The Making of the Cape Colony – 169 Years of Ethnic Cleansing Wars & Genocide

The first Dutch-Indigene war of 1659 -1660 and what happened to the Goringhaiqua and the Gorachouqua by 1679 as a result, was just the curtain-raiser to 169 years of warfare that wiped out the Cape San and severely damaged the Khoena and totally disrupted their social cohesion and societal organisation. It is this prolonged push against the Indigenes and, their resistance to this aggression, that is fundamental to understanding what became of the Khoena people, their social formations, leadership structures, language, culture, their land, rich livestock and all that made up their society.




Our history books are silent about how the original Cape Colony in the Cape Town City Bowl area after 170 years grew into a territory that stretched to the Gariep River in the West and to the Fish River in the East. It is generally not known that a series of ethnic cleansing wars got rid of the indigene population who valiantly resisted inch by inch the take-over of their land.

As much as the real story of a port at Camissa which was founded by Indigenes long before the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck is a vital piece of our missing history, and the story of the many and diverse ‘migrants of colour’ to the Cape which is another important piece of our missing history, so too is the story of over 169 years of warfare as a result of colonial incursion and the resistance to dispossession, a major missing piece of our history and heritage.

This brief but comprehensive chronology fills in the missing years and events.

It tells a very different story than that peddled by white supremacists and racists who would have us believe that colonialism was a most beneficial part of our development and that the benefits of innovation, creativity and scientific discovery would not have happened in South Africa had it not been for the superior Europeans. In the minds of supremacists and race bigots all human advancement in the world of science, invention and advancement is bound up with the dominant system of an epoch and the dominator. Our intellect tells us that this is nonsense. Was it the Groote Schuur Heart Transplant Team that did the first Heart Transplant or was this advance the work and benefit of the Apartheid system. Premier Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance would have us believe that it is the latter, when she argues that Colonial system was hugely responsible for all human advancements that took place within that epoch. Colonialism she argues was beneficial and that this is due to European civilization and European ideas, invention and work. Thus it was Europeans who built and developed and innovated everything.

Our history tells a very different story. Indigenes had a thriving agrarian economy which was well balanced and they were vastly rich in many tens of thousands of livestock – sheep and cattle. The Indigenes traded all the way up to East Africa for those things that they did not have, by means of developed African networks. Indigenes had travelled to London and to Java and had established a thriving facilitating and servicing port on a very busy sea route. Over 1071 ships called at Table Bay and were serviced for over 50 years before van Riebeeck colonized the Cape. More than 200 000 visitors had passed through the port, staying over for between 3 weeks and 9 months.

Our history tells us that over 170 years the colonists major preoccupation was destroying habitat, land-grabs and livestock grabs, employing forced removal, war, ethnocide and genocide to rid themselves of the self sufficient Indigenes or reduce them to paupers and aliens in their own land.

The writings of commanders and early governors of the VOC bemoaned the lack of skills and laziness of the European settlers and officials and our history shows us the huge dependency that the Europeans had on the skills and labour of slaves. Closer scrutiny of our history shows that without indigenous knowledge and the advanced skills of people of colour who had been cruelly wrenched from their societies in Asia and Africa, the European efforts would have come to naught. Agriculture, building, scientific endeavor, medicine, the early education system and all aspects of development can be traced back to the Slave Lodge. The Europeans were pretty useless when scrutinized and then when we look at their destructiveness against the indigenes nobody can view this all and talk about benefits and any persona with a semblance of humanity would have to say that the colonization at the Cape was a crime against humanity. A crime which has never been properly addressed to this day.

Nowhere else in South Africa is there a comparable act of such criminal depth. No other people in South Africa suffered such an assault and experienced wars for a solid 169 years, or experienced the kind of ethnocide or genocide experienced within the Cape Colony by the Cape Khoena and the Cape San. No other people resisted with such valiance and consistency over such a long period. And no other people bear the dispossession and deep emotional scars left to the extent that they cannot manifest their heritage and culture in the ways that others can who were left at least with some social cohesion, land, language and cultural form. The colonial destruction of the Cape and its peoples is comparable to the worst of atrocities and crimes against humanity recorded.

Helen Zille’s recent remarks and the disgusting drawn out manner in which her party – the DA, are dealing with such a serious problem; a Terror Lekota’s equally disgusting and appalling statements about land not being stolen and his apologist approach to colonialism; and the cretins of Zuma’s coterie like Jimmy Manyi who has often insulted the descendants of the Cape Khoena with his crass neo-colonial overlays of African struggles, all show a poor understanding of South Africa and African history.

Perhaps this chronological teaching tool that I have developed based on writings accredited at the end can help people to begin to fight the three perversions that I have mentioned that are alive and well and each posing as some weird notion of being progressive thinking.

trekboer-expansion-map1659-1660    (1)      FIRST DUTCH-INDIGENE WAR  OF RESISTANCE & CONQUEST

Doman’s War for Camissa, whereby the Cape Peninsula was taken from the Peninsula Khoena (Goringhaicona, Gorachouqua and Goringhaicona) resisting the Dutch occupation and they were forced to relocate their habitat first to behind the Tygerberg and then to the foothills of the so-called Hottentots Holland Mountains. It ended with a coerced treaty establishing VOC appropriation of the Peninsula by Conquest.


Oedesoa and Gonnema’s War to Counter Consolidation of the Cape District – whereby Oedesoa moved his numerically large forces and resources to blockade the Dutch settlement at the Peninsula, and where the Dutch through a combination of newly introduced cavalry, mobile firepower and ‘divide and conquer’ tactics forced the Khoena to retreat and opened up direct trade contact with other groups and access to their resources beyond the Peninsula. Ultimately by 1679 the Dutch controlled the area from the Cape Peninsula to the Hottentots Holland Mountains and rendered the Indigenes to a status without land, cattle and tribal infrastructure forcing them to either become refugees fleeing North-West or farm labourers. It ended with a coerced treaty where one of the signatories was still a child ceding all land up to the Hottentots Holland Mountains to the VOC. Gonnema died in 1685 and Oedesoa died in 1689. The Colony spread to Stellenbosch, Drakenstein, Paarl, Franschhoek, Tygerberg and Wagenmakersvallei (Wellington) with a straight line running across from the Hex River Mountains to the West Coast.


The Ubiqua/Sonqua War – which saw some refugee Gunjeman’s, Guriqua, and Namaqua but largely led by the nearby San (Ubiqua and Sonqua) engage in a war to counter consolidation of Dutch control in the Cape District and the new Stellenbosch District and expansion of its boundary to the ‘Land van Waveren, Pieketberg and through to the Berg River mouth on the West Coast and into the San territory of the Skurweberge and Kouebokkeveld Berge. The Ubiqua and the Sonqua were an interface people between Khoena pastoralists and San hunter-gathers but predominantly the latter. This was a war over habitat, land, livestock and water and battles saw loss of large herds of livestock as well as lives on both sides. In 1705 and 1708 peace was negotiated largely with the cattle keeping Khoena elements in the conflict rather than with the San and the Dutch established recognised ‘Captains’ and gave them “staffs of office”, gifts and stipends. Grazing permits and loan-farms were granted to Trekboers and further colonisation took place.

1713          THE GREAT SMALLPOX EPIDEMIC occurred in this year and its coming was devastating after the huge impact of, colonisation, three wars, much step by step conflict in the process of forced removals and the decimation of an agricultural livestock economy and break up of social organisation. Thousands died in the epidemic which would later reoccur on a few occasions in the 18th century.  In April 1713 after a Danish Ship which had a smallpox outbreak at sea entered Table Bay and gave contaminate clothes to slave women to wash at the washing place which was part of the Camissa water-system of the town. Smallpox first spread to the Slave Lodge and then to all in Table Bay and the Peninsula and then beyond into the greater Cape District and the Stellenbosch District. It reached beyond the Drakenstein and Waveren, and beyond the Berg River to even affect the Namaqua. The meshing of the epidemic with the ethnic cleansing of the Cape and Stellenbosch Districts and the pacification of the small numbers of remaining Khoena is noted here because its impact falls into the same levels of attrition of war.


The Namaqua and Ubiqua War of Frontier Contestation –  to halt the expansion of the Frontier and to destabilise the frontier colonial community.  This war saw a qualitative change from warfare primarily previously being conducted by VOC forces sent from the Fort de Goede Hoop, to a situation now where it was primarily being conducted by bands of Trek-Boer farmers in the settled areas together with pacified Khoena against free Khoena and San. This period thus also saw the militarisation of the frontier with the establishing of a series of VOC military posts along the border. Distance from Table Bay became a prohibitive issue for warfare supply lines and support. The contestation of this war of the flea, largely and fairly successfully being waged by Khoena trek-herders and hunter-gatherer Cape San saw the centrality of the issues of the erosion of water access, land and livestock rights. After many raids and battles and counter raids and battles in March 1716 peace was agreed and again “staffs of office” were given to approved Captains by the VOC. Again, the Khoena element agreed to peace under coercion and, were drawn into pacification processes while the San avoided treaties.


The Namaqua and Gonaqua Resistance War for Livestock Defence – from 1716 – 1719 there was a combination of bad weather conditions and livestock sickness that resulted in both meat and grain shortages and settlers were under severe pressure. The result of this was for the Europeans to again covet the livestock of the Khoena beyond the Northwestern and the Eastern frontier. These wars resulted in large scale cattle raiding AGAINST THE Namaqua and the Gonaqua and then counter attacks of resistance. In the case of the Gonaqua it resulted in them suffering massacre and complete seizure of the tribe’a livestock herds at the hands of the Jacob van Heijden barterer gang who were nothing but thieves and murders contracted by the VOC. From 1702 already murderous gangs of self-styled settler militia run by cattle barons like Henning Huising backed by his friend Adam Tas and a small elite antagonistic to the van der Stels, rode out to strip the Chainouqua, Hessequa, Attaqua and Gonaqua of their cattle and leave death and carnage in their path. The Eastern push opened up two new Districts – that of Swellendam and of Graaff Reinet. It was here that the most numerous concentrations of Indigenes lived with very large herds of cattle an sheep. One step at a time under a thin guise of bartering and trading, largescale theft, plunder and murder took place on a scale that even embarrassed the Governor and VOC. On the Western Frontier the Guriqua and the little Namaqua and the now tiny remnants of surviving Cochoqua, Goringhaiqua and Gorachouqua refugees among them came under the same assault. Between East and West the Cape San were still a formidable fighting force that held their positions. By 1626 the pattern of conquest and pacification continued and the VOC Chamber of 17 were informed that for 250 kilometers in all directions of Table Bay there were no free Khoena or settlements except for a hut or two here and there. Expansion increased after the war to include the entire length of the Olifants River by the mid 1730s. Between 1716 and 1730 the Sanveld which had a history of at least 1000 years of habitat and co-operative relations between Cape Khoena pastoralists and Cape San hunter-gatherers experienced rapid incursion by European raiders and settlers and bitter fighting ensued in a scenario of severe drought and hardship. Both Cape San and Cape Khoena resisted European incursion inch by inch.



War of Cleansing, Pacification and new Frontier Stabilisation -This was a paradigm shift war that changed the nature of future conflicts between colonists and indigenes and consolidated the family of colonial districts of the Cape Colony – Cape District, Stellenbosch District, Swellendam District, Graaff Reinet District of three District Frontiers –  and the western and Eastern and central frontiers as one frontier to be defended.  The huge distance gap weakened the power of the Dutch VOC and strengthened self-rule among colonists. Farmers were much more of a law unto themselves, leading to many atrocities. The Commandos partially became made up of pacified Khoena conscripts to complement settlers and had become prone to committing atrocities. This was the war whereby the Commando system was developed and where the power for advance and defence shifted away from control by the Table Bay based VOC, to local District government and commando leaders and indeed to groups of farmers. The role-players in conflict and war expanded to include new role-players too like the ‘Oorlams’ and ‘Bergenaar Baster’ groups as well as escaped slave formations. The war had reached the Great Namaqua and its impacts began to be felt as far away as the broader Gariep region. All along the border there were acts of resistance and unrest and destabilisation of settlements and farms. Resistance popped up everywhere by the Khoena and San, and in the midst of all of these class warfare broke out between big capitalist land and livestock barons and rebel setters led in rebellion by a man named Estienne Barbier, who was eventually captured and publically crucified in Cape Town. The results of the bitter fighting with the San not only cleared the border regions but it also extended the border.

The Bokkeveld, Pieketberg, Sandveld, Olifants River and de Doorns River territories were effectively conquered and stability maintained for settlers. The way also opened up for new settlement in the Bokkeveld, Hantam and Roggeveld. The Khoena in all of these areas were put to flight or forced to become labourers  on white owned loan farms under terrible conditions alongside slaves. Again after coerced peace treaties, leaders sanctioned by the Commandos, District government and rubber-stamped by the VOC  were issued with the title “Kaptein” and given a staff of office. The Commando system effectively became the new colonial authority.

1740 – 1770      A TIME OF TENSE PEACE & LOW LEVEL GUERILLA SCIRMISHES ENSUED – Many incidents continued to occur but by and large the period of open war and mass clearing of the border territories went quiet to a degree. But in fact during this period settlement and expansion actually increased dramatically.

The trajectory of colonisation for the rest of South Africa was set during this period. Pioneering excursion was followed by trek-farming, and this was followed by seizure of Indigenes livestock and this was followed by militarisation and war, followed by treaty and quickly followed by mass settlement of new  immigrants. On the Western frontier settlement of migrants was not successfully implemented but on the Eastern Frontier it became the mainstay of the conquest of that part of South Africa.

By 1770 expansion to the north via the West Coast or the Central Cape was a very unattractive option. The lack of water and the hostile environment and fiercely independent San put a block on European advancement. So the focus for expansion was the Cape San territories of Bushmanland and the Eastern Cape territories. The largest concentrations of free Khoena were to be found in the Graaff Reinet District and the Zuurveld. The central regions of the Western Cape through to the Gariep was thirstland territory where water was as precious as gold or diamonds.

1763  The Cape Colony population had reached 6,867 Europeans & locally 
      born Settlers and 7,215 slaves and around 500 Free Blacks.


The Rebellions of the Roggeveld and Hantam. This area had a significant Khoena population (Guriqua/Chrigriqua) that had maintain their freedom and they lived in relative peaceful co-existance with the Cape San or /Xam whose main numbers were across the Sak River. By the Seventh Dutch-Indigene War the fight increasing became one involving warfare between the Commandos and the Cape San. The Trekboer incursions into the environmentally difficult territory of the Guriqua pastoralists which could not sustain new people and the Cape San territory which had thus far resisted a Colonial presence for over a century since Dutch settlement at Table Bay, caused great upheaval and destruction. These rebellions were intense conflicts and up-scaled the nature of warfare even although this was pretty much focussed in the Roggeveld and Hantam. Retribution from settlers and their early laissez-faire commandos was swift and brutal with public crucifixions and displays of dismembered bodies left in the sun to rota as deterrents. Many were also sent as prisoners to Robben Island. The rebellions heralded a new period of military crisis for the Dutch


The First Genocide Curtain-Raiser Offensive – Over the next 25 years the nature of warfare was different to that of the earlier years in that during the 15 year period 1774 – 1789 the focus of the conflict was the Dutch mission to destroy and cleanse Bushmanland and the Mountainous territory through to the Eastern Cape by labelling the Cape San as non-human vermin that had to be exterminated. This in part happened by direct interventions of government orders and also by a culture that sprang up under the new General Commando system and among the settlers. Culpability for the Genocide must however be squarely placed on the shoulders of the Dutch VOC government who directly benefitted from the rent-tax paid by every settler famer in the approved loan farm scheme. Hundreds of “loan-farms” were approved in territories before, during and after wars of conquest.

Faced with environmentally inhospitable land beyond the northern frontier of the Central Cape the Trekboers were enchanted by the lush grass of the Camdeboo district where it also seemed that there was no Khoena and Xhosa resisters to oppose their occupation. They got a rude awakening when they came up against the fiercest resistance that colonists had ever experienced in their over one century occupation at the Cape because this was the heartland of the Cape San. So opened the bloodiest war ever on South African territory. The Europeans, to counter the fierce resistance, turned to Genocide and scorched-earth policies and practices. The objective was to exterminate the Cape San people. Around 30 000 Cape San were reduced to a few hundred over a 25 year period.

The General Commando system under a military Supremo known as a Veld Kommandant, the first of whom was Rudolf Opperman, established a formal militia system and conscripted pacified Khoena en masse into the Commandos alongside white soldiers.

The Modus Operandi  for the genocide practiced had two legs:- (a) all adult San had to be killed, male and female, in combat or not; and (b) teenaged girls could be seized by Khoena commandos to be concubines or brides and children were to be captured to be made farm apprentices and integrated into the Slave and ‘Baster-Hottentot’ labour force. However to gain a better perspective which shows that part (a) was the dominant approach only 258 child captives were formally registered over the first seven years of the ensuing wars during the most intense massacres.

A typical raids during this ‘Curtain Raiser’ of the genocide campaigns resulted in reported figures of 122 killed, 61 killed, 111 killed, 265 killed and so on in systematic massacres. The wounded were routinely shot in coup de grace style – men, women and children. There are records of conversations where Europeans boasted of their kill rates – one noting that he had personally killed 300 Cape San.

The Curtain Raiser War was just the beginning, and quickly the Dutch realised that this conflict with the Cape San was not going to be a push-over. Settlers started becoming refugees and the Commandos were just not coping. The previous approach of forcing treaties on indigenes was a non-starter.


The Second Genocide Offensive (Seekoei Massacre and Koerikei’s Triumph). This was a continuation of Veld Kommandant Opperman’s Offensive but it was also one war where the Cape San were the victors and put the settlers and Commandos on the retreat. It started in August 1775 when Adriaan van Jaarsveld’s Commando set up a sting operation. They killed a Hippo and left it on the Seekoei River bank so that they would lure the Cape San to come and feast and then feigned a retreat. When over 150 Cape San gathered for a feast that night, the Commandos attacked and massacred them in what became known as the Seekoei Massacre. This outrage spurred on the Cape San to launch their own offensive moving in on farms raiding large numbers of livestock and killing anybody who got in their way. The nature of war changed dramatically and casualties mounted. Opperman was out-matched, short on munitions and short on manpower and the rear forces of the settlers and VOC were slow in response. By the time that there was a response Van Jaarsveld’s Commando had abandoned the fight and retreated. The Sneeuberg and Camdebo settler communities were left exposed but a new defence team was cobbled together using different tactics and the war lulled to a stalemate scenario by 1777. Effectively it was a victory for the Cape San.

1781      KHOENA CONSCRIPTION: The idea of a regiment of pacified Khoena first arose during the early days of the commandos but the first such regiment of 400 collaborator Khoena was formed in this year known as the Corps Bastaard Hottentoten and was based in Cape Town to be used at the behest of the VOC authorities.

Later after the 1790s missionary stations particularly that of the Moravians, played a major role in pacification of the so-called ‘Bastard-Hottentots’, such as that established at Genadendal who actively facilitated the recruitment of Khoena soldiers who were used to carry out genocide attacks on the San and later in the wars against the Xhosa. The roots of the collaborator tradition that divided opinion among those who would later be classified as ‘Coloured’ which carried on right through to Apartheid was firmly established at this time.

The Corps Bastaard Hottentoten was disbanded a year later. By 1793 it was again established, this time known as the Corps van Pandoeren with 200 men including freed slaves. Once again it was disbanded and then reformed in 1796 with 300 men. These were then incorporated in 1801 into the Cape Regiment formed by the British. When the Batavian government took over from the British for a brief few years the Khoena regiment again went through a change and was called the Corps Vrye Hottentoten in 1803. Later its name changed again to the Hottentot Light Infantry. Once the British returned to take over the Cape permanently they formed the Cape Regiment in 1806 which included a cavalry element.

By 1817 there were two Khoena units – the Cape Cavalry and the Cape Light Infantry. In 1820 these were named the Cape Corps battalion of mounted infantry. After rebel Khoena soldiers participated in the Kat Rebellion in the early 1850s the battalion became a mixed white and ‘Coloured’ Corps and by 1870 it was decided to exclude ‘Coloured’ people from military service.

In 1878 the all-white Cape Mounted Rifles was established. Only in 1915 during the First World War were ‘Coloured’ men once more recruited into a reconstituted Cape Corps and after disbanding it the Cape Corps was resuscitated again in 1940 and disbanded in 1945. The Coloured Service Corps started up in 1947 was closed down in 1950. In 1963 in an attempt to drive a wedge between those the National Party called Bantu and those now classified ‘Coloured’, the Cape Corps became a full part of the SADF. Ten years later it was renamed the South African Cape Corps Service Battalion, and then in again renamed the South African Cape Corps Battalion.

These developments over the years played a divisive political role in the community labelled ‘Coloured’ and became a vehicle for Apartheid anti-black propaganda which was spread within communities classified as ‘Coloured’ and to assert and deepen control these were used actively in the SADF wars and terror campaigns across Southern Africa. It is a shameful part of history that must be faced honestly.

In the early 1820s opposition to the conscription into these became a grievance among the rebel Khoena resistance on the eastern frontier. In this period too these military units were used with great devastation by the colonial authorities against the Khoena-San alliance and against the Khoena-Xhosa resistance Confederacy.


The Ten Year San Struggle for Survival – The year 1778 was the year that the VOC Governor at the Cape realised that two centres of power had resulted from these long drawn out frontier wars. The Table Bay based official government was the dog being wagged by the tail. The ‘tail’ being the frontiermen and Commandos which had developed their own way of doing things despite the VOC at Table Bay. So Van Plettenberg embarked on a personal tour of the frontier and for the first time the frontier was mapped, formalised in terms of its limits and this was committed to paper. A consolidated Cape Colony was established with four formal districts that was to be defended by a formal military system answerable to the Governor of the Cape – Van Plettenberg.

Van Plettenberg’s decreeing of frontiers meant nothing to each of the indigene formations where land violation was taking place – the Namaqua, the Cape San and the Xhosa. The troublesome and uncontrolled northern and Eastern frontiers remained in crisis after van Plettenberg’s visit and demarcation exercise confirm the conquest of the Indigene peoples. Over the next ten years, encouraged by Plettenberg and his promise to flood the frontier districts with new migrant settlers, land grabs, theft of livestock and plunder continued with a new vigour by the colonists. The Cape San met the onslaught with vigour and determination even although the official death count for 1778 of San was over 500. The Northeastern mountains would continue to be a bloodbath for ten years and experience genocidal attacks on a grand scale.

From 1785 and over the next decade Commandos again and again launched campaigns. Conservatively researcher Adrian Leftwich puts the San war dead at 2500 San killed and 669 (children/young women) taken prisoner to become farm labour during this decade. The figure may well have been more like 14 000 given the frequency and extent of killing sprees. The conflict playing out with the San was occurring at the same time that colonial forces were fighting the second war against Xhosa resistance in the Zuurveld.

At the time of van Riebeeck the suggested figure for the Cape San across all areas was 30 000. By a century and a half later, around 15 000 were located held up in the mountainous regions and in Bushmanland. Since the onset of the genocide practice in both war and peace times until the 1790s it is likely that this figure of San was reduced to 1000 and by the mid-19th century the literal meaning of genocide was sealed.

The Aborigine Protection Society report to the British Parliament records testimony such as this one:

“I have heard one man, who is represented as an estimable character in other respects, declare, that within a period of six years, parties under his orders had either killed or taken 3,200 of these unfortunate creatures ; another has stated to me, that the actions in which he had been engaged had caused the destruction of 2,700. They had acted thus in compliance with the instructions of a government which not only violated all the principles of Justice and humanity by this indiscriminate massacre, but even acted in direct opposition to the plainest rules of policy and of common sense, by depriving the colony of the benefit which might have been derived from so useful a people.”

Other records with specific figures and anecdotal accounts of 2500 here and 500 there and 3000 on another occasion all suggest very high figures for those killed and other large figures for child captives spirited away.

Then Mohamed Adikari notes in his book on the genocide against the Cape San that his estimate of those killed is probably  8 000 to 10 000. I is my belief that even such may be low given the kinds of utterances by individuals about their ‘kill prowess’ during the days of the Cape San bloodbath and taking into consideration that the settler farmers themselves had their ‘posse’ groups who went about murdering and stealing. The fact is that after the year 1800 there wasn’t 30 000 Cape San any more in the Colony and the approximately 15 000 thought to be in the Northeastern mountain strongholds and in Bushmanland were less than a thousand, and later by the end of the 1800s were just a few hundred and a century later, literally there was no Cape San left. That is what genocide is! It is the extermination of a people!

Pressure also mounted on this area as the large populations of Khoena from the Breede River right through to the Fish River started to flee inland northwards to find refuge after European Settlers ravished their livestock, appropriated their land, forced them into conscription and farm labour alongside slave and meted out greatly cruelty. The Chainouqua had been decimated in the same manner as the Khoena on the Peninsula as were the Hessequa. The Inqua, Attaqua, the Gamtoos, the Hoengeyqua and the Gonaqua also suffered massacre and were put to flight and large waves of European settlers moved into their habitat supported by militia. Those that remained behind became pacified and were integrated with slaves on farms. Others joined forces with the Xhosa and the Zuurveld became the new holding ground and battleground.

Those Khoena that passed through Cape San territory often antagonised and preyed upon and attacked the Cape San as much as the Europeans did. A few joined in common cause with the Cape San in their fight against the Colonists but most trekked on to regroup and integrate in the Gariep communities. By 1787 pass laws and controls were introduced to all Khoena still in the Cape Colony and taxation was applied to all categorised as ‘Bastard-Hottentots’ namely Khoena who were the offspring of Slaves, Free Blacks and Khoena. A system was established called the ‘ingeboekte stelsel’ which controlled the process of assimilation of Khoena and captured San into the pacified indigene population. ‘So-called ‘Baster-Hottentots’ were also compelled to do military service in the Commandos and they participated in some of the worst of the genocide crimes against the Cape San.

Those refusing to participate were placed under arrest. Soon the pacified Khoena developed the same racist attitudes and practices towards the Cape San and the Xhosa as was to be found in European society and thus two traditions began within society that later became labelled ‘Coloured’ – a racist antagonist tradition against people regarded as ‘Black’ and ‘Bushie’ and on the other side a ‘liberationist’ tradition which saw cooperation between Khoena, San and Xhosa who engaged together as a family of people of colour in a common anti-colonial cause bonded by blood ties and ancestral ties and the experience of common resistance. It was these ten years that would cast the dye for intergroup relations and politics for the next two centuries.

The tenth war saw the remnants of the Khoena in the Cape Colony and their social formations and tribes, totally dismantled thereby completing the ethnocide and ethnic clearing of the original Cape Khoena tribes. As a result of what happened starting in 1787, by the third decade of the 19th century no Khoena tribes existed as formations in the Cape Colony anymore. This was a crime against humanity. Culture, dress, language, habitat and independent economy were all decimated. Remnants of this was all that was left and it mixed with the cultures of slaves and other migrants of colour with an element of European overlay. In the 1790s when missionaries appeared on the scene to acculturate pacified Khoena and dominant new European Christian overlay hammered out the Indigene traditions and only a feint crudified element remained alive.

During this ten year period of war the bulk of the combat was between the San and the Europeans, with some sporadic resistance breaking out among the Khoena, such as the Riviersonderend millenarian movement of Jan Parel which inspired revolt over a very wide area and even spread as far as the Roggeveld. There were also mini revolts involving unity between slaves and Khoena. On the Western frontier and up to the Gariep the state of rebelliousness passed from the Khoena to the revivalist and droster groups – the various  Oorlam groups such as the Afrikaners, the Basters, the Springboks and the still emergent Griquas. Retreating Khoena and mixed Khoena groups were excellent horsemen and marksmen.

During this ten year period of war even the San had acquired guns and were often better at using guns than many of their opponents. But by 1790 the San resistance had been overcome and to a large extent the genocidal onslaught decimated the resistance. They were reduced in number to probably less than 1000 and pushed to the more arid regions of the area mapped as Bushmanland.


The 1st Zuurveld Contest.  The series of wars that started in 1779 and lasted for 100 years until 1879 are known variously as the Xhosa Resistance Wars or the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars. This inaccurately describes at least the first five of these Wars which were as much part of the Khoena Resistance as part of the Xhosa Resistance. It is also important to note this because of the historical mischief of dividing the Xhosa from their place in Khoena and San history using a crude division into Bantu/Nguni vs Khoena and San. Historically the Xhosa are a mixed ancestry people who developed in the Eastern Cape prior to the late Bantu/Nguni drift to this region. The Xhosa are a mix of Chobuqua Khoena, Cape San and early siNtu migrants from around the year 500. They were later more heavily influenced by the Nguni migrational drift into the region in around 1300 – 1400 AD. The language and culture of the early siNtu migrants and, the name that they were given by the Khoena and San – XHOSA, is clearly a sign of their early dominance by the Khoena and San. The latter movement into their territory by the Mpondo, Mpondomise and the Thembu impacted on their earlier identity which then took on new Nguni dominant features.

At the time of the first attempts to colonise territory jointly occupied by Khoena and southern Xhosa groups who were the most familial integrated through intermarriage and clan ties among the Xhosa with Khoena and San, where the resistance was jointly handled by Khoena and Xhosa forces. In the first five wars of the Eastern Cape the Khoena played a valiant role alongside Xhosa warriors.

Moving on from their defeat by the San in the Sneeuberg, Swarteberg and Nieuweveld, the Dutch-Boer commando under van Jaarsveld moved into the territory occupied by very mixed Khoena and Xhosa communities in the Zuurveld district which was occupied by the Gonaqua, Gqunukhwebe, Ntinde, Gwali, Dinge and the Mbala, and by the Rharabe Xhosa which by this time were the dominant grouping. Later the son of Rharabe, Ndlambe would become regent to the young Ngqika who later rebelled against him and collaborated with the British Colonial authorities in return for bolstering his position.

Trek-boer farmers had moved into the area and van Jaarsveld’s commando attempted to assist them to establish hegemony in the area by expelling all traditional African communities from the area and appropriating their cattle. In 1779 the Trek-boers were fleeing the area along the Bushmen’s River as the Xhosa and Khoena took action to halt their forward movement, settlement and cattle theft. This resulted in the first armed clashes between Trek-boers and indigenes.

Adriaan van Jaarsveld and his commando arrived in October 1780 and from this point the low level war became intense. By July 1781 van Jaarsveld claimed to be victorious and said that all indigene African forces had been driven out of the Zuurveld territory. The war in reality ended with a stalemate situation As history has shown, the Zuurveld was only cleared by the British under Graham using scorched earth and genocide tactics in 1811. Effectively van Jaarsveld’s exaggerated claims were an attempt to save face after his earlier defeat by the San.

The proof of the pudding was in the eating in that it would take a few more wars over three decades before Van Jaarsveld’s fanciful claims could be realised.


The 2nd Zuurveld Contest. Continuous raids took place on the herds of Xhosa and Khoena by the Trek-boers and on the Trek-boers by the Xhosa and Khoena. The Zuurveld was contested terrain where those that had been temporarily expelled quickly returned to challenge the European farmers. What ensued was a scenario of some Trek-boers making alliances with the dominant group against other groups also making their way back home after the last war. Barend Lindeque a Trek-boer and rebel frontier settler Coenraad de Buys (who had a Khoena wife) joined Ndlambe, the regent of the dominant Rharabe Xhosa, established within the Zuurveld, who waged attacks against the Gunukwebe allied with Gonaqua Khoena who had relocated back into the Zuurveld after having been expelled by van Jaarsveld’s commandos.

The Trek-boer frontier farmers who had returned to the northern Zuurveld in the face of unrest around them once again fled. Thus once again two government commandos from Graaff Reinet and Swellendam again tried to clear the Zuurveld of Xhosa and Khoena African communities. The attacks of these Dutch forces penetrated as far as the Buffalo River causing havoc in Xhosa and Khoena communities and stealing their cattle.

This continued until 1793 when a peace treaty was signed with the Dutch forces ceding that the Xhosa could not be forced out of the Zuurveld. As a result, settlers began revolting against VOC officialdom in 1795. Parallel to these events a civil war broke out within the Xhosa between Ndlambe the regent and his nephew Ngqaika.

1795        POPULATION STATISTICS: By 1795 the total Khoena in the entire mapped and boundaried Cape Colony was around 15 000 and were now known as ‘Baster-Hottentots’ with the vast majority in the Swellendam / Graaff Reinet / Zuurveld arena.

But there were also a probable equal number of Khoena who were located outside of the Cape Colony in Namaqualand and the Gariep district and in the shared territory of Xhosa and Khoena just outside of the Zuurveld and beyond. A better idea of the numbers within the entire Cape Colony of surviving Khoena would only be recorded in the 1860s where a proper scientific census was done. Just before the term ‘Coloured’ was used in census figures and all other terms dropped after 1836, according to the Aborigine Protection Society in London, the figure for Cape Khoena at that time was 33 000 and included the Gariep River territories, but more than half of these were of mixed slave and Khoena ancestry.

At that time there was a recorded population was 12 742 Europeans and locally born settlers and 14 810 slaves with the majority being locally born slaves and around 900 Free Blacks…. (a further category of ‘Prize Slaves’ was added after 1808, a these increased numbers substantially).

From the 1770s the slaves being imported were less and less from India and Southeast Asia, and mostly from East Africa. Masbieker slaves coming from the slaver station in Mozambique came from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi Tanzania, Madagascar and as far as Congo. These slaves had assimilated with pacified Khoena over a wide area to such a degree that Khoena and apprenticed San could no longer be seen as being very different from slaves. The colonists called them ‘Baster-Hottentots’ or just ‘Basters’.

1798 – 1799     THE NAMAQUALAND REBELLIONS: This was more of an eruption of conflict involving at times fights between three or four adversary groups at a time and then a coalescing of Namaqua, Orlams and San against the Boers as the influences of the eastern frontier resulted Indigene refugees trickling into the western region. Tensions had been building up in Namaqualand as a result of the crossing of paths between various groups each with intentions to improve their fortunes one way or another and much of these intents at the expense of the Namaqua.

The Namaqua and Cape San frequently clashed and so did Boer adventurers and fortune hunters like Adrian van Zyl and his sons, Jan Wiese, Petrus Pienaar and others resulting in clashes and serious loss of life. New Boer farmers were taking control of water supplies and keeping Namaqua away from access. Oorlam groups like that of Jager Afrikaner, the Koks and the Barends also played a role. All of the tension arose from plundering livestock and assaulting communities in the process. This tension was stirred into eruption when commando leaders started making a record of Namaqua names in a register of the population and the Namaqua believed that this was the first step toward enslavement.

The word went up that “they would defend themselves to the last or take flight rather than become slaves.” While these rebellions seemed to be ebbs and flows of flare-ups between different groups encroaching on each other it was all driven by colonial expansion involving the pushing of various peoples toward the Gariep River. When the tensions dissipated the conflict visited itself as attacks and counter-attacks of different Oorlam and ‘Baster’ groups on each other. And when that dissipated the aggression turned on the various Khoena and San communities on either side of the Gariep and in turn onto the Tswana and Sotho speaking groups northwards. The Gariep had now emerged as the potential border of the Cape Colony.

1800         THE REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD OF UPHEAVAL: The first two decades of the 19th century at the Cape Colony was a revolutionary period among indigenes and slaves. It saw the emergence of great leaders, revolutionary movements and revolt of various types. Men like Klaas and David Stuurman, Louis van Mauritius, Makhanda Nxele, Jager Afrikaner, Cornelius Kok, Barend Barends and Andries Waterboer had changed the terrain of struggle in remarkable ways. They also left us a narrative or voice of their struggle as had not been as clear before this time. This voice showed a wrestling with ideas and an understanding of the world beyond the Cape Colony and the influences of struggles of oppressed peoples beyond our shores.

The period also showed that indigenous communities were not locked in time, to the van Riebeeck era, or times before that, or into antiquity times. (It is unfortunate that many revivalist groups in the 21st century stereotype Khoena history and culture in pre-colonial times or van Riebeeck’s time whereas like any other people in the world they too progressed and their cultures progressed in time) Like all communities globally the Khoena and San were subject to the winds of change and adapted as people and adapted their cultures also to modern times. Certainly they too engaged modern weapons and tools of struggle. In some respects if we look at the Griqua political model, it was at one stage the most modern of developments of both the white and black opponents of British colonial rule.

ADAM KOK AND THE GRIQUA: Adam Kok I, was a manumitted Slave who had a farm called Stinkfontein, north of Piketberg  from 1771, where he amassed a following of his wife’s people the Grigriqua and refugee so-called ‘Hottentot-Basters’. A decade later he and his community were pushed off their farm by Boers and they moved north to settle at Kamiesberg in Namaqualand. By this time Adam Kok was a substantial leader of a large community of followers who were known as Bergenaar Basters who had very strong feelings about their independence. As the community grew, its original base which was Cape Khoena, Free Black, deserter slaves and descendants of relationships between these, grew further to include San, Sotho, Nama, Tswana, Xhosa, Korana and non-conformist Europeans.

There are many myths which erroneously claim that missions provided sanctuary for the Khoena and played a progressive part in Khoena resistance. This is simply not true. Except for one early aborted missionary endeavour, the missionaries only arrived on the scene in the 1790s three decades before the end of the 169 years of warfare on the Khoena and San and their role was to mop up, pacify and assimilate the Khoena and surviving Cape San together with free slaves and other migrants of colour into colonial society as ‘coloureds’. They also specifically targeted the rebellious Oorlam and Bergenaar Baster groups of Khoena revivalist refugees from the Cape colonial wars.

In  1801  London  Missionary  Society  (LMS)  missionaries  William Anderson and Cornelius Kramer engaged the Bergenaar Basters of Cornelius Kok 1 who succeeded Adam Kok and his ally Barend  Barends who had married into the Kok family and by 1804 the combined followers of Kok and Barends moved  to  Klaarwater  where the LMS set up a mission. Klaarwater was later renamed Griquatown after the Bergenaar Basters took on a new name which revived that element of their roots that linked to the Indigene Khoena – GRIQUA. The independent minded Griqua and the missionaries continuously clashed because the missionaries were intent on entrenching their political cause of pacification on behalf of the colonial government. This ultimately led to a split between East and West Griqualanders with Andries Waterboer and his dynasty emerging as leaders of the West Griqualand people. Waterboer was of San lineage and was a teacher and mission agent.

Between 1801 – 1828 and beyond the story of the Griqua and the two Griqualands, their struggles, alignments and betrayals was a major part of the history of the Camissa Footprint and the resistance story of people of colour. Griqualand was the first manifestation of an independent modern proto-nation territory/state in Southern Africa of people of colour. Indeed of all people. The Boer Republics had not yet emerged at this time. It has been the most coherent and enduring manifestation too of Cape Khoena revivalism ever. Although having spawn two streams it also remains one of the most united of Khoena revivalist traditions.

1801        UNITED KHOENA AND SLAVE REVOLT: Increasingly from this point on slaves too began to revolt. In the Roggeveld in December 1801 a combined force of pacified Khoena and Slaves involving 70 resisters rose up against their oppressive farmer. In these revolts the majority of slaves were now Africans from other territories across the continent. The difference between slave and those known as ‘Hottentot-Basters’, and difference between their working and living conditions was now negligible.

The slavery and Khoena interface gradually merged over the next 50 years when after the proclamation of Ordinance 50 giving Khoena freedom of movement and land tenure and, emancipation of slaves from slavery, together the survivors formed new communities alongside every white town. Along the routes of war and flight from the Colony, those now of mixed Khoena-Slave heritage survived on farms and in small towns, while surviving resister communities regrouped ultimately far northwest and northeast in either older communities like the Namaqua and Korana from which all Cape Khoena originally stem, or they formed new revivalist communities.

1804        THE STUURMAN GONAQUA SETTLEMENT: Governor Francis Dundas of the Batavian Commonwealth granted land to Klaas Stuurman and his Gonaqua followers to establish a permanent settlement in an attempt to buy them off. He also offered the Khoena better protected conditions of service on farms.

Klaas however, died before taking occupancy, but David immediately took charge and was recognised by the authorities represented by Captain Alberti as having a right to the location granted to his brother Klaas. The death of Klaas occurred during a buffalo hunting expedition.

The land given to the Stuurmans was situated on the Klein River east of the Gamtoos into which it flows. David’s people moved to the land in 1804. They were a group consisting of ten men and 32 women and children, but were soon joined by many others – Khoena seeking refuge and slave deserters. The Stuurman community were settled and lawfully entitled to own their land for the first time in decades. There were six other Kapteins who were awaiting similar settlement. A brief truce thus followed during which the Khoena resisters even returned some of the cattle taken in war.

The period of truce did not hold for long. Only one other Kaptein received land.

The frontier Trek-boers began making allegations against the Stuurmans from 1805 and these continued over the next few years. The land was referred to as a Gona kraal or Chief David Stuurman’s kraal and became a refuge for runaway Khoena farmworkers, slaves and conscripts into the militia. David Stuurman became a magnate for attracting displaced Gonaqua and at the same time developed close relations with Chief Chungwa of the Gqunukwebe.

The increasing recruitment of young Khoi men into military service was having a negative impact on Khoena communities and was pitting the Khoena against their amaXhosa allies and other Khoena and the San. The conscription issue was highly emotive for mobilising youth into the rebel fold. Chief David Stuurman’s small kraal broke every rule in the book and was a stumbling block for both the narrow interests of the Boer Frontiersmen and for the new British authorities in the Cape. David Stuurman’s vigorous anti-conscription efforts amongst the Khoena attacked the heart of a key strategy of the British who hoped to use the Khoena as a buffer against the amaXhosa.

1806        BRITISH RULE: The Cape now had ceased to be a Dutch VOC territory as in this year it fell under the Batavian Commonwealth as had all areas making up the Dutch company’s footprint from South Africa through to South Asia and Southeast Asia. The Batavian Republic had been established as a result of its attachment to France in 1798.

The Batavian Commonwealth representative at the Cape was Lieutenant-General Jan Willem Janssens who had just over 2000 soldiers including French marines and German and other Europeans. A major part of their forces were also people of colour – 600 Khoena troops in the Corps Vrye Hottentoten, 54 Free Black Javanese Mardijkers as vital artillery men with 16 field cannon and 100 slave auxiliaries to move the cannon over rough terrain. This dependency on people of colour for military defence was regardless of the fact that the European population was 25 000 strong.

In January the British arrived in Table Bay and proceeded to take the French aligned Cape of Good Hope by force. The battle of Blauuwberg ensued and Lt General Jan Willem Janssens, commander-in-chief of the military forces of the defence was forced to concede defeat to Lt General Sir David Baird, who had landed at Melkbosstrand.

In 1806 the population of the Cape Colony was 25 000 whites, 29 000 slaves, 1 200 Free Blacks and 18 000 ‘Hottentot-Basters’ of whom 500 were in Swellendam, 5000 in Stellenbosch and 8 947 in the Gamtoos and Graaff Reinet district of the Eastern Cape and the others were scattered across the long western frontier. The Gariep Khoena were not counted. The British invasion force who remained temporarily were just over 5000 soldiers in addition to the resident white population.

By this time the Khoena culture and institutions of self-governance were destroyed in the Cape Colony and over time traces of these was panel-beaten out of existence, with Khoena, freed slaves and Free Blacks being merged by the colonial authorities into one entity labelled as ‘Coloured’ by the time slavery was abolished in 1834.

1807 – 1808         DAVID STUURMAN REJECTS THE ‘STAFF OF OFFICE’: The abolition of the transoceanic slave trade came into being when the British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act on 25 March 1807. This news and the stories of the impact of the slave revolution in Haiti and elsewhere reached the shores of Cape Town and spread among slaves and Indigene resisters alike. It impact was to be felt in Cape Town within 18 months.

In 1808 at Captain David Stuurman’s village alongside Bethelsdorp near the Gamtoos River he made a stand in refusing to accept the ‘Staff of Office’ from the local landdrost and spoke out about the pressganging of Khoena youth into becoming military conscripts in the colonial forces and the continuing mistreatment of Khoena farm labourers. Stuurman’s village was being used as a centre where war refugees, militia deserters and conscription dodgers were gathering to the consternation of the landdrost. Stuurman engaged in a face to face quarrel with a recruitment officer which antagonised the landdrost.

Bethelsdorp mission started by Dr Johannes van der Kemp differed from many other mission stations in that it attempted to blend with indigene culture and resisted the pressure asserted on it to facilitate military conscription and pacification. It was a small mission at that time that was fairly unsuccessful at attracting either Khoena or Xhosa, except those seeking refuge, largely because of the resistance dynamics of the time. The refugees would then move on to David Stuurman’s protection. It is from this unusual mission that a mythology of missions being refuges for Khoena escaping colonial oppression arose.

While a few temporal elements of the Bethelsdorp phenomenon can be cited for a couple of other missions, the general trend was that mission stations purpose was not as a refuge. Missions were clearly part of a pacification and control drive involving collaboration between church and colonial authorities. Rebel priests such as van der Kemp were curtailed and harshly treated. Dr van der Kemp was also an abolitionist of note who was hated by slave-owners and the authorities.


The War of the Klaas Stuurman & Chungwa’s Confederacy: The new Government of the First British Occupation at the Cape sent a contingent of British soldiers under Gen T P Vandeleur to crush a revolt by Boers in Graaff-Reinet in 1799.

General Vandeleur had met the Khoena on the road near Algoa Bay. Barrow describes when the Khoena were making their case to the British about their ill-treatment by the Boer frontiersmen. He says of Klaas Stuurman:

“One of the Hottentots called Klaas Stuurman, whom they had selected for their Chief, stepped forward, and, after humbly entreating us to hear him out, without interruption, began a long oration, which contained a history of their calamities and suffering uder the yoke of the Boers; their injustice, in first depriving them of their country, and then forcing their offspring into a state of slavery, their cruel treatment on every slight occasion, which it became impossible for them to bear any longer, and the resolution they had therefore taken to apply for redress, before the English troops should leave the country (the district). That their employers suspecting their intention, had endeavoured to prevent such an application by confining some to the house, threatening to shoot others if they attempted to escape, or to punish their wives and children in their absence.” After showing the General a young Khoena boy who was wounded by the Boers, Klaas stated: “This act among many others equally cruel, resolved us at once to collect a sufficient force to deprive the Boers of their arms, in which we have succeeded at every house which had fallen in our way. We have taken their superfluous clothing in lieu of wages due for our services, but we have stripped none, nor injured the persons of any, though we have yet a great deal of our blood to avenge.”

In April 1799 a Khoena-Xhosa Confederacy had been established to resist the continued advance of Trek-boers into Khoena and Xhosa territory and the raiding of cattle by these invaders. The Khoena were also incensed about the brutal behaviour on farms bordering their communities where Khoena had been pressed into labour alongside slaves. The united Khoena and amaXhosa 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.

The Khoena-Xhosa Confederacy was a nightmare for the colonists because they had done their best to inculcate among the Khoena that the Xhosa were not their people but part of a foreign invading force who meant them ill. Most Khoena in the region did not buy this false story because they knew that they were integrated with Xhosa, had families with the Xhosa, had language ties to a degree and, had a common experience of loss of land and livestock. Their cultures, religion and folk-stories were the same in many respects too. (The false story is still spread by those who cling to the collaboration tradition today even although it’s now dressed in radical ethno-nationalist and anti-black racist rhetoric).

Many of pacified Khoena, Slaves and mixed Khoena-slave labourers and military conscripts were also deserting the whites and joining in the resistance, while whites were abandoning their farms in the face of widespread Khoena revolt.

In 1801 the rebel Khoena under Klaas Stuurman, Hans Trompetter and Boesak carried out widespread raids. In the face of these highly skilled Khoena rebel fighters the commandos made no headway, facing defeat wherever they tried to attack. Before the British government ceded the Cape Administration to the Batavian Republic in early 1803 a peace favourable to the Khoena was signed by Klaas Stuurman. Both the Khoena and the Xhosa could not be made to leave the Zuurveld and there was an agreement for all Khoena to have written contracts and better working conditions. Klaas Stuurman’s negotiation stance from a position of strength was:

“Restore the country of which our fathers were despoiled by the Dutch and we have nothing more to ask. We have lived very contentedly before these Dutch plunderers molested us, and why should we not do so again if left to ourselves? Has not the Groot Baas (God) given plenty of grass roots, and berries and grasshoppers for our use; and, till the Dutch destroyed them, an abundance of wild animals to hunt? And will they not return and multiply when these destroyers are gone?”

The issues of this war became socio-political and economic as Khoena were now not just fighting about land, livestock and resources. They also were making demands for an end to conscription of Khoena, for freedom of movement and for a halt to the violence and ill treatment of farmworker Khoena and slaves.

1808       THE GREAT SLAVE UPRISINGThe ‘Jij’ Rebellion of 25 October 1808 led by Louis van Mauritius: This was the largest slave uprising ever at the Cape in which Khoena and slaves participated.

On 25 October 1808 a slave revolt took place at the Cape, remembered as the ‘Jij Rebellion’ led by the slaves Louis of Mauritius and Abraham van der Kaap and took on a military style campaign though short lived. The Haiti influence was clear to be seen. On two days, over 326 slaves, many Masbiekers, including a few indentured Khoena labourers and two Irish sailors participated in an organised rebellion plotted at a Camissa waterfront tavern and launched from the Swartland wheat-belt. The leader of this rebellion was a 30 year old slave by the name of Louis van Mauritius, who had first arrived at Camissa in 1881 as a 3 year old child.

In 1791 the slave rebellion that broke out in St Dominique in the Caribbean which by its successful conclusion in 1804 claimed over 300 000 lives on both sides. Led by Toussaint l`Overture against the French colonists the revolution established the first black republic of rebel slaves which they name the Republic of Haiti. In 1794 the abolition of slavery declared in France and the Maroon War in Jamaica in the same year by runaway slaves followed by the Feron Slave Revolt of 1796 in Grenada in the Caribbean against the British sent ripples throughout the slave-reliant colonial world including the Cape. Another conflict that had an impact on all British colonies was the United Irishmen`s Rebellion which erupted against British Rule in Ireland and the first British governor at the Cape in 1806 had been in Ireland during this rebellion in command of the Dragoons which later put down the revolt by Louis of Mauritius. These tales were related to Louis of Mauritius and Abraham van de Caab and set the scene for the Cape’s biggest slave revolt and subsequent largest ever ‘Treason Trial’ after it was crushed.

Those in 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, with little violence, covering Malmesbury and Swartland areas, Blouberg, and Tygervalley and managed to reach the outskirts of Cape The treason trial recorded the fine details and labelled the revolt a ‘rebellion and evil deed’. A statement by Abraham van der Caab was raised in court to defined 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 ‘you`. They were only to be addressed as ‘master` or ‘thou`. The central point in the trial illustrates clearly the motive for the rebellion – a fight for ‘equality` – symbolised by the expression of familiarity   ‘sij’ (she) ‘Jij`(You). It is the simple usage of the words ‘she’ and ‘you’ that became the baring of the standard in the fight for ‘equality and freedom`.

Sixteen of the rebels were condemned to death by the Court. The Governor, Lord Caledon intervened to commute 11 of the death sentences. Louis van Mauritius, Hooper – one of the Irishmen, Abraham van der Kaap and Jephta of Batavia were sentenced to hang for their leadership of the act of rebellion. Cupido of Java who had committed the purely criminal offence of rape was also sentenced to death. Louis boldly managed to escape from prison after he was condemned but he was apprehended and returned by a reward seeker. Louis’ wife Anna died during the trial after becoming ill with stress.

Another 46 slaves were given various heavy sentences including imprisonment on Robben Island. Many of these slaves were from Mozambique – the Masbiekers who were the most down-trodden of slaves at the time. The other slaves and Khoena who participated in the revolt were given over to their owners for “correction” by Governor Lord Caledon.

While the ‘Jij’ rebellion failed in its mission, it resulted in major changes in the Cape. Slaves began to stand up for themselves more and more. Slave owners were more aware that they could be challenged and that the slavery system had a limited shelf life. The authorities were forced to come up with systems to hear and deal with complaints of slaves. More and more smaller acts of challenge by slaves occurred and another revolt took place in 1825. An abolitionist movement even developed amongst the white settlers. History shows that Louis and the rebels made an indelible impact on slavery conditions and its eventual demise at the Cape.

(Those who try to separate Cape Slavery history and slave ancestors from Khoena and San heritage do a great injustice. Firstly had it not been for procreation with the numerically larger numbers of slaves (after the ethnic cleansing by colonists) many Khoena lineages and San lineages would have been lost. The so-called ‘Baster-Hottentot’ phenomenon was key to the survival of the Indigenes. Secondly there were many joint acts of resistance to colonialism where Khoena and slaves fought alongside each other).

1809     INTRODUCTION OF THE ‘Hottentot Proclamation’: The Caledon Codes – In this year the Caledon Code or more accurately the Hottentot Proclamation (sometimes called the Hottentot Code) was passed to control the free so-called ’Hottentot’ or  ‘Hottentot-Baster’ labour force on farms by taking away their freedom of movement. The code said that all ‘Hottentots’ now had to have a fixed abode and required a ‘pass’ from the farmer controlling the fixed-abode to move about freely. Effectively it formalised the earlier de facto extension of the pass regulations from slaves to Khoena. The code also made labour contracts compulsory and that these had to be registered by the farmers. It furthermore set conditions under which an employer could withhold wages for goods supplied by ‘Hottentot’ labour. The proclamation extended to all people regarded as ‘Coloured’ and further extended taxation to such. It was the first steps of the Cape Colony embracing Liberal Capitalism as its economic modus. It would only be repealed and replaced by a new Liberal Capitalist ordinance in 1828. But as with all British laws little proviso’s were later added to deal with child labour.

Just as Khoena society and its means of struggle and its cultures had now changed dramatically since 1652 and before, so too had the methods of control and oppression changed.

In 1811 in an attempt to appease the growing protest and revolt among the Khoena about the cruelty and violence of farmers towards Khoena labour, the British introduced a Proclamation instituting ‘Circuit Courts to investigate and prosecute farmers engaging in violence and cruelty against the Khoena labourers on their farms.

Then in 1812 the ‘Hottentot Proclamation’ was varied by the ‘Apprenticeship of Servants Act’ that allowed for the apprenticeship and employment without pay of free ‘Coloured’ children if the child was an orphan, or destitute, or had grown up on a farm. This covered all children born of slave and Khoena relationships on farms and it also covered kidnapped San children after their parents were killed in genocide raids, until the age of 25. This was a codification of earlier apprenticeship controls introduced by the Dutch going back to 1775. War was not the only means that was used to control Indigenes and often government moves and legislation was dressed up in a manner to project that it was in fact ‘PROTECTING’ Indigenes whereas it was the opposite. This practice has continued right up to the present day and there were always those among the Indigenes who naively supported such moves.


The British Scorched Earth Campaign in the Zuurveld: The British government at the Cape government sent Lt-Col Richard Collins in 1809 to tour the frontier areas and afterwards based on his recommendations a decision was taken to expel all Xhosa and Khoena from the Zuurveld and that this be densely settled by European settlers while the area between the Fish and the Keiskamma Rivers should become an unoccupied land with no occupants whether settler nor indigenes.

In 1811, Lt Colonel John Graham allied with Landrost Anders Stockenstroom of Graff Reinet swooped on the Zuurveld with an army made up of British, Boers and pacified Khoena and drove out every man, woman and child numbering over 20 000 Gqnukwebes, Ndlambe Xhosa and other Khoena across the Fish River. They were supported by the local commandos of Swellendam, George and Uitenhage. Colonel Graham was recognised by the colonial authorities by having a new frontier town named after him – Grahamstown. Also joining the 500 British troops were 700 pacified Khoena troops in the Cape Regiment also under Col Graham’s command.

Governor Cradock instructed Lt Colonel John Graham to efficiently carry out a scorched earth approach so as to ensure, “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.”

Lt Colonel John Graham in his own words written to his father said, “The only way of getting rid of them is by depriving them of the means of subsistence and continually harassing them, for which purpose the whole force is constantly employed in destroying the prodigious quantities of Indian corn and millet which they have planted…. Taking from them the few cattle which they conceal in the woods….and shooting every man who can be found… As to fighting, it is out of the question; we are forced to hunt them like wild beasts.” At another time he 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.” Record has it that the ageing Chief Chungwa was killed in his hut while asleep.

It is a shameful blot on Khoena history that the pacified Khoena forces were brutal participants in these massacres, just as they had been with the San. Much of the present hostility by some ‘Coloured’ people in modern times against black people is rooted in this collaboration of some Khoena at that time with colonialists against other Khoena, the San and the Xhosa allies.

The British, Boer and collaborator Khoena forces did not have it all their way. The Xhosa and rebel Khoena forces put up much resistance. In one of the battles Anders Stockenstrom was killed. Word went out that Chief David Stuurman was said to have been responsible for the Stockenstroom death and thus his profile as a formidable foe increased. In January 1812 Stuurman’s ally Chungwa was killed and Stuurman then allied with Ndlambe of the Rharabe amaXhosa retreated across the FishRiver.

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 prosperous settled southern Xhosa and Khoena and Khoena advanced farming communities were brutally destroyed to facilitate white settlement and left a legacy of poverty in the Eastern Cape.

Again the colonialists were able to hold the ground gained in war through the collaboration of the Xhosa leader Ngqaika who signed a treaty with Lord Charles Somerset. This resulted in the antagonism of Ndlambe and further civil conflict between Ndlambe and Ngqaika supporters. Out of this cauldron arose a remarkable spiritual and military leader known as an Itola – Makhanda also called Nxele, the son of a Khoena mother – a diviner, and a Xhosa father.

The British expelled massacred and pushed out of the Zuurveld its former 22 000 combined free Khoena and amaXhosa inhabitants. Although the fourth frontier war had concluded, David Stuurman and his men continued a war of the flea and he remained amongst the amaXhosa. Over the years snippets of information, such as an account by the missionary Read in 1816 continued to reach the authorities in the Colony which simply showed that Stuurman was still around and a force to be reckoned with. He continued to receive escaped slaves and deserters from the pacified Khoena in the colony.


Makhanda and David Stuurman’s War: Following Ngqaika’s defeat by Ndlambe in 1818, Nqgaika asked the colonial authorities for assistance in his efforts to gain ascendency in the civil conflict among the Xhosa. As a result in December 1818 the British colonial forces invaded the Xhosa territory agreed upon by the last treaty. By December they had defeat Ndlambe. When the British departed, a united force of Xhosa dismayed at Ngqaika’s collaboration with colonists against his own people, supported Ndlambe in defeating Nqgaika.

In December 1818 Ngqaika 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 Gaika, and then assembled a large army led by the his now powerful and popular military adviser, Makhanda, and took the war of resistance into the Colony and with up to 10 000 men attacked Grahamstown in April 1819. The attack was repulsed with the help of a pacified Khoena collaborator Jan Boezak and 180 of his men returning from a hunting expedition. At a low point for the British garrison, running out of ammunition, Boezak saved the day for the British at Grahamstown and allowed British reinforcements to defeat Ndlambe and push their control back as far as the Kei River.

Makhanda, concerned about the Xhosa losses, surrendered and was imprisoned on a British ship and taken to Robben Island. Makhanda is quoted as telling the British “People say that I occasioned this war. Let me see if by giving myself up it will restore the peace”.

This was also the last of the great resistance war efforts of the Khoena now reduced to guerrilla allies to the amaXhosa. David Stuurman had also made his last stand against the British during this 5th Xhosa War of Resistance in which the remnants of the old Klaas Stuurman Xhosa-Khoena Confederacy continued a Guerrilla War against the British. Indeed right through the Xhosa Wars of Resistance there would always still remain a Khoena resistance element. This came dramatically to the fore during the Kat River Rebellion in 1853. It also came to the fore during the time

The 5th Xhosa-Khoena Resistance War was really the beginning of a different kind of resistance of Khoena, with the exception of the Kat River Rebellion, and as with the guerrilla warfare of Khoena Bergenaar commanders such as Uithaalder and Hans Branders who kept large British forces pinned down for two years. The Khoena rebels, though certainly not with mass followings, would continue to play a heroic role in a different kind of resistance in the Eastern Cape. They would remain allied with the amaXhosa throughout, understanding the need for united African resistance and thus breaking ranks with those Khoena who succumbed to missionary indoctrination that they were superior to other Africans and were a brown race, set apart.

Chief David Stuurman pioneered guerrilla warfare in this 5th war by bringing together the mixed band of Khoena, so-called ‘Hottentot-Basters’ and escaped slaves. This would bring to the end an era of 164 years of wars of resistance and opened a new era – from 1659 until Stuurman was sent to banishment in Australia in 1823. Great acts of Khoena, Orlams, Namaqua and Griqua resistance joined with revolts in communities in some mission stations would carry the resistance traditions forward in the 19th century, but war as defined as soldiers going head to head had come to an end for the Khoena and the San defending their own territory. The guerrilla cations that followed were by a people that no longer had a secure place to call their own, nor very well defined support communities.

David was taken to Cape Town along with Makanda and other amaXhosa prisoners of war on 22 December 1819 on board the ship Queen and sent to Robben Island.

In October 1819 the Xhosa leaders were forced to recognise Ngqaika as primary leader of the amaXhosa. Ngqaika and Lord Somerset then made a gentlemen’s agreement whereby the area between the Fish and the Keiskamma Rivers, with the exception of the Tyume Valley held by the Xhosa, would be a neutral zone free of both Xhosa or European settlers. No free Khoena or San land or communities or structures existed in the Cape Colony any longer.

1820          MASS BRITISH SETTLEMENT AND COLONIAL SOCIAL ENGINEERING: In this watershed year the British landed 5000 British Settlers in the Eastern Cape to consolidate their hold over the resisting amaXhosa. In the same year all of the resistance leaders – Khoena and Xhosa were incarcerated on Robben Island.

1820          THE GREAT ESCAPE BY KHOENA AND XHOSA PRISONERS OF WAR: In August 1820 a convict at the Robben Island Prisoner of War compounds, Johan Smit, planned a dramatic escape with Khoena leader Hans Trompetter and others. They overpowered and disarmed a sentry and then freed a number of other prisoners who broke into the armoury and released and armed even more prisoners. Amongst these was Makhanda, the great warrior prophet who had been captured in the fifth frontier war of resistance and the Khoena leader, Chief David Stuurman.

After a gunfight with the prison guards in which one was killed and others wounded, some 30 prisoners made their way to the whaler’s boat station. Here they split into three groups each with an escape boat. The boat carrying Trompetter, Stuurman and Makhanda overturned in the heavy surf at Bloubergstrand. Only four escapees survived, amongst them Trompetter and Stuurman. The great resistance hero Makhanda, the prophet warrior of Gonaqua and amaXhosa heritage was drowned. He is reported to have clung to the capsized boat, shouting encouragement to the others before disappearing under water. The boat commanded by Johan Smit made it to shore with all its escapees, but the boat commanded by Holmes also overturned and only three survived.

The escapees were hunted down. Of the 30 that escaped, fourteen had drowned, twelve were recaptured, two were killed and only two evaded capture. The main conspirators who had organised the break out were hanged while others were flogged and branded and had their years of imprisonment extended. Chief David Stuurman was spared death because of an act of mercy shown toward a Mr Bryant during the escape in which Bryant’s life was spared. However he was sentenced to be transported for life to the penal settlement in New South Wales in Australia.


Chief David Stuurman was banished to Sydney in Australia.

Until the ship Brampton departed for Australia on 25 February in 1823, Chief David Stuurman was sent back to Robben Island for the third time. Chief David Stuurman was the only person to have successfully escaped from Robben Island – and he did so on two occasions. David Stuurman and Jantjie Piet were the only two Khoena at that time to be sent to Sydney on 22 April 1823.

A number of people argued for Chief David Stuurman’s release and return to South Africa. Amongst them the philanthropist Saxe Bannister and another philanthropist and journalist Thomas Pringle who wrote an article for the New Monthly Magazine in 1828 wherein he recorded the long struggle of David Stuurman with the colonial authorities. In 1831 there was an order for the release of Chief David Stuurman but it was too late. In 1830 a year after the relaxation of his prisoner conditions, the last of the great Khoena resistance leaders in the Eastern Cape had died.

In this year Lord Governor Somerset issued a proclamation liberalising conditions of slavery so that slaves could have the right to marry and be baptized as Christians. Working hours were regulated and slave children under ten years old could not be sold. The testimony of Christian slaves also was now accepted in a court of law. The issue of slave children not being sold made a mockery of the fact that the British Parliament had already abolished trading in slaves altogether, some 18 years previously and illustrates that one has to not accept legislation or records to be an accurate reflection of reality when evaluating the past.

1825    GALANT’S SLAVE AND KHOENA REVOLT: In this year Galant, a young slave of 25, led a rebellion involving 12 slaves and ‘Khoena-Baster’ labourers, killing his master and two other Boers.

The Khoena in the Koue Bokkeveld had been defeated by the Trek-Boers and their commandos many decades earlier and much of the bitterness still remained as had the cruel behaviours of farmers first adopted on the massacre drives. Galant had regularly been beaten and locked up and had his property stolen by his master. Galant had reported this to the authorities repeatedly without redress. He could not take the abuse anymore and organised his fellow slaves and apprenticed Khoena labourers to revolt.

Galant and the others were captured after a fight in the mountains, put on trial, convicted and executed. The Galant uprising is simply an example of waves of such unrest that was occurring at this time.

1828     PROCLAMATION OF ORDINANCE 50: This was the final death knell of the distinct Cape Khoena Identity. It was the first step toward the declaration of Khoena, freed-Slaves and other non-Xhosa persons of colour in the Cape Colony to be ‘Coloured’. By 1836 only the term ‘Coloured’ appeared in the statistical records. (In the first formal Census of 1865 there is a once off reverting to separation of figures for ‘Hottentot’ and ‘coloured’)

Ordinance 50 repealed the Hottentot Proclamation of 1809, allowing ‘Hottentots’ and so-called ‘Hottentot-Basters’ and all free persons of colour, freedom from carrying passes or adherence to pass laws (still in practice for other Africans), granting the right to land ownership, freedom from compulsory conscription into military service, and freedom from being flogged for labour offences. It also stipulated limitations on labour contracts. It would remain in place until 1841 when it was superseded by the Masters and Servants Ordinance.

But the damage of 169 years of warfare and degradation had been done and a culture, language, land, livestock and resources had been lost forever. Nothing was returned.

Legislated controls over the lives of people of colour were now commonplace and this year marked an end of one era and beginning of another where political struggle would come into the ascendency. Politics was war or resistance by other means.

By 1836 the statistics no longer recognised Cape people of colour by separate categories of Hottentot-Baster, Slaves, Prize Slaves and Free Blacks. All are from this year called ‘Coloured’ . (until a once-off change in 1865)

CONCLUSION:    KHOENA & SAN RESISTANCE: From this point rebellions and challenges such as that of the Kat River Rebellion, the East Griqualand insurrection and many others, or further support by Khoena in the Xhosa frontier wars of resistance such as that of Hans Branders in Mqoma’s war would continue but the deportation of David Stuurman and the death of Makhanda brought to a close a long protracted era of Indigene Resistance Warfare.

The amaXhosa Wars (war 6 to 9), the Zulu Wars and other resistance efforts continued the resistance war tradition first started by the Cape Khoena and Cape San. Those first 169 years of resistance (1659 – 1828) was the longest, bloodiest and most resilient of all resistance to colonialism ever seen in Southern African history, indeed anywhere in Africa accompanied by Genocide at the hands of colonists never seen elsewhere in Africa to this degree except in German controlled West Africa – yet this story was largely omitted from history books and continues to be omitted.

FINAL NOTE ON POPULATION STATISTICS: In 1795 we find reference to around 18 000 Khoena/Baster Hottentots in the Cape Colony, then in 1837 the Aborigine Protection Society references 33, 000 in a Report to the British Parliament and thereafter Khoena, Slaves, Prize Slaves and Free Blacks are recorded as ‘Coloureds’ from 1838.

But then in the very first Census done in modern scientific format in 1865 and presented to Parliament in 1866 there is a reversion to separating ‘Hottentots’ (‘Baster-Hottentot’) from ‘Other’ – denoting other persons of colour and, two separate figures are given. This does not happen in later years. So in 1865 the population breaks down as:

WHITE     (Europeans, Locally Born & soldiers)               181 592
former slaves, Free Blacks & Migrants of colour              132 655
'KAFFERS’ (amaXhosa within the Colonial boundary)            100 536
'HOTTENTOTS’ (‘Hottentot Basters’)                            81 598

 TOTAL     POPULATION – CAPE COLONY                          255 760

Between 1865 and 1904 migration of Europeans and migration of persons of colour, particularly Africans from outside of South Africa who were assimilated into the ‘Coloured’ population by the authorities in 1904, kept apace and ever increased. (Colonial authorities took a decision to incorporate ‘Masbiekers’ into the ‘Coloured’ population rather than ‘Native’ [Black] population).

It would thus be fair to say that the ratio of Khoena to ‘other persons of colour’ designated as ‘Coloured’ was 1:2 or one third of the future totals. The Khoena as a result of the 169 years of war was the only population (other than the San) that reduced in numbers (by three fifths) from their original numbers at the time of van Riebeeck.

Europeans grew from 90 persons to 181 592 by 1865 and, Khoena from 200 000 persons reduced to 81 598 of whom three quarters were likely to have mixed roots with slaves and others. Such was the effects of the crime of Ethnocide against the Khoena.

In the case of the Cape San the numbers reduced from 30 000 at the time of van Riebeeck to around 25 in the 1970s, to just one or two very old souls left in the 21st century who directly link to the Cape San as a result of Genocide.


My notes are a teaching aid. I encourage all to read the full original research on which the teaching aid is based:

  • The Forgotten Frontier by Nigel Penn; Ohio University Press; 2005
  • The anatomy of a South African Genocide – the extermination of the Cape San Peoples; Mohamed Adikari; UCT Press 2010

  • The Struggle for the Eastern Cape 1800 – 1854 by Martin Legassick; KMM, Johannesburg 2010

  • KhoiKhoi and the Founding of White South Africa by Richard Elphick; Raven Press, Joburg 1985
  • Seven Khoi Lives by Karel Schoeman; Protea, 2009
  • Early Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope 1652 – 1717 by Karel Schoeman; Protea, 2007
  • Breaking the Chains by Nigel Worden and Clifton Crais; Wits UP, 1994
  • Slavery, Emancipation and Colonial Rule in South Africa by Wayne Dooling; UKZN, 200
  • Children of Bondage by Dr Robert C-H Shell; Wits UP; Johannesburg 1994/199
  • Slavery in South Africa – Captive Labour on the Dutch Frontier; Elizabeth A Eldredge & Fred Morton; UNP, 1994
  • The House of Phalo by Jeff Peires; Johnathon Ball; Johannesburg & Cape Town, 2003
  • The Khoekhoe soldier by VC Malherbe; Military History Journal – Vol 12 No 3; 2002
  • David Stuurman: Last Chief of the Hottentots by Susan Newton-King & VC Malherbe; WUP; Johannesburg, 1980
  • The day Cape Slaves made themselves masters – The 1808 Rebellion a dramatic shift in the nature of resistance by Nigel Worden; Cape Times; 2008
  • Records of the Cape Colony by George McCall Theal (36 Vols); Slave Revolt and Trial-Volume 20; London; 1900


This is a piece which I wrote in response to a comment on Facebook by someone expressing irritation that we are, as he put it, “MOANING” about a book written by an unapologetic white South African woman – Rainbow Nation Navigation: A Practical Guide to South African Cultures in which she stereotypes and engages in insulting and hurtful remarks as to what constitutes ‘Coloured Culture’ in South Africa. The commenting individual, another white South African, critical of the protest voice, tells us that we should be countering by explaining what is the culture of people labelled ‘Coloured’ as if to say that it is our duty to educate the white South Africans who engage in such insult. We have no such duty….. we need to prove nothing to those who operate from a racist paradigm.

Here is simply, in the face of insult, how we can celebrate who we are as a people who are a vibrant part of South African life. Neither the stream of insults in this book nor our being labelled as ‘Coloured’ – a term that certainly does not say who we are, but rather emphasizes what we are not, will ever take away our part of the greater South African heritage and reduce it to the benal.



In Praise of Camissa Culture – “O’s is” / “We are!”

We are a people born in and of Africa, combining Indigene, Pan-African, South Asian and Southeast Asian coming together, with a touch of the qualities of those Europeans who accepted our embrace – our dna is the most diverse in the world.… “O’s is!”

We are a people inspired by the fortitude of our Indigene Khoena, San, amaXhosa and other African forebears and their ancient cultures and wisdom which beats in our hearts and soul and still stirs the passion in us which is infectious to all we encounter….”O’s is!”

We are a people of great endurance with an amazing ability to rise up above adversity having survived 14 Indigene wars of resistance over 164 years against an ethnocidal and genocidal colonial onslaught and, engaged in many acts of resistance and revolt against enslavement and the brutal existence as slaves…. “O’s is!”

We are the descendant people of the life sustaining Camissa River, with its many tributaries and springs, who, at the Shoreline Frontier, embraced and sustained all, but were brutally ravished by some…. “O’s is!”

We are proud that into the embrace of our stream came banished resisters from the territories with ancient cultures, stomped over by the Dutch VOC and, refugees and economic migrants of colour from afar –

  • skilled Southeast Asian craftsmen,
  • exiled scholars of faith from Indonesia,
  • Chinese with ancient cultures and medicinal skills,
  • Masbiekers with their way of the Ngoma and farming skills,
  • refugee Manillas with their revolutionary Philippine resolve,
  • the Kroomen, Lascar and Seedee Mariners who laid the foundations of our maritime industry,
  • Indian and Bengali traders, craftsmen, technicians and teachers,
  • The Saints from St Helena with their own tapestry of culture,
  • The African-American and Caribbean Pan-Africanists with their journalism and liberating ideas
  • Indentured labourers from across Africa and the British Empire who propped up a downward spiraling economy and turned it around

and so many more thousands of migrants of colour who built the foundations of South Africa’s economic success, but were treated with disdain and robbed of the fruit of our labours and our intellectual contribution denied….“O’s is!”

We are conscious that without the crucial input in terms of education, skill and back-breaking labour by our forebears and ourselves, there would be neither magnificent Cape Town, nor South Africa…. “O’s is!”

We are conscious that like the river and its tributaries we and our rich vibrant culture too were forced underground and layer upon layer of alienating superstructure hid ‘the real us’ from sight…. “O’s Is!”

We are conscious of the fact that like the underground river, we the people of the water (//amma) continued to have life and vibrantly flowed and gushed forth in springs across Cape Town, and our vibrancy could never be ignored… “O’s is!”

We are proud that in the Slave Lodge of old, our forebears came up with the first foundations of an education system for South Africa; its craftsmen left us with exquisite antique furnishings and finishes on buildings that leave beholders in awe;  the first local play was written here by a slave; and the oldest piece of local education literature was bequeathed us by a slave in his own handwriting…. “Os is!”

We are aware that we continued over the centuries in our creativity; we have a legacy of creating a language – Afrikaaps which others copied; we have produce literary giants; we have a cuisine legacy – unique in first putting fusion cooking on the map when we blended African, Malagasy, Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine; we have contributed a rich legacy in dance, ballet, opera, theatre, music composition and performance, creative writing and so much more – and others copied us.… “O’s is!”

We are conscious, whether in our homes, in educational institutions, in commerce and industry, on the stage, on the sports-fields or in the streets we notably stand out exactly because of the amazing and recognizably unique stamp of our Camissa Footprint in our land…. “O’s is!”

We are known as a spiritual people who pay great attention to our spirit through our diverse expressions of faith – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist, Syncretic or Secular and the qualities in us, born of our faith interacting with our life experiences over time, often despite great pain and tears has given us strength, fortitude, joyousness and ability to laugh at and with ourselves in rising above adversity. “O’s is!”

And when we laugh and make others laugh with our ambidextrous take on life, we are not fools, we are celebrating amazing triumphs and deep wells of tears, and our survival from lives past and present that should have crushed us but didn’t. “O’s is!”

We are painfully aware that we have have struggled quietly with the pains of substance abuse, which has a long history rooted in a tot-en-tabac system first introduce by the Dutch VOC to the 402 child slaves landed in 1658 and copied to date by farmers intent on pacifying us; we have continuously wrestled with this artificially induced cancer and while it still wreaks havoc, most of us survived…. “O’s is!”

We are a people who are family orientated and love our get-togethers and celebrating our achievement and survival, even when dysfunctionality has often blighted us through the assault of slavery on family life, massacres of our indigene forbear families and enslavement of Khoena and San children, continuous forced removals over four centuries, substance abuse and other social ills that befell us as a result of ghettoization… “O’s is!”

We are always in hearty celebration of life. We laugh because there has been too much crying. We sing and rejoice and we love and we hope – and we are noticed for it – and if you ask us why, we will tell you…”O’s is!”

“O’s is!”    “We are!”

Wayde-van-Niekerk-2Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine making up the winning 100m team during the 2016 CAA 20th African Senior Championships at the Kings Park Athletic stadium in Durban, South Africa on June 24, 2016


chief_david_stuurman_495x769 louis_van_mauritius_495x769chief_klaas_stuurman_495x769

DAVID STUURMAN sculptured by Keith Calder
LOUIS VAN MAURITIUS sculptured by Barry Jackson
KLAAS STUURMAN sculptured by Keith Calder
DR JOHANNES VAN DER KEMP sculptured by Barry Jackson.
MAKHANDA THE ITOLA sculptured by Johan Moolman;



A few years ago I was approached by the National Heritage Monument of South Africa to assisted with realizing a vision to give recognition to our ancestors oveDavid Stuurmanr the last 400 years who were sidelined from official histories. I was asked to assist with two things – to provide advice to a range of sculptors on the appearance of these historical figures who in the majority of cases were not captured photographically or in sketches and paintings, I was also asked to research and write 20 of their biographies which could be used as a reference for various projects envisaged for the future. It was a wonderful privilege to be part of this amazing project which subsequently has evolved as a reality.

I engaged with the sculThe Crowd 3ptors in various ways to ensure the best degree of authenticity for the final products and they produced the most magnificent bronze life size figures which broke with the traditional sculpting norms for such work. For each figure I produced a ten page well-researched biography, from which shorter biographical briefs could be produced.


NOMMOA (DOMAN) sculptured by Sarah Richards

There are five contemporaries who are my favorite historical character from the same revolutionary period in our history and one earlier Khoena leader who led the first war of resistance – Klaas and David Sturman of the Khoena Resistance; Louis of Mauritius the leader of the 1808 Slave Rebellion; Makhanda the Xhosa/Khoena Itola (Prophet and military general); Dr Johannes van der Kemp the revolutionary missionary, abolitionist a defender of the Khoena who dared to say that his Jesus did not have to be adopted with a European cultural package; and Nommoa (Doman) the Khoena leader of the first war of resistance against the Dutch. I worked on many of the other historical characters too – 20 in fact.

There are 40 professional sculptors and assistants who have been involved in this project and 8 South African foundries involved in the manufacture. There have also been 5 less experienced artists who have been trained and mentored in the course of the project to the extent that they are now independently working and selling their own bronze sculpture works. Besides carrying out this mammoth task of filling a gap in our history and heritage where previously history and memory had been blotted out, this has been the largest arts empowerment project in the field of sculpturing fine arts in South Africa by a public and private partnership in funding.

I have often promoted that our artists in South Africa engage in “IMAGINING” the past and creating historical and heritage images where there are glaring gaps in imagery so that our public have the opportunity to engage with the past in a more tangible and meaningful manner. To those who question this exhortation of mine, I remind them about the famous artist Charles Bell who 200 years after the event, painted van Riebeeck’s arrival at the Cape, with all its imperfections and lack of authenticity, but that the image has endured and been embraced for the last 170 years. The image of that painting projecting Autshumao (presented as Harry the beachbum strandlooper) as an awestruck man dress in skins who had never engaged with whites is as unauthentic as they come. Autshumao who was an established trader and linguist of some 30 years standing made a point of dressing in European clothes when engaging newly arrived Europeans, and had already trained in Jakarta with the English. I also remind them of two plagiarized images from a Dutch Museum which the Colonial and Apartheid era projected authentically as that of Jan van Riebeeck and his wife Maria de la Quellarie. For decades these images served as fakery to present van Riebeeck as a handsome well proportioned Dutch hero with long wavy hair who appeared to us on stamps, coins, banknotes, history books and statues (one of these fakery statues still stands proudly in Cape Town). The images are indeed of a Mr Vermuyden and his mistress Ms Kettering. So the example of these great scultors should be emulated by our budding young fine artists across the country. Paint, sculpt, sketch, carve and work on the hidden history and heritage of South Africa.

Please visit the National Heritage Monument website to learn more. It does not feature all of the images, nor the full depictions – just the portrait views.

HERITAGE DAY 2016: Migrants of Colour who crossed the Cape Shoreline Frontier – Forced or Voluntary

cropped-kaggen-music-culture-trust-e1472116180809HERITAGE DAY 2016 – I have written extensively about our indigene roots in previous posts. Here I want to focus on another dimension of our heritage that receives less attention in public discourse. On Heritage Day 2016 Camissapeople Blogsite has joined in a partnership with THE KAGGEN MUSIC & CULTURE TRUST so that together we can bring and foster greater understanding of our hidden history and heritage. You are able to link through to the trust by clicking on its icon.


Lydia Williams was born to Mazbieker slave parents and was 14 years old when emancipation from slavery was declared. She associated with St Phillips Anglican Church in Chapel Street and with the Cowley fathers and dedicated herself to counseling the many traumatised freed slaves over the rest of her life. She died at the age of 90 at her little home and prayer centre which like everything else in District Six was demolished.

In proceeding let me first say that the best way in which we can celebrate heritage day is to end our pre-occupation with race, colour and ethnicity as pseudo reference-points for identity and to replace this focus with a heritage-experience focus in South Africa and move towards celebrating the ties that bind us. It is about time that the race-paradigm of silos of black, white, and coloured are put behind us. The narrow South Africa segregated ethnic notion of Indian likewise does not reflect the full spectrum of Asian heritage. All of these do not speak of heritage and are fundamental pillars of Apartheid which still govern our society in so many ways.

In saying this, less there be any misinterpretation, I am certainly not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand about the vicious racism in our history, the deeply painful experiences of all people of colour, and our valiant resistance which is also our heritage of rising above adversity. This memory however, must be fashioned into a tool that ensures these aberrations never happen again. In the 21st century, for many, there remains the reality of ‘black lives’, meaning ‘the black experience’ – a global experience and, the lives of people of colour still does not matter to many of our white fellow human beings. But this is no justification for perpetuating the pseudo-science of race, concepts of race-purity, race silos and the continuation of embedding the concept of race as a holy grail in our minds. None but ourselves can free our minds.

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Afro-Europeans have many sub-cultures based on a combination of European lineages – Dutch, British, French, German etc, and a variety experiences of being born and brought up in Africa over generations. Afro-Asians also have had different experiences of Africa over generations mixed with lineages going back to India, Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and an array of Southeast Asian countries. This is heritage and not race and, it is within the creolisation experiences between all of these cultures that the South African tapestry emerges and, whereby we can celebrate our unity in diversity – as expressed on our national coat of arms. Ours is a complex modern society and nowhere on this planet has any good come of trying to suppress heritage – it is something to be celebrated. We cannot turn back the clock and, to borrow a distasteful expression – to ethnically purify our past. Indeed none of the modern social constructs in South Africa – and all are born in the modern era, are without the coming together of different streams. Variation in cultural heritage is enhancing and challenges us human beings to understand each other and the many dimensions that make up human complexity in all its beauty. No part of the whole can be cut off and discarded without injury to humankind.

In highlighting this fundamental truth about our society, where I sincerely believe that if we do not embrace it and jettison the race-silo nonsense and narrow ethnic-identity nonsense, my message is that we will never overthrow the racist monster which consumes us.

On this heritage day I want to caution against the twin of race division – an equally dangerous monster threatening to devour us. This is the misguided romanticism and championing of ethnic and tribal nationalism which has become more and more vogue over these unfortunate ‘Jacob Zuma years’ and has brought back some of the worst features of the Apartheid Bantustan era. I particularly caution those of us who celebrate our proud heritage of Khoena and San indigene culture, and those who celebrate our Camissa roots. I do believe that we can and should celebrate this precious heritage of ours, but without entertaining narrow ethnic and tribal nationalism. Along with this pernicious deviation, the Apartheid notion of ‘PURITY OF GROUP’ has again also become vogue. Most absurdly some even talk of being ‘Pure Coloured’ or ‘Pure Bruines’ and sound alarm bells about ‘CONTAMINATION’ and thus pit themselves against others. We can and must reject this approach as being equally destructive to our heritage as colonialism was and those who go down this root are courting further disaster for our heritage for the illusion of short-term gains.

Having said this – today I have chosen to celebrate heritage day to highlight as passionately as I do about our indigene Khoena and San roots – our other roots of ‘THE MIGRANTS OF COLOUR WHO CROSSED OUR SHORELINE FRONTIER UNDER FORCE SOMETIMES AND SOMETIMES VOLUNTARILY’. This is a huge part of who we are and to deny this past or to cut this aspect of our heritage off from ourselves will condemn us to perpetually question ourselves because the spirit and culture of these ancestors are deep within us, and manifest in so many ways.

I here not only talk of the slaves forced to come to our shores from other parts of Africa, India, Sri-Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia and China. I am also talking about those who were called the Mardijkers, the Peranakans, the Saints, the Manillas, the Mazbiekers, the Prize Slaves, the Indentures, the Kroomen, the Siddis, the Oromo, passengers of colour, the black diaspora from the US and the Caribbean – all of whom made their homes in the Cape before the 1910 Act of the Union of South Africa. Most are very ignorant of how big a part of our heritage and identity these tributaries and the numerical significance of the infusion of these tributaries.

The original Cape indigene population of over 100 000 had through a process of forced removal, war, genocide and to a much lesser extent, imported disease, been killed and chased out of the Cape Colony by the end of the 18th century to the north western frontier territories of the Gariep where they had to regroup under very difficult circumstances and integrated often with others. In 1805 the surviving Khoena in the colony, integrated with now grown San children who survived their parents extermination at the hands of commandos, and also with slaves of various origins were now referred to as the ‘Hottentot-Baster’ population and were only 20 000 strong in the census. Devastatingly colonial expansion through force of arms and ethnic cleansing had removed over 80 000 people by killing or by driving them from their traditional lands. Their rich herds of livestock generally regarded to have been in the region of 10 head of cattle to one person and twice as many sheep were stolen along with their grazing grounds.

Along with this clearing process, the Europeans forcibly brought into the Cape over the same period until 1807, a recorded 63 000 slaves, probably much more unrecorded. Then from 1807 to 1856 around 12 000 more prize slaves also probably more unrecorded. During the same period various other migrations of people of colour occurred, further increasing these figures by a probable 15 000 plus. This was followed post 1856 by various other migrations of people of colour going into many thousands. The vast majority of these migrants came from the African continent. This migration far outstripped European migration (even that of the 1820 settlers), in the same period and it clearly impacted dramatically on the people of colour in the Cape Colony and later the Natal Colony with spill-over into the Orange Free State and Transvaal Republic. This is as much an important part of the ancestral and cultural heritage of all people of colour as is that part of our heritage represented by our Indigene forebears. Indeed it was a vital component to the survival of Cape Indigenes that they embraced the migrants of colour, and important to the mental survival of the migrants that they in return embraced the Cape Indigenes.

This discussion in all its variant cameos is, to use a new popular term, the ‘MISSING MIDDLE’ in our story and getting to know this part of our ancestral continuum would certainly cause us to want to halt in our tracks on these dubious roads that some are trying to lead us down – in embracing Ethno-Nationalism.

The story is too long to handle in this short piece so I will just have to set aside going down too many cameo stories and stick to the main descriptions of the different migrant groupings. I encourage all to delve into their family trees and into the histories of each of these tributaries to our heritage make-up.

The story of slavery in our heritage involves three streams of people who were enslaved in far off lands and forcibly dragged across our shoreline-frontier to labour and use their skills under cruel conditions to develop this country – as did their generations of children and grandchildren. Within these three streams – African (approx. 58%), Indian (approx. 24%) and Southeast Asian (approx. 18%) there were people from a wide array of the modern countries we know today. Those from Africa initially came from two regions in West Africa and then largely from a range of East African countries and parts of some southern central African African countries and Madagascar. Those from the Indian sub-continent included India, Sri-Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Those from Southeast Asia included people from Indonesia, Borneo, Formosa, Southern China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Myanmar. These peoples, their creole descendants and cultures are a major part of our heritage. (creole simply means a new-creation or localy-born)

From before the time of Jan van Riebeeck and through the colonial years Mardijkers from Ambon and other sailors, soldiers, adventurers and economic migrants of colour who were then called ‘Free Blacks’ and largely came from Asia and other parts of Africa also voluntarily crossed the shoreline-frontier. These too became a tributary into our heritage. The year 1652 was not a magical date for engagement between our indigene forebears and external visitors including the Europeans. In the 52 years prior to van Riebeecks arrival over 1071 ships dropped anchor and more than 215 000 visitors passed through Table Bay. Like in all ports there was certainly human interaction and children were born from relationships of various sorts. From 1488 until 1600 there were also visitations. Prior to this indicators exist to show Phoenician and Indonesian visitations hundreds of years previously and Chinese visitations at least by 1421. Our heritage is not as cut and dried as some believe. (a word of caution however – recognition of this interaction does not mean support for supremacist ideas that attribute all signs of ‘civilisation’ in Africa being brought here by superior Dravidians or others).

Because of the huge impact of the Europeans, particularly the Dutch, across East Asia, and the wars they waged, they found it convenient to use the Cape of Good Hope as a place of banishment and punishment particularly for resisters and convicts. Two groups of resisters were targeted in the main. These were the Indonesian Muslim religious leaders and the Peranakan Chinese resisters from Batavia where the Dutch had carried out a huge massacre of middle-class creole Chinese. These exiles made a huge impact on our heritage. For instance the Indonesian exiles through their missionary work among local slaves laid the foundations of today’s Muslim community in South Africa.

St Helena Island shares a long history with South Africa through connections that go back to the 1620s. Like the Cape Colony the majority of its population were made up of slaves and indentured labour, alongside the European settlers – mainly English. There were no indigenes on the island. The slaves and indentured workers were from Africa, India, Southeast Asia and many from China. Significant numbers of St Helenians first came as part of the English armed forces in the two invasions at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century. Then later in the last decades of the 19th century and into the 20th century over a period of time the Saints, as they were to become known, came to the Cape and Natal as indentured labour. Many families share a heritage with the Saints.

The Mazbieker heritage stands out as the least talked about element of our heritage, yet it is one of the strongest in our lineages affecting many more people than want to acknowledge it. Mazbiekers flowed across our shoreline frontier into the embrace of Camissa both as slaves and as indentured labourers from the 1780s well into the 1880s. These were slaves and indentured labourers who came to the Cape largely as agricultural labour in the rural areas of the Colony and as dock-labour. They came via Mozambique – thus the name Mazbieker, but these included Mozambicans, Malawians, Zimbabweans, Zambians, Tanzanians as well as people from the norther areas of KZN. They integrated with other slaves and with surviving Khoena and San. Communities in the Swartland, Paarl, Worcester, the Karoo, Overberg today labelled ‘Coloured’ have as part of their heritage – a strong Mazbieker infusion. So do many of those in Cape Town where Mazbieker influence was strong in District Six and Bokaap and across the Cape Flats. Mazbiekers were used extensively for the most back-breaking work in public works and the docks.

Another large infusion of African people in our heritage in the Cape were those called ‘Liberated Slaves’ or ‘Prize Slaves’ also called ‘Prize boys and girls’. These were both West African and East African slaves seized by the Royal Navy after the abolition of slavery from slave-trader ships on the high seas. The ‘Prize Slaves’ were then taken to Royal Navy bases at St Helena, Zanzibar, Aden and of course Simonstown. Among these were also slaves who survived shipwrecks on our coast at Woodstock and Clifton. ‘Prize Slaves’ were not really liberated if they were brought to the Cape. Here they were forced to undergo a 14 year indentured labour period which most often lasted much longer than slavery did, into the 1870s, and was no different to slavery. The ‘Prize Slaves’ are also part of our family trees. Long after 1856 when most of the last ‘Prize Slaves’ were brought to the Cape an event occurred that was linked to the ‘Prize Slave’ phenomenon. In 1890 a shipload of children were transferred to the Cape from the Royal Navy base at Aden.
These children were seized from a slave-trader ship by the Royal Navy off the high seas of North Africa. The slavers had captured these children from the Oromo in Somalia. When the children were brought to the Cape, the enforced indentureship era was over and instead the children were sent to further their education at the Lovedale Mission in the Eastern Cape. After this some at their request were repatriated but most stayed on and integrated into the South African population. Our great outstanding intellectual and fighter for liberation, the late Dr Neville Alexander’s grandmother was one of those Oromo children.

Also linked to the ‘Prize Slave’ story is the fact that the vast majority of Royal Navy sailors making up those patrolling the high seas along the African coastline, were in fact African sailors – either Kroomen or Siddis from West Africa and East Africa respectively. They were based at the Simonstown dockyard for almost 100 years. These sailors lived here and they died here and they married and had children with local women. Their gravestones remain as markers in Simonstown boldly emblazoned with the word KROOMAN denoting that they were from the Kru tribe. Some helped to build the Royal Observatory. Our late great professional dancer and choreographer Christopher Kindo was a descendent of the Kroomen. Many in Cape Town share this heritage.

Then there are those we call the Manillas – the refugees from the revolutionary uprisings in the Philippines in the latter half of the 19th century who were part of a global diaspora spanning 30 years of upheaval in that part of the world. They largely settled in Kalk Bay but as time passed their descendants spread across Cape Town. Many today carry their surnames such as Fernandes, de la Cruz, Flores, Manuel, Padua etc. Filipinos themselves were of mixed ancestry including Chinese, Indian, Spanish and Indigenes and here in South Africa they inter-married with descendants of an array of indigene Africans, and with diverse slaves, indentured labourers, Kroomen et al.

Post the emancipation from slavery in 1834 a labour crises developed in the Cape so that in addition to ‘Prize Slaves’ being used as cheap indentured labour, Cape farmers were assisted to bring in in indentured labourers from Lesotho, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Huge numbers of these economic migrants settled in the rural areas and farmlands and largely integrated into the populations labelled ‘Coloured’ in those areas. As migrations from the Eastern Cape to meet the need for both farm and urban labour also grew, so new locations sprung up and over time the African indentured labourers integrated with amaXhosa labourers in the Western Cape as well as with Sotho, Tswana, Korana and Xhosa communities elsewhere. The amaXhosa relationships with the Khoena in the Western Cape go back in time to before European explorers set foot on the shoreline-frontier, and the stronger presence in the Western Cape goes back to around 1700 when European cattle raiders first engaged the Khoena-Xhosa communities. Since then ama-Xhosa made their way into the Cape colony and this picked up during the so-called frontier wars when prisoners of war were interred in Cape Town and labour gangs were brought to the docks. They too inter-married and had children across the ethnic lines demarcated by officialdom. There had also always been inter-marriage between Khoena, San and ama-Xhosa as attested by dna studies and by isiduko records. Indentured labour, followed by migrant labour systems, resulted in much crossing of tribal and clan lines and Camissa was embraced and Camissa embraced in return.

Over the entire 18th and 19th centuries there was a constant trickle of passengers of colour who migrated to the Cape to start new lives. Those that stood out the most were passenger Indians and Bengalis who came to the Cape and applied themselves to all sorts of trades from shoe-making, tailoring and barbering to running fruiterers and general dealerships. By the 1860s indentured labour became the greatest lure to South Africa from the Indian sub-continent and Sri Lanka and thousands of labourers were brought to work on the sugarcane plantations of KZN.

In the late 19th century and the early 20th century Africans in diaspora as a result of slavery and now in the USA, the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe made their way by sea to the Cape Colony as part of their voyage of self-discovery. Many settled and got married and engaged in the exciting world of politics of that period. Henry Sylvester Williams from Trinidad and Tobago comes to mind and the larger than life flamboyant Zacharia Perigrino too – strong Pan-Africanists.

With all of these rich threads in our heritage we would be fools to not want to trace the cultural contributions to who were are today. Our base in the indigene Khoena and San, and in other indigene Africans too, is enhanced by these different tributaries that resulted in a new creation in Africa and of Africa. Not to be forgotten were the many non-conformist and rebel Europeans who crossed the boundaries of race and colour and chose to assimilate into the Camissa Footprint. While many children were born of violence and abuse towards women of colour, there were many, many, wholesome relationships of love and care across the boundaries of colour where couples paid a huge price in social stigma and aggression. We should not be one-sided in our view of our past. Already by the time of the two governors van der Stel, who were of slave and European lineage, the ugly face of racism had began to be entrenched at the Cape – whereas prior to this the most of relationships at the Cape crossed the colour-line.

The Camissa embraced all of these and we are challenged to rediscover the Camissa in us and to celebrate our wholeness at this time of the year when we focus on our rich heritage. Our Indigene forebears at a time of assault and all sorts of pressures reached out to these other victims of colonialization and the slave trade and the integration processes became part of the strategy for survival. Our lack of acknowledgement of this part of our heritage needs to be addressed in our heritage discourse as does many more elements lost between the cracks and noise.

Migrations forced and voluntary, by people of colour, still flow across our shoreline frontier and continue to enhance our society. Camissa will embrace these too and in time these will embrace Camissa. We need to be careful of bigotry, xenophobia, racism, tribalism and ethno-nationalism and nativism. This is all cut from the same poisonous cloth. This is not heritage and the difference between these and heritage should never be confused. We have many pathologies that play out among us in antagonisms between various groups – the artificial black and bruin arguments are a part of these. Most often when closely examined, one finds ideologically skewed understanding of history and false social constructs that are revived over and over again.

(For those who have not read my other work on the Camissa Footprint and want to understand what is meant by this term…. Please consult )
May all on this heritage weekend stop awhile and think about the ties that bind us, and celebrate your heritage / our heritage – whether African in all its diversity from amaXhosa, Khoena, San and Camissa to Venda, Lembe and Korana – or Afro-European celebrating the best of European diversity and the Africa that you and yours embrace – or Afro-Asian celebrating the meeting of the deep ancient values of eastern diversity and the equally deep spirit of Ngoma and Ubuntu of Africa. Have a great Heritage Day.



The Camissa foundation of the Port City of Cape Town

Patric Tariq Mellet (Sept 2016)

camissa-2For a long time there has been an unbalanced approach to recalling the past in which the indigene experience has been but a footnote in an otherwise European dominated narrative. Even the critical view of many European commentators of the time had been marginalised. Effectively the indigenes are simply presented as incidental to the founding of the port settlement of Cape Town and presented as playing no significant part in the founding of one of Africa’s most important cities. Indeed not only were the Dutch responsible for dispossessing them of their land and livelihoods but indigene people also found themselves robbed of their history as the true founders of the City of Cape Town.

Much amplification is given to the many traveller texts and to Jan van Riebeeck’s narrative that are quite disparaging of the indigenes of Table Bay. These refer to the indigene Khoena as temporal inhabitants, dirty, smelly, lazy, good-for-nothing, thieves, scavengers unaware of the broader world beyond their shores and, they are likened to beasts.

This unfortunate view is deeply embedded in the minds of scholars and generally of South Africans in particular. However, there are other accounts of seafarers and scribes which tell a different story of an enterprising and helpful indigene people, some of whom had travelled abroad and, of trading and port operations in a busy port that precede the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck by at least 52 years and effectively constituted a settled proto port trading community.

Even the better historical accounts present the maroon Goringhaicona community as a kind of mystery phenomenon without ‘joining the dots’ between increased shipping and its impacts on indigene modes of living and economy. Entrepreneurship is simply brushed off as scavenging and begging practices by primitives.

Also deeply embedded in social history enquiry is the notion that the story of people of the Cape people’s mixed ancestral heritage starts in 1652, whereas the circumstances of the 52 years prior to the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, and the dynamics of any port settlement globally suggests otherwise.

Further consideration of the first fifty two years of the 17th century is that it offers an alternative version of the foundation of the port, the city of Cape Town and its people. All of the considerations taken together also provide a positive and non-racial ‘heritage anchor’ for those labelled ‘Coloured’ and indeed all who cherish what can be referred to as the ‘Camissa footprint’. Passing scribes, Tavernier and Mundy, make clear references to indigene children who in their eyes are described ‘white and beautiful’, ‘European looking’ but with both indigene African as well as European features and in reference to appearance as ‘some well-favoured as it could not be expected’.

For example, the accounts also show that Europeans consistently spent lengthy stays at Table Bay from as early as 1601 during which time they interacted extensively with the indigenes. McCall Theal in his ’History of SA 1486-1691’ tells us that Spilbergen makes mention in 1601 that their sick were conveyed to land where a hospital was established. He also talks of ships ‘wintering in’ at Table Bay. Raven Hart in his book ‘Before van Riebeeck (1967) provides the figures of 1,839 sheep and 149 cattle being traded to 4 ships between 1601-1608. Jean Baptista Tavernier in ‘The Six Travels…’ tells us “So soon as the ship arrives, they (the indigenes) bring their beasts to the shore with what other commodities they have, to barter….” After being shipwrecked with 62 men in 1647 and remaining at Table Bay for almost a year, Leendert Janzsen in his ‘Remonstrance’ to the VOC states “the natives came with all friendliness to trade with us….bringing cattle and sheep in numbers.”

Richard Elphick in ‘The Khoikhoi and the founding of white South Africa’ emphasises “In a sense, the VOC Company’s frontier had reached the Peninsulars (indigenes) fifty years before the Colony was established.” This statement was a great leap forward on a previous blanking-out of any perspective prior to 1652 that cast indigenes in a favourable light or gave any credence to what may be called modern social organisation or ‘civilisation’.

In contrast to Elphick’s cautious but advanced exploration, most studies still do not draw all of the many elements together that stand out during this period and none make the conclusion drawn about the indigene founding of Cape Town and the heritage roots of those who can refer to themselves as the ‘people of Camissa’ or descendants of ‘the Camissa footprint’.

To arrive at different perspectives or conclusions, a combination of the perspectives and experiences of both sides of the ‘shoreline frontier’ – looking from inside outwards and outside inwards, is required. While we are challenged by the fact that there is no written record by indigenes, in the absence of any written record from within, there is a greater onus to look at overlooked texts, the omissions, contradictions, obvious embellishments, and ideological overlay in the many views and records of the time. Then there is a need to listen more carefully to the voices recorded and raised in opposition among the indigenes at the time of initial dispossession – even though recorded by the beneficiaries of dispossession. Empowering the eye or perspectives of the marginalised and those denied their own self-determination of heritage and identity in our time is a further factor that motivates a fresh view of this period.

Lengthy stayovers at the Cape increasingly became the norm from 1600. This is not shown in the general historical narrative to the degree that it ought to be shown, because it is in fact much larger and had greater impacts than previously acknowledged. Historical narratives often deliberately give an impression that the trading activity in Table Bay was there but minimally so and largely sans real indigene interaction. In other words they suggest only opportunistic individual trading took place and that only now and then was there very limited interaction between Europeans and indigenes and that the latter were child-like primitives if not noble beasts.

Records however show that stayovers could be anything from a week to six months and in the last decade prior to 1652 arrivals of ships were up to 3 per month. This would substantially alter the narrative of the state of the situation on the arrival of van Riebeeck, himself a much more controversial figure than is acknowledged. Contradictory perspectives among the Europeans allow us opportunity to question dominant narratives. Overall it is almost as though in the two decades before European settlement that European presence was semi-permanent with few gaps in between.

In 1644, 250 men survived the wrecking of the Dutch Ship Mauritius Eylant and remained at Table Bay until rescued by a ship, the Tijger, which according to Thomas Aldsworth, “had to be despatched to rescue them.” They remained camped at Salt River for four months before being picked up and the number of people were almost twice as many as Van Riebeeck’s later 1652 settlement party.

Earlier than this, it is noted that as early as in 1611, another account by Aldsworth states “the climate is very healthy, insomuch that, arriving there with many of our people sick, they all regained their health and strength within 20 days”. Furthermore he says that a report to the directors of the English East India Company says – “we found the natives of the country to be very courteous and tractable folk, and they did not give us the least annoyance during the time we were there.” As a result of the frequent stayovers many make-shift forts and redoubts were built over decades. Indigenes became quite accustomed to the European and other visitors.

The anecdotal accounts are backed by maritime records showing that from 1590 until 1700 there were 2632 ships that called at the Cape, involving 5 nationalities, and of these 1071 ships dropped anchor in Table Bay between 1600 and 1652. Stay-overs could be anything between a few days and a couple of weeks.

In reading works such as Robin Knox-Johnston’s “The Cape of Good Hope – A Maritime History” and “The Dutch East India Company’s Shipping 1602 – 1795 in a comparative perspective” by FS Gaastra and JR Bruijn from Leiden University, one is also able to glean other facts that call into question the traditional amplified narrative on the beginnings of the port of Cape Town, the depth of services rendered before 1652 and, the negative characterisation of the indigene people of Table Bay.

The latter provides a full list of sea-traffic broken down per nationality for each decade of the 17th century and interrogates what they were carrying, and shipping attrition rates. While the Dutch dominated the numbers of ships doing lay-overs, from the first decade of the 17th century England followed with significant numbers of vessels, followed by  France, Portugal, Denmark – all dropping anchor and having lengthy stay-overs in Table Bay.

In the period 1610 to 1620, English ships increased to ten times the number of the previous decade and this strongly indicates why the English considered colonization at this point in time and then later opted to support local development of indigene support infrastructure after their attempt at colonisation with Newgate convicts in 1614 – 1616 failed. In 1619 they even formally explored a joint English-Dutch presence at the Cape and in 1620 England formally annexed the Cape of Good Hope but nothing came of this venture.

When one looks at the comparative maritime records of that time one gets a good picture of the competitiveness between the different European powers, the dominance of the Dutch, the size and shape of their vessels and changes over time to this technology due to the cargoes carried. One further needs to examine the attrition rate that faced vessels and the dire need for passengers especially the sick to have breaks ashore. What nobody really interrogates is the effect of all of this on the local population at the Cape and on their way of life. Indeed it is projected that for two centuries the indigenes dozily and idly sat and watched all of what was happening at the Cape since 1488 when the Europeans first entered their space, or 1421 when the Chinese fleet of Zeng He passed by. Indigene social history has been overwhelmed by purely anthropological and archaeological approaches until Elphick dared to present his work outlining a pre-1652 meeting of indigenes and Europeans at the shoreline frontier of South Africa.

One needs to examine not just what the huge shipping traffic carried from the east, but what they carried to India and Southeast Asia. Likewise, one needs to understand the powerful dynamics in that region which lent strategic importance to the Cape. One also sees a dramatic and striking attrition rate of ships by examining the number of ships that made the return journeys. The attrition rate through wrecks and wear and tear on vessels shows in that only around 50% of these vessels returned to Europe. It spurred on the development of shipbuilding technology and the need for advanced stop-over repair stations en route. The attrition rate of 50% of the ships being unable to do the return voyage was one of the chief drivers for the need for sophisticated stop-over points starting with refreshment posts and graduating to ship repair facilities. It also became the chief driver to replace the indigene proto-port operations with a more sophisticated port operation.

The international records show an almost studious omission in our South African history books to mention that the main outward bound role of the shipping from Europe was to carry company officials and huge loads of troops to supply the wars in South and South East Asia with soldiers. When we look at the numbers surviving the wrecks and multiply this with the number of ships that stopped at Table Bay, as many as 215 000 people travelled through the Port over half a century. In the east the Dutch were fighting the English, French and Portuguese, indigenes and Muslim Sultanates at different times and they needed to fortify their factories and huge bases in India, Sri Lanka and at Batavia.

Factories stretched across the long Indian and Bengal Coast and from Arakan (Rakhine State) in Myanmar, to Thailand (Siam), Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, through to Formosa, and Japan and then throughout Indonesia. This was a scenario thirsty for thousands of armed troops.

The United Dutch East India Company had all the powers of state ceded to them by the Dutch States General. These troops, to be deployed in active combat in the east, needed time ashore at strategic stops. After a stop-over at St Helena, the voyages were long and arduous with the soldiers and officials getting sick and dying on board. They also grew grumpy and fights broke out. It was most certain that by 1615 already that the ships masters were complaining that troops had to have time ashore at the Cape of Good Hope. The VOC then formally took a decision that in 1616 it would be compulsory for all Dutch shipping to lay-over at Table Bay. This raises the fact that the contact with indigenes at the Cape must have been greater than many historical accounts project and that the impacts on indigene way of life in Table Bay must have been great. It is this that is the most likely factor to result in two Khoena groups splitting from the Cochouqua (≠Ōxōkhoena) and later the split from the Goringhaiqua (!Uri//aekhoena) all of whom permanently lodged themselves on the Cape Peninsula.

This kind of sea traffic through a port creates stowaways and stay-behinds; shore-leave by men leads to sexual encounters and relations becoming a norm of port; ship repairs would have needed the gathering of repair materials and therefore negotiation of terrain, cutting and gathering timber and this would have led to job creation and further trade. The ships themselves required supplies of fresh water, meat, salt and other edibles and the indigenes, particularly inland were well known to have large stocks of cattle and sheep. Over half a century trade and service patterns grew and grew. There are a number of records of long-term stays by substantial numbers of stranded as well as sick Europeans at the Cape. On the whole, given the recorded numbers involved, (much larger than van Riebeeck’s initial compliment) living in much more rudimentary conditions, shows that conflict with indigenes was not the order of the day. The few incidents of conflict are easily explained as was done ably in Leendert Janzsen’s ‘Remonstrantie’ to the VOC Chamber of Seventeen.

All indications, and a number of seafarers accounts, show that there was a major impact on locals through the influence of large numbers of ships stopping at the Cape, the frequency of these ships long stayovers, the different nationalities involved, the need for repairs during stop overs, the need for soldiers and officials to go ashore in large numbers, the need for diverse supplies, probable occasional need to leave the sick behind, the required postal and news communication services required and so on?

The impact on the people of the Cape Peninsular (//Hui !Gaeb) was so great that we see the emergence first of an indigene clan with the name Gorachouqua (!Ora//khaukhoena) and then an offshoot of this clan called the Goringhaiqua (!Uri//aekhoena) who become permanently settled in the areas later named Liesbeeck, Mowbray and Rondebosch, and then a maroon clan which established themselves in a trading village first on Robben Island and then on the banks of the Camissa River (//ammi ssa) in Table Bay, called the Goringhaicona (!Uri//ae/goena). Interestingly the name Gorinhaiqua (!Uri//aekhoena) means ‘white coming together with (indigene) people’ when you linguistically break down the three components in the name. The Goringhaicona means ‘the children of the Goringhaiqua’. These even seemed to have stopped keeping their own cattle, supplementing their food intake with fish, shellfish and birds, when not partaking in surplus bartered livestock provided for shipping. Much social history may be hidden in these giveaway clan names and by the acquired practices that set them apart from other indigene communities. The indicators of proto-urbanisation are clear to be seen.

It would in fact seem that originally there was just the Cochoqua (≠Ōxōkhoena) who visited the Cape Peninsula in a transhumance pattern moving along the West Coast to the Penisular and back cyclically according to weather patterns and herding their livestock. The impact of European visitation changed both the way of life and the economy of the indigenes and a permanent presence emerged at the Cape Peninsular with first the Gorachouqua and the Chariguriqua (Xririkhoena) emerging as breakaways and then the Goringhaiqua and the Goringhaicona. Signs suggest that the emergence of the latter two coincide with the engagement of Xhore (Coree 1613) and Autshumao (Haddah 1631) by the English and the trade relations with European ships that follow those events. With these changes also saw the development of rivalries and conflict and records show that the different clans were not averse to seeking superiority in their conflicts by asking Europeans to back them up.

The English in particular made interventions that catapulted changes in modes of living and economy for the indigenes by taking key personalities abroad to London and Bantam and Jakarta. This practice was then copied by the Dutch. Written accounts show that at least five verifiable Khoena had been taken abroad to gain experience and training, if not more, between 1613 and 1655. With these interventions new commodities became available and a chain of value attached itself to those commodities – skillets, knives, spoons, iron, copper, brass, tobacco, clothes, and alcohol. The commodities themselves introduced new social problems and they skewed the trade in and ownership of livestock.

Xhore and a companion were kidnapped and taken to London aboard the Hector in 1613 but only Xhore survived the trip. Sir Thomas Smythe of the English East India Company had hoped that after requisite training Xhore may facilitate his other plans for Table Bay. This involved establishing a colony initially using ten Newgate convicts under Captains Peyton and Crosse after they returned the kidnapped Xhore (Caree), to Table Bay. After three disastrous years for those earliest of European settlers, the colony experiment was abandoned.

The English fell back on a ‘plan-B’ and Xhore became the first of the formal traders used as trade and service facilitator by European shipping. He thus became an authority figure or Chief of a clan which amassed wealth as a result. He is said to have been murdered by the Dutch for non-cooperation in 1626 and thereafter according to Elphick there was an immediate down-swing in economic relations at the Cape as a result.

Even although Xhore served other European nationalities too, with Xhore gone, the English suffered the most, as they enjoyed the best relations with Xhore and his people. It is clearly too, that because of this loss, the English made a second major intervention in taking Autshumao to Bantam in Java and to Jakarta in Southeast Asia for observations, training and orientation. Thirdly, and most importantly, on returning him to Table Bay, they to the unprecedented step to set him with his followers on Robben Island to run a formal supply and postal station. He did this ably, engaged with other nationalities and even with authority once directed the French away from what he called an English station. But after a few years the Robben Island station proved inefficient and too restricting for Autshumao and, by request of the indigenes, this community was assisted to move back to the mainland.

Peter Mundy travelling on the English ship Mary refers to Autshumao (Haddah) on Robben Island noting that he even wore European clothing, “Here the said Haddah lives with his kindred and allies numbering about 60 persons – men, women and children. They come all about us very merrily rejoicing at our coming, better apparelled than those on the mainland, though after the same manner. Except for Haddah who on that day wore English clothes from head to toe.” There is another text where an observer again notes that Haddah (Autshumao) was wearing English clothes.

The English then re-established Autshumao and his 60 followers on the mainland approximately in 1638 where they established their settlement alongside the Camissa River where it flowed over the beach into the sea. So about 20 years before Jan van Riebeeck settled at the Cape in 1652, it is thus undisputable that Autshumao and the Goringhaicona ran a proto-trading and servicing community which interacted with European shipping. This was the true foundation of Cape Town.

There are many signs that Autshumao performed his trader and port master role ably, was a proficient linguist, was shrewd and astute and, also knew the value of playing off the English and their enemies, the Dutch and French. The large formations of Khoena also knew to keep their main herds of thousands of cattle and sheep cattle, and their families far inland away from the Europeans so Autshumao was not simply an opportunist go-between trader but served a very useful defensive buffer role. Regardless of the basic nature of the services provided Authshumao offered post and communications, stevedoring, ship’s chandeliers, and trader services.

Robin Knox-Johnston notes “ the Dutch and the English also had their own trusted native who would keep letters and hand them over to the Captains of home-going ships. A ship on arriving in the bay would fire a cannon and this would bring the ‘Postman’ down to the beach…. A ship’s boat would be sent to fetch him and he would exchange mail and report any other useful information for a small reward.”

Jodocus Hondius III (1622–1655) in a work ‘A clear description of the Cape of Good Hope’ published in Amsterdam in 1652 describes the Table Bay site and river as follows – “A short distance beyond the tail of the Lion Mountain is the little Fresh River which is a stream rising in the foothills of Table Mountain, or in its higher slopes. The river usually flows quite strongly, but in most parts the water does not reach above the knees. In the year 1644 the crew of the wrecked ship Mauritius Eiland marked out a fort with 4 bastions across this Fresh River in order to protect the fresh water, but no building took place until this present year, 1652, when a fortress was begun on the eastern side of the same streamlet.” Here he refers to Van Riebeeck’s appropriation of the Camissa, the exact spot being around the backside of the Golden Acre Centre, Strand Street, Plein Street and the upper end of the Grand Parade.

It was at this spot alongside the river known in the local language simply as Fresh Water – Camissa (//ammi ssa), that the indigenes established the foundation village and port operation that would become the City of Cape Town. The Goringhaicona themselves were dubbed ‘Watermen’ by the Dutch. This was about 14 years prior to the European settlement in 1652.

When van Riebeeck arrived in 1652, over the first 8 months he built a fort right on top of Autshumao’s village at the Camissa which had hosted him and his men. Van Riebeeck notes that after he had moved into the fort he could still see the forlorn Autshumao encamped by the river. According to Hondius Jan van Riebeeck was to act on a clear instruction in this regard made by the VOC Chamber of Seventeen, “The skippers were directed to proceed to Table Bay, and to construct close to the Fresh River, a wooden building, the materials for which they were to take with them. They were then to select a suitable site for a fort, to contain space for the accommodation of seventy or eighty men, and to this fort when finished they were to give the name Good Hope.”

The term //ammis or gammis or kamis or kamma which is the root for ‘Camissa’ is the old indigene language of the Nama and !Ora as per Haacke & Eiseb (2002: 246) and Krὃnlein & Rust (1969: 80) is the term for any fresh-water river as noted by Portuguese cartographer Lazaro Luis in 1563 on his map as – ‘de Camis’ alongside the name ‘Aguada de Saldanha’ for the same river flowing through Cape Town. The Khoena did not have affectionate or honorary names as in the European tradition of naming places. Words used were utilitarian and simply descriptive or for verbal route-mapping.

Hence the name gammi, kamis or kamma or cumis (water) pops up at many other places too, meaning the same thing – fresh water. For example – Tsistsikamma = tse-tsesa + kamma referring to the river means ‘clear water’ or ‘place of much water’ or the ‘place where water begins’. (Dictionary of Southern African Place Names – P E Raper, Head, Onomastic Research Centre, HSRC and Tsitistsikamma National Park). In cross-referencing the cartographic reference of Lazaro Luis we can also look at an entry on 24 April 1682 by Governor-General van Goens captured in Moodie’s Record (1959) page 387 which notes the inland Khoena people referring to a fresh-water river as ‘Camissa’ or ‘Cumissa’. In Cape Town the main fresh water tributary – kamis or kamma – that ran from the mountain Hoerikwaggo to the sea was given many names by the Europeans and three of these coincided with that of the indigenes – Camis on Luis’ map, Agua de Saldhana (water of Saldhnana – the original Portuguese name for Table Bay) and Soetwater Rivieren (Sweetwater) – freshwater as distinguishing this from Zouten Rivieren.

It should be noted that although in 1644 the survivors of the Mauritius Eiland had mapped out a fort plan at the same spot, when in 1647 a shipwreck occurred at Table Bay the Dutch did not build their fort at this spot where the Goringhaicona were settled but rather did so near the Salt River and dug and well for fresh water. The Dutch ship Nieuwe Haarlem on its way back to Holland was wrecked in the vicinity of Woodstock beach.

The 62 survivors under Leendert Janszen built a small wood and sand fort called Sandenburg at Salt River and built a deep well to access underground fresh water. They remained at the Cape for the best part of a year until 1648. Leendert Janszen, Matthijs Proot and Jodocus Hondius III (a scientist) used their time to gather intelligence on the terrain, its vegetation and animal life, the indigenes, their cattle and sheep herds, and their trading practices, as well as the visitations of other vessels and the mapping of the Table Bay peninsula.

What Janzsen and Proot had to say about the indigenes and about how relations with them should be conducted would later be contradicted by Jan van Riebeeck. They note – “the indigenes came with all friendliness to trade with us….bringing cattle and sheep in numbers…. Yes it is true that some of our soldiers and sailors have been beaten to death by them, but that happened with good cause so as to exonerate such actions by the indigenes where the cause resulting in retaliation is as always being concealed by our people; for we firmly believe, that if the farmers in this country – Dutch States General – were to experience their cattle being shot or taken away without payment, and had no protection from an organised justice system, they would not by one hair’s difference act in any other manner than these indigenes had acted.   The indigenes are a people without such institutions or forms of government as those of India, but they are peaceably disposed and capable of being taught. There was no doubt that the indigenes could learn the Dutch language, and in course of time could be educated in the Christian religion.”

In 1648 a fleet of 12 ships that stopped over for 18 days, under the command of Admiral GW de Jong, took Janzsen and his men back to Holland. On board the same ship carrying Captain Janzsen was the disgraced VOC merchant from the Dutch Factory at Tonkin in Vietnam that had been caught out stealing from the VOC – Jan van Riebeeck. The disgraced official showed a huge interest in Janzsen’s proposition that the Dutch should establish a permanent base at Table Bay. During the three weeks sojourn at Table Bay, Jan van Riebeeck also got a good feel for the place and talked to the other survivors. In the process he developed a contrary view to those expressed by Janzsens and Proot in their report. It was on board the return voyage that Janzsen and his five senior men had prepared a proposal for a permanent Dutch presence at Table Bay  – known as “remonstrantie”. It  found favour with the VOC Chamber of Seventeen.

Van Riebeeck, described as having that dangerous cocktail of characteristics – a fiery temper, resoluteness, untiring energy, unbounded zeal and needing to redeem himself with the VOC offered to lead a settlement expedition to establish Dutch control at the Cape when Matthijs Proot took a decision to not avail himself for the post.

The Dutch needed to maintain their dominance in the east and hence the control of the strategically positioned Cape was seen as vital and that there needed to be a more technologically advanced port operation to achieve the much needed ship repair and servicing required so as to halt the huge attrition rate experienced by shipping.

Janzsen and de Jong’s views of the indigenes projected highly favourable and respectful in comparison to that of Jan van Riebeeck’s approach and also of many of the disparaging views that painted the indigees a liitle more than beasts, or at best in the later words of Jean Jacques Roussouw – ‘nobel savages’.  Janzsen’s approach notably mirrored that of the English, who built a system of cooperative relations with indigenes. Janzsen spoke glowingly of the Khoena in Table Bay who were of great assistance to him during his long sojourn. He recommended that the VOC accept and respect the existing trading and servicing role of the indigenes by ensuring that any settlement is based on cooperation rather than conquest.

Van Riebeeck however was bent on conquest and dislodging any form of intermediary trading by indigenes. He wanted a simple direct cost-effective trading relationship as a stepping stone for ultimate company control over resources. As such, the Camissa community’s entrepreneurial approach as a proto trading class of local people of colour was out of the question for van Riebeeck. He was also wary of the fact that the local kingpin, Autshumao had a very strong relationship with the English and was not shy in projecting veiled threats to call for assistance from his English friends.

The report to the VOC presented the statistics of how many vessels were stopping over, how many people going ashore, the trade that was being done and importantly that no European power had established themselves at the Port where trading was only organised by the indigenes under an English trained and sympathetic Autshumao and a relatively small settled group of indigene ‘Watermans’ next to the Camissa which they called the Soetwater Stroom (also known as Rio Dolce, Rio de Camis and Platteklipstroom). Van Riebeeck saw this scenario as a push-over and thus the die was cast. Although instructed by the VOC to tread carefully and show respect to the local operations of the indigenes, he believed that while the VOC and Captain Janzsen had their ideas, he was his own man. Effectively van Riebeeck went head to head with Autshumao, treated his trading practices as thievery, undercut his business and made a hostile take-over of Autshumao’s business and modest settlement at Camissa. The maroon Goringhaicona were totally disrupted. Van Riebeeck took Autshumao’s 10 year old niece Krotoa and a number of other indigenes as servants. They would live and work in the Fort de Goede Hoop alongside the Asian slaves imported to serve the VOC officials.

History has been most unfair to Autshumao and the Goringhaicona trading mission at Camissa and has never properly analysed what happened in the 52 years prior to van Riebeeck’s arrival or the 20 year old human trading settlement at Camissa and the impacts of the large scale visitations of ships, sailors, officials and troops who were adequately catered for by locals. The social history of this port has never been properly recorded as a village community with its sizable yet relatively small population. This community was born of a people who had changed their mode of living, economic and social habits as had happened in every other port across the African coastline and globally. Why should the Cape indigenes and their ‘Tavern of the Seas’ settlement be viewed any differently?

In a paper by David Johnson in 2007 published in ‘18th century studies Vol 40’ by John Hopkins University Press, entitled ‘Representing the Cape Hottentots –  from the French Enlightenment to Post-Apartheid South Africa’, two French traveller-writers, Levaillant and Grandprè, comment on the dispossession of the indigenes of the Cape by the Dutch.

Levaillant levels a similar critique to that of Janzsens in 1648 – “ It is without reason that he (the Cape indigene) is accused of being cruel. . . . Can anything be more sensible than to repel force by force?. . . Wherever we have sought fit to establish ourselves, we have reduced the unhappy nations to slavery or flight; we have appropriated to our own use, without scruple, whatever appeared to answer our purpose”.  Grandpré’s description of the colonial encounter moves on to describe the genocide of the ‘Bushmen’,  arguing that the Dutch exceeded the cruelties of Cortés and Pizarro in the Americas, as “they have hunted the Boschis as one would hunt hares; their dogs have been  trained for it. Hunting packs of dogs, horses, slaves, children, women, men; all are put to this dreadful purpose.” He goes on to say – “The Dutch will always be to blame for the ruin of the Hottentot nation in the eyes of sensitive men; they have repeated at the tip of Africa the same bloodied scenes as the Spaniards first enacted in America. Perhaps they only lacked a Las Casas to make a formal complaint against them before the tribunal of the whole of Europe. When they did not slit the throats of these people by the thousand, they wiped them out one at a time. If they did not train their dogs to hunt them down initially, they did so in due course. . . . The Dutch government failed its obligations to these destitute people. . .”

We know that across the Peninsula and Cape Flats there were up to 40,000 indigene inhabitants, mainly Khoena and over the broader Western Cape up to 50,000 more, both Khoena and San. These made up around 16 Khoena clan groupings and at least five San or /Xam groupings of different strengths, and they were very rich in livestock. After the 1713 smallpox epidemic and as a result of forced removals, war, pass laws, genocide and forced apprenticeship on farms only some 15, 000 Khoena and San indigenes were scattered across the Cape Colony, mainly in servitude by the second half of the 18th century –  about 16,74% of the original population. From the 1670s already many indigenes began fleeing in the direction of Namaqualand and the Gariep River. Many try to paper over the ethnic cleansing of the Western Cape by blaming the Smallpox epidemic, which although being a contributor to the loss of numbers, was only one small factor.

Van Riebeeck left a record of lesser known correspondence, other than his famous diaries. While the latter tended to portray him favourably by his own hand a wider view of his correspondence and the views of others, sheds a different light on the man. It was he and his cavalier attitude towards the indigenes that laid the foundations for the 160 years of wars that lead to the flight of the Cape Khoena to the northwestern Gariep district and to the mass genocide of the San despite their valiant wars of resistance.

Elphick notes that shortly after arriving at the Cape, Van Riebeeck in 1653 wrote to the VOC imploring them to allow him to round up all the Peninsula Khoena, put them in chains and force them into labour. The VOC refused his request. Then in 1657 he again wrote to the VOC outlining a plan and seeking approval to build 5 ‘redoubts’ in Hout Bay to form concentration camps into which he would lure the Peninsula Khoena and their cattle and then keep them so imprisoned so that they may continuously be forced to supply cattle to the company.

This concept was initially considered by the VOC but was rejected only because it would have cost too much and required many soldiers. This was the complete opposite of the approach that Captain Janzsen had promoted. Van Riebeeck’s ideas set the paradigm of European-Indigene relations that has remained to this day. Forced removals and the “redoubt” concept which essentially translated into group-areas and reservations lasted well after Jan van Riebeeck, right up to the imposition of the Group Areas Act under Apartheid. From these initial concepts of visiting aberration on the indigenes, a 160 year war lasting into the second decade of the 19th century against the Khoena and San ensued and dovetailed with the 100 years’ war against the amaXhosa in the Eastern Cape. Nigel Penn in some detail in his book ‘The Forgotten Frontier’ how this ethnic cleansing process included well-recorded genocide campaigns by Khoena conscripts in European led Commandos.

Record of the early foundational human endeavour of a Khoena settled trading community which embraced visitors and whom no doubt some visitors embraced and remained and assimilated into deserves more recognition. Certainly the first children to have been born from relations between the indigenes and  sea-travelling Europeans, free-black travellers and slaves occurred in those 52 years prior to European settlement and requires much, much more research and evaluation attention. This Camissa (//aami ssa) village where the Grand Parade, Castle and District Six stands today on the Cape Peninsula known to the Khoena as //Hui Gaeb! can give us all a whole new take on our past. It is this Camissa Footprint and all that was born from it pre-1652 and post-1652 that informs our sense of identity.

It is also of importance to note that the earliest organised and persistent resistance to the machinations of the European settlement actually was led by Camissa indigenes that had to some degree embraced change, new economies and new modes of living. Each had engaged intimately with the Europeans and had to a great extent broken with tradition. It was unfortunate that it was these people who had learnt the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of the Europeans, when entering their social order, to the extent that they could craft oppositional strategies, had at the same time become alienated from their broader kinfolk. Their very engagement with the Europeans led to suspicion, envy and antagonism between each other and between them collectively and the people from whom they had become marooned. Xhore, Autshumao, Krotoa, Nommoa and Das each developed their own resistance strategy and each experienced defeat on the one hand and alienation on the other. All found themselves between the wire and the wall. These interlocutors knew that their world was changing and that change could not be held back and tried to navigate the tide as best they could. They tried to alert the other indigenes around them to this new reality and in vain tried to show leadership but the powerful force of ‘divide and rule’ came to overpower them during a time of a great paradigm shift.

We certainly cannot ignore this overwhelming evidence that 1652 was not a magical date of Khoena and European interaction….. nor can we ignore the vast numbers of vessels and people from abroad who came here and interacted with locals…. Nor can we ignore that key notable indigene figures had travelled abroad and returned and engaged with new technology and trading and new ways of living and were not merely ignorant ‘primitive’ beach scavengers. With all of this information at our fingertips we cannot accept uncritically the European writings that have marginalised and robbed South Africans of a fair view of their forebears.

Genetic enhancement in South Africa continued after 1652 when the heritage of the Camissa footprint continued to be weaved as indigenes, slaves, Free Blacks and European non-conformists continued to embrace each other and their struggles to overcome adversity. Historian Mansell Upham tells us that while formally Jan van Riebeeck forbade European company officials for having “carnal conversation” (sexual intercourse) with slaves and indigenes, privately he is on record as telling officials to go forth and “fruitify” them. This injunction too is a part of the story of the Camissa heritage as is the over four centuries of experiences of the children of Camissa in rising above various forms of adversity including Apartheid.

Today the Camissa River still flows vibrantly underground through Cape Town and into the see just as it always did. But now it is hidden from view, covered over by layer after layer of superstructure that makes up the City of Cape Town. So too has layer upon layer of obscuring overlays, been placed on the identity of those labelled ‘Coloured’ by successive administrative regimes. Both the river and the people have been covered over. The first step in uncovering these layers is to acknowledged that once, long ago before colonial settlement, a people who had set up on the banks of the Camissa River formed a trading and service community and in so doing they lay the foundations of a city and a creole people.

There are much more complexities in our past than many care to acknowledge, but also a wonderful focal point arises for us to move away from racial terminology and exclusive terminology in anchoring our local identities alongside our national, regional and pan African identities. An understanding of this early heritage should encourage us to move away from race terminology of using terms like – Coloured, White, and Black as a reference. There are three broad heritage streams that flow through people in South Africa and no rigid walls separating us – African, Afro-European and Afro-Asian. This is heritage and not race. The African family of communities is diverse as much as is the Afro-European and Afro-Asian heritages. As part of African identity, Camissa people (not ‘coloured’) have a heritage that incorporates the embrace between indigenes, slaves from India, Southeast Asia and Africa, as well as Free Black travellers, indentured labourers, exiles, refugees, economic-migrants and non-conformist Europeans. The Camissa heritage brings all of these wonderful tributaries together and the Camissa people can take rightful place alongside other African communities – Zulu, Xhosa, Cape Khoena, San (/Xam), Sotho, Korana, Tswana, Venda, Pedi, Nama, Griqua, Shangaan, Ndebele, Lembe, Swazi and others. All three heritage streams – African, Afro-European and Afro-Asian have many sub-community identities in the diverse South African family of peoples. Thus the story and the heritage of the original founders of the port and the people that they embraced gave birth to the creole descendants who were labelled ‘Coloured’.

On a personal level when explaining my heritage I express that I am born of a people who over successive generations rose above adversity. I go on to say that I am an African from Southern Africa and I have a Camissa heritage. I am Camissa and am a citizen of South Africa which embraces a diversity of heritages. The Camissa people and village at the fresh water river flowing from the mountain to the sea in Table Bay was the foundation of Cape Town in the first half of the 17th Century. Indigenes with a new mode of living shaped through their trading with passing ships over time embraced a diversity of peoples who crossed their shoreline threshold. Later through resistance to colonialism and the adversity visited upon them the indigenes and the Camissa footprint also embraced other resisters – slaves from India, Africa and Southeast Asia; Free Black travellers, non-conformist Europeans, various maroons, exiles, refugees and economic migrants. These tributaries and their interactions is what shaped me as an African. This and the many stories within this frame is my proud heritage. This is more powerful that the race label – ‘Coloured’.


In addition to works noted and sited in the text, the following works were also consulted:

John Cope- King of the Hottentots, Howard Timmins, Cape Town (1967); ML Wilson – The Strandlooper concept and its relevance to the study of the past inhabitants of the Southern African Coastal Region, Annals of the South African Museum – vol 103 – Part 6 (Dec 1993); Barbara Watson Andaya & Leonard Y. Andaya – A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia 1400 – 1830, Cambridge UP (2015); Kerry Ward – Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company, Cambridge Up, (2009); Richard B. Allen – European Slave Trading in the Indian Ocean 1500 – 1850, Ohio UP (2014); Donald Moodie; The Record (May 1888), AA Balkema, Cape Town (1959) HB Thom edt;  Journal of Jan van Riebeeck 1652 – 1662; Van Riebeeck Society, AA Balkema, Cape Town / Amsterdam (1958); Karel Schoeman; Seven Khoi lives – Cape biographies of the seventeenth century, Protea, Pretoria (2009); Dictionary of Southern African Place Names – P E Raper, Head, Onomastic Research Centre, HSRC and Tsitistsikamma National; Mansell Upham; Made or Marred by Time;;  Adrien Delmas & Nigel Penn  –  Written culture in a Colonial context: Africa and the Americas 1500 – 1900, UCT Press (2011);; Nigel Penn – The Forgotten Frontier:Colonist & Khoisan on the Cape’s Northern Frontier in the 18th Century , Ohio UP (2009); Written culture and the Cape Khoihhoi – From travel writing to ‘full description; UCT Press (2011);   William Crooke edt –  Tavanier -Travels in India, transl V Ball (1925); – Sir Richard Carnac-Temple; The travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia 1608 – 1667; (1967) – JP Cortemünde; Adventures at the Cape of Good Hope (1962); HCV Leibbrandt- Precis of the archives of the Cape of Good Hope, Journal 1662-70, 1671-74, WA Richards & Sons (1901, 1902);  Henry Trotter – Sailors as Scribes; Travel as discourse and the (con) textualisation of the Khoihoi at the Cape of Good Hope 1649 – 90, ; The early Cape Hottentots, Olfert Dapper, Willem ten Rhyne en Johannes Gulielmus de Grevenbroek Editie I.Schapera en vertaler B. Farrington (1933);

KROTOA – Drawing the Longbow in the Fort 1642 – 1674


On Friday 19 August 2016 a strange and erroneously founded ceremony took place to ‘rebury’ the remains and spirit of Krotoa at the Castle de Goede Hoop in Cape Town. While it is to be welcomed that people which to honour Krotoa there was something amiss about this ceremony. Krotoa had no direct connection to this Castle, the building of which was only completed 5 years after her death. It is most unlikely that in 1674 that she would have been buried at a very messy building site. At that time the Fort de Goede Hoop was still in operation as the centre of authority. The Fort was situated at the other end of today’s Grand Parade near the Golden Acre Centre and was alongside the Camissa River. When the Fort was demolished and power shifted to the Castle, the remains in the small Christian graveyard would have been moved to the consecrated ground between the Grote Kerk and the old Slave Lodge both also alongside the Camissa.

Krotoa of the Goringhaicona was born around 1642 at the Khoena trading settlement on the banks of the Camissa River which flowed from the great Hoerikwaggo Mountain to the sea. The VOC Commander Jan van Riebeeck named her Eva and after her marriage to a Danish-surgeon she was known as Eva van Meerhof. During the period that she served as an interpreter, Commander van Riebeeck often accused her of “Drawing the Longbow”. Read on to see why.

Krotoa who was well connected to the elders of different Khoena clans, lived a most extraordinary but short life, spanning only three decades. She died in 1674. (The Khoena is the plural for Khoe, also referred to as Khoi peoples who consisted of many clans with a range of wonderful names. The word similarly to the word ‘Bantu’ and the more accurate word for San – /Xam, simply means ‘people’ and in its singular form – ‘person’)

The Goringhaicona (children of the Goringhaiqua), were a relatively settled offshoot clan of maroons who had drifted away from the other Khoena groups – the Gorachoqua, Goringhaiqua, Chainoqua, Chariguriqua and the Cochoqua clans of the Western Cape of South Africa. They are described by historian Richard Elphick, as runaways, outcasts, refugees, orphans and other persons ‘whose parents and husbands were dead’. While this may well have applied to some, I believe that a different social history research lens shows that as a result of over 200 years of shipping around Table Bay and particularly the huge number of ships that visited Table Bay for stop-overs between 1600 and 1652, numbering 1071, great impacts occurred as a result of new economic activities arising from change. Numerous sources give us a good idea of the frequency of shipping visits and length of stayovers and the various levels of interaction with indigenes, the economic relationships and the fact that a number of indigenes travelled abroad and back with the different European powers that visited. Much of this debunks the 1652 story of the state of indigenes at the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck. It was not just the land that was stolen from the indigenes but also their social and economic progress as a settled trading port community. Everything also points to the likelihood that over the 20 to 50 years prior to Jan van Riebeeck’s occupation, children would have been born from relationships of various types between travellers and women in the trading-port village community. People among the Goringhaicona are described by some accounts as including persons with a near European appearance. We know nothing about Krotoa’s father and she was very much her Uncle Autshumao’s charge. Krotoa herself may have been born of or descended from a relationship between a transient traveller and an indigene woman.

The Camissa people were the root people for what can be called the ‘Camissa footprint’ which spread across South Africa over time. With European settlement and the arrival of slaves from other parts of Africa, Madagascar, India, Southeast Asia and China, and they also impacted on the people of Camissa. Resistance wars in and around Camissa resulted in a diaspora of scatterlings. The slaves who worked and lived alongside the Goringhaicona, sometimes even receiving refuge from them were embraced by the indigenes and children were born of these relationships. In the diaspora resulting from forced removals and enserfment of Khoena on European farms, further relationships developed across slave and indigene communities. In the genocide drives against the San by European and Khoena commandos, adult San or /Xam were slaughtered en masse and their children taken as apprentices on farms. When these grew up they had relationships too with slaves on those farms and children were born. Non-conformist European rebels ran away from the authorities in the colony and teamed up with fleeing indigene maroons and inter-married into those communities. The Camissa footprint grew and grew.

By the mid 19th century when the Camissa roots were much layered and the Goringhaicona forgotten, the colonial authorities in an act of de-indigenisation labelled the Camissa descendants as ‘Coloured’ people.

With her Goringhaicona people already quickly disrupted and her once powerful uncle often on the run, during her years with Jan van Riebeeck as an interpreter, emissary and negotiator, Krotoa adopted the Cochoqua as her people and by all accounts they adopted her. Krotoa’s sister was the wife of the elder-leader Oudasoa of the Cochoqua. Krotoa also had a second ‘mother’ among the Cochoqua. She further had kinship ties with the Goringhaiqua and the Chainoqua. Simultaneously Kratoa maintained her ties with her uncle Autshumao and his remaining followers.

One of the greatest misrepresentations in South African colonial history narratives is that of the status of relations with the indigenes of Table Bay particularly in the 50 years prior to, and at the time of the landing of Commander Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. The inaccurate depiction of Autshumao of the Goringhaicona as an ignorant vagabond leader of a bunch of good-for-nothing beachcombers (Strandloopers) runs counter to much reliable historical information that has always been available but most often ignored or even suppressed. It is only in understanding Krotoa in the context of the four decades prior to 1652 that one can better understand who she was, how she met various challenges in her youthful years and what were the social circumstances of her time. Only then can her legacy fully be appreciated. It is unfortunate that many have bought into what I call a ‘primitivistic’ paradigm when looking at who Krotoa was, where there is an over-emphasised shock-factor suggesting that an absolutely traditional community were knocked backwards by a sudden influx of European invaders. There certainly was a paradigm shift in terms of van Riebeeck imposing what I call his ‘redoubt mentality’ with war, dispossession and forced removals, but the paradigm shift from traditional nomadic herding life, at least for the Goringhaicona had happened decades before van Riebeeck’s arrival.

According to European history, the Europeans had been passing through Table Bay since 1488 and, according to the Chinese accounts the Chinese passed through Table Bay in 1421.   From the time of that Chinese voyage around the Cape by Admiral Zheng He, until 1652 when the first Dutch settlement occurred, there had been two centuries of interaction by the indigene Khoena people with a wide range of foreign visitors.

An introduction on the trading links, the communication and the cooperative relations of the Gorachoqua, Goringhaiqua and then the Goringhaicona with the passing Europeans was first provided to a mass readership in some detail by historian Richard Elphick in his book ‘The KhoiKhoi and the Founding of White South Africa (1975). Much of the source material is to be found in the journals of Commander Jan van Riebeeck and he in turn was able to record this largely from the stories of Krotoa and other interpreters. But Elphick only really scrapes the surface. When one goes into maritime history many more questions arise and the impacts are not dealt with nor explored by South African historians. The impact of thousands of troops being shipped to the east for the Dutch wars and their stopping at the Cape gets no comment. Even although cognisance is taken of a range of big clues as to what was going on at Table Bay, historians just do not connect the dots in any significant manner. It is from this neglect that even many of the Khoisan mythologies arise.

The initial informal though brisk trading relationships that took root between passing ships and the Khoena people in the latter 1500s began to take a more formal form under  Xhore of the Gorachoqua after he was kidnapped to England in 1613 and returned a year later. Elder-leader Xhore had later led the resistance to the English attempt to settle Newgate convicts at Camissa in 1615 under Captain Crosse, but nonetheless maintained relations as a trader with the Europeans until his death.

After Xhore’s death (at the hands of the Dutch) Elphick notes that trade relations with the Khoena took a nose-dive.   But a short while later this gap was filled after Autshumao, the uncle of Krotoa, was taken on a visit to Batavia (Jakarta) in 1631.

A new and intricate relationship was developed with Autshumao’s clan, the Goringhaicona, involving a range of services including a postal service to passing ships. This first involved establishing a service station for ships on Robben Island served by more than 60 Khoena under Autshumao and later by 1638 this service-community relocated back to the mainland where they continued to provide services. Under the entrepreneurial Autshumao an interlocutor bartering service relationship developed which slowly resulted in rebuilding the supply lines for the European travellers for the acquisition of meat, fresh water, salt, hides and timber in exchange for a commission on transactions.

The Khoena name of the fresh water river running down from the sacred mountain known as Hoerikwaggo (TableMountain) was ‘Camissa’ or the ‘Sweet Waters’ (soetwater).  The Dutch referred to the Goringhaicona as the ‘Watermen’ because of their association with the Camissa River and the seashore. It was from Camissa that foreign ships were supplied with the vital commodity – fresh water, by the Goringhaicona. All the hallmarks were in place to regard this as the first proto-refreshment station at the Cape and thus the true foundation of Cape Town.

The settlement of his people around Camissa was a strategic move on the part of Chief Autshumao. When there were no ships in the Bay his people lived off fish and other seafood. By camping at the Camissa, Autshumao controlled a constant fresh-water supply, giving him a strategic advantage right on the beach. By all accounts the Goringhaicona were typical ‘survivors’ and highly entrepreneurial.  Although a much smaller group, (minuscule in comparison) than the other Khoena groups they initially dominated relations between the Khoena livestock herders and the Dutch by setting themselves up as the negotiators at a fair commission. It was because of this, as can be seen in the Dutch Commander’s journaL that Jan van Riebeeck was so antagonistic to Autshumao. Commander van Riebeeck believed that he was being over-charged for the services. From Autshumao’s point of view the Dutch Commander had just come along and taken over his trading settlement and business. This essentially was at the heart of the conflict.

Autshumao and another of the Camissa people, Isaac (of whom little is known), had through their travels to Batavia (Jakarta) returned with much linguistic and other knowledge about the Europeans and this was used to their own advantage. Twenty years later, after much interaction with the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, the Camissa community – the Goringhaicona as a group, would have been well acquainted with European languages enough to get by with general communication and protocols.

Authsumao, with his 10 year old niece Krotoa at his side, stands out as playing a major role in all of the initial interactions with the Dutch Commander of the Cape – Jan van Riebeeck, due to his reliance on their linguistic skills and Autshumao’s control of the community interactions with the Europeans. Even when van Riebeeck moved from the tent camp into the north wing of the partially built Fort five months after his arrival, he noted that Autshumao remained camped on the opposite bank of the Camissa River running below the north wing. The Fort alongside the Camissa was more or less partially at the top end of today’s Grand Parade and the back end of the Golden Acre Centre.

Although van Riebeeck is recognised as the colonial ‘founding father’ of Cape Town (and South Africa), he only actually resided in South Africa for 10 years and none of his immediate family remained in South Africa. Notably Krotoa’s descendants however are today to be found among thousands of South Africans of all national groups. The one thing that Jan van Riebeeck ought to be remembered for is actually in very few narratives. It is what he bequeathed to South Africa – the trajectory over 3 centuries of the concept of the ‘redoubt’ which I have written about elsewhere in detail. He is the father of ‘forced removals’ and ‘Group Areas’..

Commander van Riebeeck first provides a note on Krotoa in his journal in 1654 by referring to  – ‘a girl living with us’. He mentions too that she was taken away by her uncle Autshumao and his group of followers after he had made off with a large number of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) cattle herd. The Commander writes that he pursued Autshumao to wrest her back. So important was she to his plans.

From this first mention in the record, the Commander went on to mention her name over 200 times in 65 entries in the journal. Krotoa was a dominant factor in Jan van Riebeeck’s entire time at the Cape of Good Hope. Further light is shed on her status in the household when the Commander notes that she was taken into the service of his wife from the beginning (1652).  Van Riebeeck also notes that Krotoa perfected the Dutch language and came to a full understanding of religion and Dutch culture under the tutorship of his wife. Some have interpreted this as meaning that Krotoa was part of Jan van Riebeecks Christian family but throughout this time she was never baptised nor received into the Church. From the age of 15 years, Krotoa’s service to the VOC transformed to become that of interpreter, emissary and negotiator.

The Commander studied Krotoa like a hawk as she was manipulated to provide the VOC with intelligence and as much strategic advantage as possible. He also cultivated back up interpreters as distrust towards her later set in. He used the other interpreters to try and catch her out. Interpreting became a terrain of struggle and Krotoa turned diplomacy into an art. From the pages of the van Riebeeck journal one gets the impression that she played a chess game with van Riebeeck and his journal shows that he suspected her of this and he does not camouflage his feelings.

Commander van Riebeeck started with some muted paternalistic statements about Krotoa in the beginning of his journal and proceeded to describe the advantages and pitfalls of her contribution. As time marches on, distrust is espoused and he sounds warnings about Krotoa. He uses a particular phrase which I believe does more justice to evaluating her role in history than many of the things that is said by others – Krotoa is accused  by Jan van Riebeeck of ‘drawing the long bow’. This expression carries much meaning. It means that she stood accused of exaggerating, embellishing, lying or deliberately misleading Jan van Riebeeck. He also explicitly suggests that she is playing him at his own game. He says “she knows well by now how to introduce a little flattery and say the sort of thing she imagines you want to hear”.

By the third part of his journal, Eva, as she is referred to, pre-occupies van Riebeeck and dominates the journal as much as the struggle between the Khoena and the Dutch intensified. Different patterns of struggle with the colonists emerged and these were not in sync with each other. Indeed they were competitive and conflictual. Krotoa clearly came down on the side of the Cochoqua, her sister’s people and perhaps her adopted people. In his journal van Riebeeck identified a strong sense of loyalty in her for her own kin and distrusted her for having this trait.

Krotoa’s role as interpreter, emissary and negotiator continued over seven years. It is remarkable that this crucial role was carried out by a teenager and a woman who not only rose to the challenge, but was also able to subtly turn the tables on her master so as to advantage her own people. She comes across as having grown into her own person rather than anyone else’s go between – whether among the Dutch or the Khoena.

Who was this extraordinary young woman who lived for only just over three decades? Why was the 10 year old Krotoa chosen by Jan van Riebeeck out of all the other children of the Camissa settlement which hosted the early Dutch fort?

The Europeans literally established their tent camp right in the midst of the existing Camissa settlement for convenience, protection and to begin to assert control. The Cape was still a place teaming with wildlife. It was an inhospitable place in winter and winter was fast approaching. For the first five months in the heart of a terrible Cape winter, the Europeans and the Goringhaicona lived cheek by jowl on the banks of the Camissa River while the Fort was being built. Krotoa was a curious ten year old who along with her peers would have been running around inquisitively among the Europeans and the Ambonyese soldiers as they busied themselves fortifying their beachhead at Camissa. When she was not running around with the other children she would be at her uncle Autshumao’s side. Krotoa was the closest to Autshumao and Jan van Riebeeck needed to be as close to his rival as possible. Jan van Riebeeck took advantage of this vulnerability by exploiting the vulnerability of the child.

At this stage maintaining a good relationship with the Khoena at Camissa was the key to the survival of this Dutch settlement project. The local people of the Camissa settlement right down to the children, already had enough understanding of various European languages and customs through years of interaction by passing ships with which they traded. Krotoa clearly stood out as her ‘uncle’s child’ who probably was more conversant with rudimentary Dutch, English, French and Portuguese than the others. She was a prime candidate for further instruction.

By the written accounts of her appearance, she further stood out as having both Khoena and some physical features that allowed for her to fit into the European company more easily.  Krotoa had no father and one picks up that she had a strained relationship with her mother. Her appearance suggested that somewhere down the line it was likely that there was some European forebear or even paternity. Her family connections with the inland Cochoqua and the fact that she was related to the ‘elder-leader’s wife was a strategic issue for Jan van Riebeeck. Control of such a young person who could walk into the kraals of leaders, gave van Riebeeck a strategic advantage. She could carry information back and forth and positively influence key role-players if she could be trained and moulded.

Historian Richard Elphick makes the point that we should be careful not to overlay the traditional European concept of kinship or nuclear family on the Khoena people. Words such as ‘uncle’ or ‘mother’or ‘sister’ and ‘niece,’ ill-fit the Khoena kinship connections. Likewise there were no rigid kinship walls standing between Goringhaicona, Goringhaiqua, Cochoqua and the Gorachoqua, even although with the latest arrival of the Europeans, tensions and conflicts evolved between these groups and also with others such as the Chainouqua. Elphick shows us that Krotoa had a complex set of family relationships across these clans, and that these included persons of influence and power.   Historian Mansell Upham also sounds a loud alarm bell that when exploring perspectives on the life of Krotoa we should be careful about coating her with our own subjective overlays and angst to the point that we imprison her memory and abuse her to gain political ground seized for temporal gains.

Some writers have chosen to project Krotoa’s place in the van Riebeeck household as though she were a foster child taken into the bosom of the Commander’s family. There is very little facts to support such assumptions. The living arrangements too would not have allowed for Krotoa to be part of the nuclear family of the Commander. When the early rudimentary Fort was complete, the van Riebeecks only had three tiny rooms for a household of 12 persons – his immediate family, slaves and Khoena servants. Krotoa was not the only Khoe person working in the fort. This was hardly the intimate family environment where a fostered Khoe child was taken into the bosom of the Commander’s wife.  Kratoa’s world was also shared by two ‘Abyssinian’ slave girls of her own age from Madagascar – Lijsbeth Arabus and Cornelia Arabus, given to Maria de la Quellerie, the Commanders wife by a visiting French Admiral.

Karel Schoeman in his chapter on Krotoa in ‘Seven Khoi Lives’ gives us a much more comprehensive picture of Krotoa’s upbringing between the ages of 12 and 17. It shows a teenager who was as much, if not more so, a part of her traditional Khoena society as she was a fringe member of the Commander’s household. For strategic reasons it was in the interest of Commander van Riebeeck to also nurture the relationship between Krotoa and the Cochoqua and thus the contact was facilitated. Schoeman refers to this as ‘promising contact’ in van Riebeeck’s eyes.

Krotoa’s pre-teen and teenage years must have been very difficult. The child entering puberty was prone to abuse by any of the 140 roughneck men in the 146 strong (female depleted) European and Ambonyese community where protection was hardly able to be guaranteed. Van Riebeeck himself was not always in full control. For instance, two years after entering service at the Fort, Krotoa had absconded with her uncle and she had to be brought back to the Fort after Van Riebeeck had pursued them.

Between the age of 12 and 15 Krotoa was further instructed in language, religion and culture of the Dutch, not for philanthropic reasons, nor for purposes of conversion, but to act as an interpreter and diplomat. Why? She had been found to have both an aptitude and a flare for the work when the Commander tried her out in this role on a few occasions. At 15 already the Commander indicated in his journal that she was doing interpretation work. She clearly emerges from the pages of the Commander’s journal as quite a character.

A clear indication that she was not fostered nor truly accepted into Dutch society in the traditional sense was that she remained un-baptised, a sign of non-integration into the European community, until the age of 22 and then the baptism was by her own request. Again this too shows how much of an independent character that she was. Baptism was the true measure of acceptance into the European community.  Her dress amongst the Europeans is also noted as not that of the European women and children, but that of the Asian slaves.  This was symbolic of her servitude status at the Fort. However as an interpreter with a strategic role she was sure to have been able to navigate her way within the fort society with some success and status. No mean feat for a youngster.

From 15 years to 22 years old Krotoa was set to work as the official interpreter, emissary and negotiator. She was initially prized by Jan Van Riebeeck and commended for her service.

Increasingly as Krotoa entered her post-teens, the tone in the Commander’s journal changed to view her more disparagingly and with suspicion.   She was suspected of aiding her people with strategic information and advice, particularly during the first Khoena-Dutch war of 1659 – 1660. Krotoa was both a clever and wise young person. She too must have recognised that she was in a powerful position to carry useful information, warnings and good counsel to her people. Many historical and even activist commentators project Krotoa either as a humble servant, or as a collaborator or as a helpless victim. I reject all three of these dominant projections.

Commander van Riebeeck notes that the child, the teen and the young adult over a 12 year period regularly stripped off her Asian dress- kabaka, sarong and kaparangs, and donned her traditional Khoena clothes (skins) and adornments to engage in rituals and communion with her people. By all accounts she took great pleasure and pride in doing so.

Krotoa clearly also experienced a tug-o-war of emotions and mental conflict, as well as conflicts of loyalty. She was under great pressure. Krotoa was torn between being Eva and Krotoa; between being part of the European world yet not part of it and part of the Khoena, yet not part of it. She was after all from of a maroon community of Goringhaiqua who already had broken with many indigene traditions and developed a new way of life. Krotoa who was from a free and easy community not governed either by her traditional society nor by the Eurpopean intruders found herself being marshalled, briefed and de-briefed by her handler, the Commander. She was asked to go among her people and to report back. She would also at times be asked to go among her people and possibly mislead them even although the religion taught to her said that lying was wrong.

Krotoa saw the ruthless and manipulating side of the Commander – a hard-nut VOC official with a dodgy background protecting the interests of a powerful company one day and the gentleman singing her praises the next. Contradictions surely jumped out at her. Jan van Riebeeck had a criminal record and was not the nicest of people.

Already within a year of arrival he was begging the VOC to give him permission to round up all of the Peninsula Khoena, put them in chains and drive them into forced labour. Later in 1657 he again pleaded with the VOC to allow them to turn the Peninsula into an island cut off from Africa and to put into action a most dastardly scheme. He pleaded to be allowed to drive all Khoena into five ‘redoubts’ to be built in Hout Bay, together with their livestock. There in these guarded concentration camps the Khoena would exist simply to breed livestock for the VOC. As Krotoa matured she was more ably to understand the ruthlessness of Jan van Riebeeck and she was clearly less able to be manipulated by van Riebeeck. If you read between the lines of his journal van Riebeeck suspects that Krotoa was split in her loyalties between the VOC and her sister’s people, the Cochoqua.

Krotoa’s entire life was filled with trauma heaped upon trauma. It was a life full of danger. She was distrusted by the Dutch and also by various persons with differing interests among her own people. At the same time she most likely would have also seen tremendous opportunities around her and surely would have big dreams of her own. Signs are there that she had her uncle Autshumao’s entrepreneurial spirit. She was trying to make her own trading fortune too.

One day Krotoa was journeying in a caravan of cattle atop a prized beast – happy with her own people and treated like a princess; another day she was travelling with European men who may have plied her with alcohol and crept into her bed at night; and yet another day being waylaid and robbed by a rival Khoena band. The inner turmoil must have been great and like any person who has been in such situations she will have become resourceful and streetwise.

Her skills as a diplomat and linguist also had a lot riding on it. The wrong word in the wrong company could result in reprisals and even death. What a responsibility for a young girl. The lives of the people you loved would have been at stake. There were also intense periods of violent conflict and war. Krotoa navigated it all and it must have exacted traumatic impacts. The course of her life bears this out.

Krotoa’s experience would have been one of longing for some kind of normality which she must have also seen around her with others of her age. On top of all of these experiences she was a young unmarried mother with two small children.

It was in her mid-teens that Krotoa had her first child and later had her second child, both born to a single girl at the Fort, indicating that she could have been abused as a female teen in this overwhelmingly male environment or alternatively had a secret love liaison. The signs are there that there was likely to have been abuse and that would have gone hand in hand with the introduction of alcohol into her life. This latter aspect of her experience – alcohol, was to have a devastating effect on her future. An indicator of what ruled the sexual culture at the Fort during a time when there literally was no European women around is a record provided in Mansell Upham’s work. He indicates that while formally the Commander’s position was that he frowned upon ‘carnal conversation’ (sexual relations) with slaves and indigenes he informally gave licence to such relations saying that officials should ‘fruitify’ the slaves and servants.

Krotoa was able to delight in returning to her people on visits. Tell-tale signs of a yearning for love, and to be settled emerges even from the observations of the Commander in his journal.  The teenager had been thrust into a political world of intrigue, drama and tension with little chance of delighting in simple childish things. There was also little chance to follow in the path of the other women around her as she was thrust into a male world. There was little chance to enjoy love and motherhood. She was outstanding at the same time as a woman at this point in history, as no other female contemporary is to be found engaged in a role that was otherwise exclusively a male domain.

All of these factors together amounted to a cocktail of pain and joys and must have resulted in much inner conflict. It is no wonder that with all of these things piling up inside of her that in the last decade of her life, Krotoa was pushed over the edge.

Krotoa frequently went off to live among her people, most particularly to her sister and brother-in-law among the Cochoqua. Van Riebeeck tolerated and even encouraged this because it opened up a rewarding trade relationship and resulted in intelligence gathering. For Jan van Riebeeck, Krotoa was the source of a wealth of knowledge.

But it was not a one-way street. Krotoa was enterprising and was able to discharge her own loyalties to her people. She was able to provide intelligence and to position her people to gain strategic advantages. Among her people she blossomed and showed an enterprising streak. Her Uncle Autshumao’s skills for being an adept trader and entrepreneur came to the fore in her. She had experienced his mentorship too.

Krotoa particularly between 1658 and 1661 blossomed and found herself. She turned a situation of being used and manipulated into an advantage for herself and the Cochoqua people. She was not going to be anyone’s victim, is how I read the situation.  It would seem that she made her unique position both work for her and contribute to her people. Krotoa’s chief critic was her competitor, the fellow interpreter and an open resister of the Dutch, Nommoa (Doman). He criticized her and implied that she was a sell-out. But was she?  Doman himself did everything that Krotoa did and he was a grown man when he did so. Both acted as could be expected under those circumstances – they both bobbed and weaved like a boxer.

Some have only too readily jumped to a conclusion that Krotoa was a collaborator and Doman was a radical revolutionary. This is to simplistic a paradigm in which to view both of these characters. Both had their strengths and weaknesses and Krotoa lasted longer than Doman at the game of cat and mouse.

Krotoa certainly gave excellent interpretation and diplomatic service to the Dutch, but equally she provided the same for Oudasoa and the Cochoqua. Such is the nature of being an interpreter and diplomat – you get opportunity to look at both sides and in the process you are self-empowered and can if you are adept, influence the course of the future. In looking at the information available, one is indeed sometimes left wondering whether Kratoa worked for Oudasoa rather than Commander van Riebeeck. It also emerges from Van Riebeeck’s journal that she could have been quietly providing intelligence to the Cochoqua in their more subtle struggles with the Dutch. Her information from Oudasoa conveyed to the Dutch during the Khoena-Dutch war was nuanced in favour of the Cochoqua’s stance.

She further showed great loyalty to her uncle Autshumao when he increasingly became persona non grata to the Dutch. All of this was noticed and commented upon by Commander van Riebeeck.

A key part of van Riebeeck’s journal is his final testimony before leaving the Cape, where Commander van Riebeeck established that Krotoa mainly worked as an interpreter with the Cochoqua and other inland Khoena clans. He also states that not all of her information could be dependable as well as referring to other facts relating to her ‘dependability’ which were ‘verbally conveyed’ but ‘because of its nature must remain unknown’.  The Commander provided his successors with advice to keep her on a short leash. This bit of the journal is often completely overlooked, as with her ‘drawing the longbow’, by those who assess Krotoa’s role and modus operandi.

To understand Krotoa’s resistance role one needs to look at the Khoena’s overall resistance strategy – one that ultimately failed after the second Khoena-Dutch war of resistance. The Khoena strategy was one of containment. That is to keep the Dutch isolated from the interior by means of a blockade and, to keep them economically dependent on the Peninsula Khoena. Jan van Riebeeck’s counter-strategy was to break out of any blockade and to open direct contact with the interior by means of divide and rule tactics. If possible he also would have directly enslaved the indigenes or forced them into highly controlled group areas or ‘redoubts’ – concentration camps.

The Khoena’s Achilles’ heal was their own divisions. There were three different tactical approaches to dealing with the Dutch and these were unfortunately competitive. Krotoa played her crucial part in the third approach in my opinion as an ally of Chief Oudosoa.

Autshumao’s tactic was to pressurize the Dutch to stay locked in to the Table Bay area and to remain dependent on the Goringhaicona trading settlement as go-betweens for all trading with the interior. He went to great lengths to ensure that direct contact between the Dutch and the other Khoena clans were kept to a minimum. Autshumao also resorted to trying to play up the English threat to the Dutch which he knew to be their fear. The Goringhaicon were vulnerable because they were a modern formation of traders whose culture and way of life had substantially changed over a few decades in a scenario which would have solicited a degree of envy and distrust among other indigenes too. Autshumao and his small Goringhaicona clan were soon overwhelmed by the Dutch and the entire game-plan shifted from his grasp. He had little back-up to call upon for assistance. Krotoa was Autshumao’s eyes and ears in the Fort – but for Commander van Riebeeck she was his eyes and ears on his opponent too. It is this competative circumstance that took the ten year old girl into the VOC Fort in the first place.

The second tactician was Nommoa also known as Doman, who had learnt much about the Dutch weaknesses after he had travelled to Batavia (Jakarta) and back to the Cape. He followed a similar tactic to that of Autshumao, but with significant differences. He saw Authshumao’s Goringhaicona as insignificant in numbers, not militant enough, too removed from Khoena traditions and undisciplined. Nommoa sought to replace the Dutch dependency on Autshumao and also on Krotoa with himself. This in fact was one of his weaknesses. In turn he also attempted to develop a united front between the Goringhaiqua and Gorachoqua to stand up against the Dutch and flex their muscles. Ultimately his solution was a military one in which he felt that by going to war, the Dutch would capitulate. Being a bit of a loner, having travel abroad for a long period of absence also resulted in Nommoa possible being regarded to some degree also as a maroon, and this was another weakness.

Nommoa really believed that the Khoena had the strategic advantage at that point and to wait to take action would result in the foe becoming more formidable. Under Nommoa the Peninsula Khoena went to war in the first Khoena-Dutch war of resistance from 1659 – 1660. The indigenes handled themselves well and Nommoa utilised his intelligence gatherning while with the Europeans, to his advantage. He chose the terrain and weather condition to engage in battles that were a disadvantage to the Europeans. The result of the conflict was a stalemate, but Nommoa’s power and influence was reduced and the Dutch made significant gains. The Dutch by default won the peace in that they had an endgame whilst Nommoa did not.

The third tactic was employed by Oudasoa of the Cochoqua and I suggest with the aid of ally Krotoa. The containment strategy took a completely different approach through what was essentially a diplomacy and brinkmanship tactic. Oudasoa had large herds of cattle outside of the immediate reach of the Dutch as well as the numerical strength to oppose the Dutch and isolate them to the Peninsula. But he needed to bring his entire operation nearer to effect both a blockade and open up direct trade. He also faced the hostility of all of the Peninsula Khoena clans. Oudasoa needed to tread carefully and played his approach very carefully. He needed to either subject the Peninsula Khoena to his rule or he needed to win them over to a united front. He thus operated in a manner which kept both options open, but ultimately did not succeed largely because he waited too long and also succumbed to Dutch ‘divide and rule’ tactics.

Oudasoa knew that if he entered the territory being occupied by the Dutch in a piecemeal manner, and if small groups of Cochoqua were constantly attacked by Peninsula Khoena, the Dutch would eventually get the upper hand. Oudasoa utilizing the skills of his wife’s sister Krotoa, attempted to present the Dutch with an offer he believed that they could not refuse. He offered to bring his cattle and people into the Peninsula where he would keep order among all of the Khoena as long as the Dutch assisted him in such a move and extended a sole and direct trading relationship with the Cochoqua. Effectively this would have made the Cochoqua the sole Khoena authority in the region and a large and economically powerful enough Khoena presence surrounding the Dutch would in his belief have effectively contained them.

Krotoa played a crucial part to realize this strategy. She first did her rounds raising enough cattle to provide van Riebeeck with a taster for the economic gains that he could make. She then set up meetings at the highest levels between Jan van Riebeeck and the Cochoqua. And finally as interpreter she passionately argued the case for the Cochoqua.

But van Riebeeck smelt a rat. He began to distrust where Krotoa’s loyalties lay. He refused to go along with Oudosoa and first wanted the Cochoqua to demonstrate loyalty to the Dutch by allying with the Dutch against the Peninsula Khoena. This would have amounted to removing the thorn in the side of the Dutch without any immediate gain for Oudosoa. The elder-leader was no fool and decided to walk away, telling van Riebeeck that he would have no part in his war against his fellow Khoena.

The diplomatic brinkmanship of the Cochoqua through Krotoa did not win the day and Oudosoa’s struggle would continue for another decade. Krotoa I believe had however exposed herself and her loyalties to her people and she was to pay a heavy price for this. Her role as interpreter and emissary came to an abrupt end and her relationship with her protector, Jan van Riebeeck, soured and this threatened her place in Dutch society at the Fort.

I put forward that an assessment such as I have made here though with a bit of speculative license offers the only possible answer to the clear and rapid breakdown in Krotoa’s relationship with the Commander. It also explains his reference to that which can only be ‘verbally conveyed’ and that ‘because of its nature must remain unknown’. The only other alternative would be something of a scandalous personal nature between her and someone very high up among the officials, possibly the Commander himself.

There were few entries about Krotoa in the Commander’s journal from this point onwards and the last entry showing Krotoa as interpreter was in 1661.  By 1662 the Commander and his family were also about to leave the Cape. Over the next decade after the Peninsula Khoena had been subdued, the Dutch and the Cochoqua were on a collision path that ultimately resulted in the second Khoena-Dutch war of resistance leading to the defeat of the Cochoqua and the Khoena strategy of containment. The importation of horses (cavalry), more soldiers and guns gave the Dutch the strategic advantage in war. Mobility and fire-power was his key to success as was his divide and rule strategy.

Krotoa’s life underwent a new dramatic change in 1662 when Commander van Riebeeck left the Cape. It coincided with the death of her uncle Autshumao, her mother’s death and the death of her sister, the wife of Oudasoa.

Faced with her uncle, mother and sister’s deaths, and with the growing distrust in her by the Dutch, the deaths of the few Dutch friends that she still had and, the fact that her main patrons the van Riebeeck’s were about to leave the Cape, Krotoa needed to find some security. She had to use all that she had learnt to make her next moves. I do not believe that there is any evidence for her to have been forced to be baptised or to be forced to marry. This was a strong and astute young woman who knew that she was at a crossroads and took charge of her her own way forward using the only options open to her.

She found her tenuous security in requesting to be baptized as a Christian and by entering a marriage which could be characterized as one of convenience with a VOC official. While some Europeans opposed this marriage as scandalous it was a convenience not only for Kratoa but also for the VOC as it provided a means to spirit Krotoa away from the public gaze without too much ado. The VOC could manipulate its official’s lives in whichever way they desired. Krotoa took her own action but in this there was also a degree of manipulation by the VOC.

The man that she married was a Danish man, Peter Havgardt who by a custom enforced by the VOC adopted the Dutch persona of Pieter van Meerhof. Known as the VOC surgeon, he worked as a barber and had responsibility too for amputations. A surgeon in those days was not what we would call a surgeon today. The marriage allowed the company to quickly dispatch Krotoa and van Meerhof to company duties on Robben Island – a kind of exile.

This did two things – it cut off Krotoa from supplying information to her people and it took her out of circulation among the emerging gentry where the presence of the young Camissa indigene woman was an embarrassment, particularly because of the prior dalliances of their husbands during the time when women were in short supply. Krotoa would also have to get used to being a more stereotypical woman by making home, being a good wife and making babies without any distractions. She over the next few years gave birth to 5 more children. From all accounts the confined and boring life after her interesting and active life at the fort and across the Cape drove her quite potty. I believe that the combination of earlier trauma and the exciting life of interpreter and emissary certainly were ingredients for her mental anguish.

The years of sexual dalliances between Khoena and slaves with the VOC officials, which Van Riebeeck referred as ‘fruitification’, to which Kratoa seemed to have been exposed, now needed to be forgotten as the Company men and their new European wives wished to look respectable. ‘Carnal conversation” the formal term of those times referring to sex was now to be well and truly tucked away from view especially in the confines of the fort .The Fort itself was about to be destroyed as a new large and more developed Castle de Goede Hoop was being built and transformed into a seat of governance. The van Riebeeck project and experiment with her life which had offered her so much dreams had by now deeply traumatised Krotoa, who in the last decade of her life stepped over the edge.

Pieter van Meerhof grew tired of Robben Island, even although unlike Krotoa he was away from the island periodically on expeditions. After having another child with Krotoa on Robben Island, he seized an opportunity to go on a slaving operation to Madagascar and in the course of the expedition he lost his life. His role of ‘taming’ Krotoa had lost steam and there is evidence that the VOC had plans to establish him in a senior position in Mauritius. The marriage between Pieter and Krotoa had come apart at the seams.

Their marriage had only lasted three years. After her husband was killed, Krotoa was temporarily allowed back on the mainland and she tried to fit into the very different European world to that of her teens. Krotoa had two more surviving children viewed as ‘illegitimate’. She was rejected by the new gentry and forced to ‘know her place’ among the transient lower classes, mainly men, who only wanted her as a drinking companion and to satisfy their sexual urges.

With van Meerhof’s death, Krotoa’s only security was gone and the full weight of the years of trauma and displacement weighed heavily on her. Her ever deepening dependency on alcohol, probably first introduced to her in her childhood, took her right over the edge. Her children were removed from her, she was hunted down, thrown into the dungeon and then she was banished to Robben Island.

During this time on Robben island, in 1673, a certain Willem ten Rhijne, a Dutch visitor to the Cape, described Krotoa as:

“…. a masterpiece of nature. She had embraced Christianity, spoke fluent English, Dutch, French and Portuguese and was conversant with the Holy Scriptures…. in short, she was most commendable, being trained in all womanly crafts and had been married to one of the surgeons serving the company.”

This description contrasts sharply with the figure painted by the Church Council and the VOC authorities at the time.

Historian Karel Schoeman points out how this version by Willem ten Rhijne and another positive note in 1672 by JP Cortemunde contrasts sharply with the accounts in Commander Wagenaer’s Journal for 1671 – 74 wherein he refers to Krotoa as ‘drinking herself to death’ and to her ‘vile unchastity’.

Krotoa had walked a thin line that determined her relations with her own people and the Dutch. When it mattered most, in the time of war, I believe that she truly found herself caught in the middle. I believe that she played an important role in choosing to provide her people with strategic information and navigating a place for herself. Had she succeeded she may well have become as wealthy and as leading a personality as the later Free Black entrepreneur Swart Maria Evert had become.

She also became the advocate for the Cochoqua strategy to isolate the Dutch settlement and develop an equitable trading relationship. Had the Khoena succeeded under the Cochoqua, Cape Town and indeed South Africa may have had a different history. For her asserted independence and experimental approaches she was scorned by the Dutch, rejected and treated as one who had betrayed them. She also did not deliver to her people, or to herself and her time had come and gone.

As she found herself more and more of an outcast she turned to alcohol and it took her closer towards her tragic end. She was called a deceitful whore and a vixen by the people who once embraced her. Karel Schoeman says that on her death the new Commander’s Journal talks of her ‘irregular life’ and says that ‘she finally quenched the fire of her lust by the passive acceptance of death’. It would seem that the Journal tells us more about the writer than about Krotoa.

The last decade of her life when she was clearly suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome after a decade of upheavals, disappointments and abuses often is projected in an amplified and judgmental manner without due analysis of the other two decades and its impacts.

Krotoa who was a carefree child in the exciting world of the Camissa settlement experienced the whirlwind of changes brought about by the Dutch settlement on the doorstep of her village. She got swept up by the forces and experiences of the time but began to get an understanding of her times and had developed her own form of resistance to colonialism after having found herself in the extraordinary circumstances of her teenage years. She sought out and followed the potential opportunities that beckoned. She was no ordinary lass. I believe that she followed her dreams which became dreams deferred and that exploded in the latter years of her life. Right up to her death she refused to be down at heal and cursed the society in which she had felt used and abused.

It was only in death that Krotoa found a place of her own. After being buried with the rest of the Christian dead at the Fort, when these graves were removed to the consecrated grounds at the Groote Kerk alongside the Camissa, Krotoa finally rested at her traditional home by the river. Across from where she lay was the old Hippo pool where she accompanied her uncle in those days before settlement. It is a pity the political opportunism sought to disturb her rest and drag her to the Castle. At the same time in a way she had also crossed a border of finally being accepted into a status in death that had never been hers in life – acceptance by the Church authorities. this makes it more peculiarly in 2016 officialdom decided that she be removed from the church burial ground near Camissa, her home, and to be taken to the Castle of Good Hope for reburial yet again. In death Krotoa remains contested in a tug-o-war not of her making.

Her descendants crossed every group, ethnic and class boundary, but they were largely oblivious to her and her story – and oblivious to the Camissa footprint and legacy.. Perhaps it was only much later that her spirit found peace when her remains were moved to a plot at the Groote Kerk built alongside the then still visible Camissa stream. Camissa received back her own. Krotoa truly can be regarded as the founding mother of many. I believe we owe it to her to restore her dignity and give her the pride of place in a different narrative of what happened in the past. Krotoa is one of my 9th great grandmothers.

What is the legacy that Krotoa left? The first thing that must be acknowledged is that without Krotoa and the information she provided, Jan Van Riebeeck would never have been able to pass on such a rich wealth of information on the local indigene people to us as recorded in his journal. Nobody else dominates its pages as does Krotoa. Krotoa provided the information even although she was not the writer. Van Riebeeck, in a sense, was the scribe and she – the ghost-writer. In his journal, regardless of the flaws and bias, there is a result available for posterity of the peculiar teamwork which paints a picture of all of the Khoena clans named and describes details which may never have been conveyed for the future. It also tells us about so many Khoena characters who may otherwise have been lost in the sands of time. This is a great legacy which makes Krotoa much more than an interpreter and diplomat. She was also a chronicle.

Krotoa’s life is bound up with the hidden story of the people and events on the banks of the Camissa River of the 1640s to the 1660s. By looking at the life and times of Krotoa and her other indigene and slave contemporaries such as another of my 9th great grandmother’s Lijsbet Arabus, we are able to discover something of ourselves that has been lost in time. Like the Camissa River which still flows hidden beneath the City of Cape Town, so is it with the descendants of the Camissa people. Connecting with Krotoa is one of the keys to unlocking the heritage of many South Africans and rediscovering the strength symbolised by this ancestor.

By understanding Krotoa, what she was up against and how she handled herself regardless of what was thrown at her we can have a better sense of who we are as a people, not so much in narrow terms of ethnicity and so-called race or ‘nation’ but as people who can rise up above adversity. Krotoa was a linguist, a diplomat and emissary and a powerful woman in her own right. Faced with incredibly difficult circumstances, she walked among the landmines of her day and found her own way to make her mark for her people. While adversity dragged her down she refused to live her life down at heal. Adversity took its toll and took her to an early grave but she remained unbroken into the social conformity that had been thrust upon her. At times thinking about Krotoa and the adversity she faced makes me very sad and emotional but then I remember her differently. Victim is not the way I think of her. Though a broken woman in death, the best part of her life she was a strong woman.

Linguistically Krotoa was a pioneer of the Afrikaans language. Afrikaans is a Creole language with strong Seaman’s Dutch at its roots. But it also has German, Portuguese and French roots too. However, Afrikaans itself largely emerged among two streams of people who had European languages as their 2nd or 3rd languages – the Khoena and the slaves of the Cape. Today there are more people of colour across many ethnic groups in South Africa who speak Afrikaans, often as their first language, than white people who so. This language also provides an opportunity for Africans and Afro-Europeans to unite around something that is dear to both. Krotoa offers the hope that the narrow and race besotted definition of Afrikaans and Afrikaner can give way to something more universally embraced. Here there is much in the history of people of colour and the Camissa Footprint regarding the roots of both the language and the term.

The Khoena of the Camissa Settlement and the slaves of the Camissa Settlement were exposed to all of the European languages and likewise had their own Khoena and Melayu dialects which were also introduced into daily discourse. Thus the languages of the Khoena and slaves influenced the emergence of Afrikaans in an indelible manner.

But perhaps more importantly Xhore, Autshumao, Krotoa and Doman as interpreters were the earliest midwives in the birthing of Afrikaans as a language. They were the first to cross the borderline of suiwer-Nederlands into the world of the patois Cape low-Dutch or the Creole Afrikaans language. The first 12 slaves mainly from India, and the new waves of slaves from West Africa and Southeast Asia and Madagascar all also contributed to the emergence of this new language. It was vital for communication that boundaries in language needed to be crossed. This is an important sub-story of the Camissa Footprint.

Krotoa was the first indigene African to convert to Christianity in South Africa and she was the first indigene African to formally marry a European. Whatever we now may think of that marriage it was a pioneering step that ought to be remembered.

It is with Xhore, Krotoa, Austhumao, and Nommoa and the Camissa settlement that the people today labeled as ‘Coloured’ have their roots. The indigenes of Camissa and the slaves who were forcibly brought to Camissa from other parts of Africa, Madagascar, India, Southeast Asia and China, gave birth to the many people throughout South Africa today who can share a pride in being the children of Camissa…… and this too can be embraced beyond the confines of the label ‘Coloured’.

If it was not for the tenacious and passionate work of historian Mansell Upham we would still be labouring under a very distorted picture of the last days of Krotoa and about what happened to her children. South Africa owes a great debt to this historian.

Mansell Upham briefly touches on the last years of Krotoa’s life in a work on her slave contemporaries. He elaborates on the fate of Krotoa’s children and explains how Krotoa was accused by the Dutch Reformed Church Council of being a drunk and “playing the beast at night” and reverting to her ‘native habits’.

His research tells us that on the 8 February 1669 a new Church Council of the Dutch Reformed Church was elected and at the first sitting of this Church Council a decision was taken to remove Krotoa’s three children from her care. The church councillors having taken this decision pulled the wool over the eyes of Krotoa to lull her into a sense of false security. They simply conveyed a reprimand and suggested that only if she did not mend her ways that her children might be removed from her care. The decision to remove the children had however already been taken and they were about to execute their decision.

Krotoa, then known as the widow van Meerhof lived in the old pottery, then a make-shift abode. Krotoa got wind that all was not right and feared for what may be done to herself. She fled when her children were seized and her house was sealed up to keep her away. The children were put into the temporary care of the outgoing Church Deacon Jan Reijniers and his wife in February 1669. They passed the responsibility on to associate Barbara Geems. The Reijniers were considered to be ‘honest and godly people’ and had already been made the adopted parents of another infant Khoe child by the name of Florida. This child died a short while later.

The three children of Krotoa were formally committed to the care of Jan Reijniers and his wife in 1669.In reality far from being pious, Jan Reijneiers was a notorious cattle rustler and sheep thief who had been caught at it by elder-leader Gogosoa of the Goringhaiqua. Reijniers was also convicted thief. Barbara Geems ran a notorious brothel.

On 10 February 1669 Krotoa was apprehended, arrested and imprisoned and later in March was banished without trial Robben Island where she was to remain until her death on 29 July 1674. Krotoa’s children were shipped off to Mauritius in 1677. Theirs is another story. My forebear, Pieternella, Krotoa’s daughter was to return to the Cape with her husband Daniel Saayman after the Dutch East India Company (VOC) abandoned Mauritius. Pieternella died aged 50 in that fateful year of 1713 when smallpox ravaged the colony.

Krotoa was banished to Robben Island and her children tucked away in Mauritius to get rid of the embarrassment of the Camisaa mark on society. Leading figures in Cape Society in the early 1700s – Adam Tas and Henning Huysing scornfully referred to ‘the Black Brood among us’ referring to persons of colour in the free citizenry of Cape Town and the two van der Stels, considered to be people of colour. An almighty attempt was made to airbrush the Krotoa legacy from the Cape Heritage. But in returning from Mauritius, Pieternella (Petronella) and her children ensured that the footprint of Krotoa proliferated throughout South Africa.

BIBLIOGRAPHYHB Thom edt; Journal of Jan van Riebeeck 1652 – 1662; Van Riebeeck Society; AA Balkema, Cape Town / Amsterdam (1958) – Anna Jacoba BöesekenDie dagregister en briewe van Zacharias Wagenaer 1662 – 1666; (1973) –Anna Jacoba Böeseken; Memoriën en instruction 1657 – 1699; (1966) – Robin Knox-Johnston; The Cape of Good hope – A Maritime History (1989) – FS Gaastra and JR Bruijn;  The Dutch East India Company’s Shipping 1602 – 1795 in a comparative perspective;  Mansell Upham; Made or Marred by Time; – Karel SchoemanSeven Khoi lives; – Cape biographies of the seventeenth century; Protea; Pretoria (2009) –Alan MountainFirst People of the Cape; David Philip; Cape Town (2003) – Riaan Vosterand Alan HallThe Waters of Table mountain; – Nicolaas Vergunst; Hoerikwaggo – Images of Table mountain; SA National gallery Iziko Museums; Cape town (2000) – Nigel Worden, Elizabeth van Heningen, Vivian Bickford-SmithCape Town Making of a City; David Philip; Cape   Town (1998) – Adrien Delmas & Nigel Penn; Written culture in a Colonial context: Africa and the Americas 1500 – 1900Written culture and the Cape KhoiKhoi – From travel writing to ‘full description; UCT Press (2011) – William Crooke edt; Tavanier: Travels in India; transl V Ball; (1925) – Sir Richard Carnac-Temple; The travels of Peter Mundy in Europe and Asia 1608 – 1667; (1967) – JP Cortemünde;Adventures at the Cape of Good Hope; (1962) – HCV Leibbrandt; Precis of the archives of the Cape of Good Hope; Journal 1662-70, 1671-74; WA Richards & Sons (1901, 1902) – John Cope; King of the Hottentots; Howard Timmins; Cape   Town (1967) – Richard Elphick; KhoiKhoi and the founding of White South Africa; Raven Press; Johannesburg (1985) – O Schapera edtDictionary of South African Biography: The Early Cape Hottentots – Willem ten Rhijne; (1933)

The SEVEN STEPS OF CAPE IDENTITY – Exploring heritage through the Camissa Footprint


Seven Steps of Cape Identity – PP Presentation

For those following this blog or my posts on Facebook and have requested the Power Point Presentation on The Seven Steps of Cape Identity – The Heritage of the Cammissa Footprint – here it is. I have tried posting the video version here but unfortunately this free wordpress blogsite requires me to pay a lot of money in US dollars to post videos.

You can however access the Video Version through the following Dropbox link: