of British military attention shifted to the war between the two white factions of the colonial community – Boer and British.