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Trekboers and KhoeSan
By 1700, venturing farmers had established large cattle ranches over the Hottentot-Holland mountains that lie beyond the winelands; other aspiring landowners had ventured north into the Swartland.

Their advance inevitably brought them into conflict with Khoe clans. The scene repeated what had happened under van Riebeeck at the Peninsula - the Khoe were driven off the land and forcibly excluded or employed.

The advance of the trekboers was supported by another, and stronger assault, that of smallpox that spread from a ship in the harbour to decimate Khoe populations, hastening their decline.

Ironically, the trekboers copied the pastoral farming techniques of the Khoe, whose societies they had destroyed. They raided Khoe herds and utilised the same migratory grazing routes. In fact they forced the displaced Khoe to work for them as shepherds.

Steadily the extent of European settlement grew further, and as they spread from Cape Town the influence of the VOC became nominal. Furthermore, they seldom visited town because of the great hazards and difficulties of crossing the mountains.

Eventually, in 1745 the VOC established Swellendam 120 miles east of Cape Town and sent a clerk, two soldiers and a landdrost (magistrate) to form an administration. Thirty years later there were still only four buildings and the landdrost relied upon the help of the strongest trekboers to exert any authority. A similar outpost was established further east called Graaff-Reinet, but only in 1786.

The farmers lived in rudimentary conditions - especially on the frontiers. They maintained a subsistence economy, periodically trading cattle for gunpowder and other supplies from Cape Town. The trekboers had large families. There was a tiny primary school attached the church at Swellendam but apart from this there were no churches or schools, and the parents had little formal education of their own to pass on.


Literacy levels declined and a version of Calvinism, narrow and rooted in the stories of the Old Testament and characterised by a divine right of conquest, took root as a guiding philosophy. Trekboers formed 'commandos' - mounted patrols - to protect cattle and drive out the Khoe. They shot male Khoe on sight, and took their women and children as workers.

They also hunted game, and had a dramatic effect on herds in the Karoo region, exterminating the Blauuwbok and Quagga entirely and reducing other species to tiny remnant populations. The loss of biodiversity has done permanent damage to the ecology of the Karoo and its carrying capacity.

The Khoe and San combined to maintain guerrilla resistance to the trekboers from the 1730s onwards. In the 1770s groups of KhoeSan 400 strong succeeded in driving trekboers from large tracts of land in the Karoo and from the area of Graaff-Reinet. A San leader, Koerikei, called out to one group of farmers

'what are you doing on my land? You have taken all the places where the eland and other game live. Why did you not stay where the sun goes down, where you first came from?' (quoted, Ross Pg. 22)

The success of Khoe attacks, however, mobilised the VOC to some action - they despatched forces from Cape Town and a ruthless genocide followed.


As the trekboers continued to spread east, they eventually came into contact with the Xhosa and warfare broke out in 1779 and again in 1793 over control of grazing land to the west of the Fish river. The Xhosa, however, were a more organised and well armed society than the Khoe, and the warfare was indecisive.


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