(1642 – 1674)

KratoaMuch that is written about Krotoa        (!goa/gõas) unfairly anchors her biography with that of Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in Table Bay. She was already 12 years old by this time. Her name actually describes her situation in life. She was a child abandoned into the care or wardship of her Uncle Autshumao and the Goringhaiqua community. In the Khoekhoegowab language !goa/gõas means a child who is a ward, and in many ways this name was actually an apt description of the three decades which translated into three phases of her life and in the final phase her struggle to shake off the wardship that blighted her life. She was the ward of Autshumao, the ward of Jan van Riebeeck, the ward of Pieter van Meerhof, the briefly freed of wardship but quickly once again became the ward of Commander Wagenaar and the Dutch Reformed Church Council. With wardship there is a great degree of control, and in a male world that control was in the hands of men. But here’s a thing that is also a product of wardship as a child. Let me be subjective for a moment and explain what I mean, using my own experience. In my own childhood I was ward four times over by the age of 10, and by the age of 16 when I when I went out to work and became independent 2 more wardships. As a child one of the by-products of being a ward is that the usual cloning effect that parents have over the child is not there, and to a degree the child develops much more control of his or her thoughts and behaviours. The first 10 years are the child’s formative years and if one studies children who grow up in nuclear families and compare them to children who are wards either of other individuals or institutions you will find a lot more independence of thought. Society often condemns this to be lack off discipline or waywardness. Krotoa as a ward is likely to have had wisdom beyond her years, a bit of a dreamer, a keen observer of life around her, and indeed would have been more of her own independent person. These are all characteristics which history showed Krotoa to have as she struggle with the controlling side of wardship and male dominance of her independent spirit and independent mind. This was perhaps her greatest struggle in life. Her children were also wrested away from her too and became the wards of various strangers.

Krotoa of the Goringhaicona was born around 1642 at the emerging Khoena settlement on the banks of the Camissa River which flowed from the great Hoerikwaggo Mountain to the sea. This village at the Camissa River which initially was established a decade earlier in the same place, for a few years moved to Robben Island with the assistance of the British at the request of Autshumao. At the time of her birth the village had just been re-established on the mainland Cape Peninsular (//Hui !Gaeb) for two years.

The Goringhaicona community into which she was born had non of the usual hallmarks of being a tribe and its culture was going through continuous changes as they engaged the peoples of many other worldwide societies. It was a free un-colonised growing port run by Indigenes. Ever since the turn of the century European shipping increased to the East and stopped of in Table Bay; there were 1071 ships with over 200 000 travelers since 1600. The Indigenes at Camissa had left other tribes and began a new economy of trading, facilitating, running a communications service, helping to gather wood for ship repairs, mining for and selling salt, being interlocutors for meat supplies and so on. With up to three outward bound ships and 2 homeward bound ships per month this was a busy port serving the Netherlands, France, England, Portugal and Denmark. It was hardly the barren place with primitive communities who had never previously engaged with Europeans projected in Dutch colonial history books.

Ever since Chief Xhore of the Goringhaiqua was taken to London for a year in 1613, and returned, life had not quite been the same. More people including Autshumao travelled abroad and each different country’s shipping wanted their own port man. And thus a new economy and way of life began. Other Khoena als became independent of tribes each developing their own approach to the visiting ships. Most prominent was the independent cattle man, Aikinsoa. Like in any port when travelers were too sick to carry on, they stayed behind. Travelers on average were staying from a few weeks to a few months. Some left behind by their ships to be picked up by another vessel. Others were shipwrecked like those on the Nieuwe Harlem where 60 persons stayed over for almost one year. In this scenario it would have been the norm for various types of relationships to have developed between local people and travelers. This was a non-colonial development and it would be the first casualty of VOC colonization at the Cape. It also explains more objectively the clash between Autshumao and van Riebeeck instead of the lies about Autshumao being a thief and vagabond. Van Riebeeck destroyed the business that Autshumao and his people had built over two decades on the foundations of Xhore’s equally long business.

Krotoa may well have been born of one of those relationships or a violation and her mother left her in the wardship of Autshumao. Both Autshumao and the woman that Kratoa called a sister may not have been uncle or sister in the western sense of famial relationships in a scenario where the community was family. Krotoa would have grown up in this exciting world taking opportunities to explore and learn. She also had the mentorship of her Uncle and the care of the community. She will certainly have been familiar with the European ways and languages long before van Riebeeck’s arrival.

This village life provides a very different curtain-raiser to the second decade of Krotoa’s life. She was certainly no empty vessel waiting for her head to be find with knowledge by Maria and Jan van Riebeeck.

The VOC Commander Jan van Riebeeck into whose wardship she passed, named her Eva and after her marriage to a Danish barber-surgeon she was known as Eva van Meerhof getting yet another name as wardship passed to another man. Maria van Riebeeck too was hardly in a position to be teaching and mentoring Krotoa. Maria was a relatively young woman aged 22 who arrived with one child of her own and two orphaned nieces. Maaria was sickly and was pregnant almost every year while at the Cape, often miscarrying. She died two years after leaving the Cape.

During the period that she served as an interpreter, Commander van Riebeeck often accused Krotoa of “Drawing the Longbow”. Read on to see why?

The European travelers called Hoerikwaggo Bay, Table Bay, and the mountain was called Table Mountain. The Camissa settlement became known as the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Town.

Krotoa who was well connected to the leading family of the Khoena Cochoqua tribe through her sister’s marriage to the Chief (Kai Bi’a) Oedasoa, 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 tribes, clans as well as independent family groups, with a range of wonderful names. The word simply means ‘people’ and in its singular form – ‘person/people’. Similarly the Cape San or /Xam-ka also means ‘person/people’, and again likewise the term ‘Bantu’ denoting those of predominantly Sub-Saharan roots also means ‘person/people)

The Goringhaicona (children of the Goringhaiqua), were a relatively settled offshoot clan of maroons/drifters/drosters from the other Khoena groups – the Gorachoqua, Goringhaiqua, Chainoqua and the Cochoqua clans of the Western Cape of South Africa. They are described by Richard Elphick, a specialist in Khoena history, as runaways, outcasts, refugees, orphans and other persons ‘whose parents and husbands were dead’. Krotoa, the girl called a ‘ward’, locates in an emergent trader community defined in these terms. Few acknowledge this reality when making an assessment of her life. It wasn’t that she was dominated after Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival by an identity of being caught between her indigene African tribal community on the one hand and the VOC community on the other. Krotoa from her birth was caught in the vortex of social and economic change because of the development of a port and proto-urbanization. It would seem that she was handling this very well, until van Riebeeck thrust her into a political world. A yet again it would seem that she did exceptionally well and never really broke her relationship with her uncle and mentor. Van Riebeeck and his successor and their relationship to her and her feisty independent persona was what was at the root of her downfall. It is largely a European narrative that suggests and embellishes a breakdown between herself and her people. The Europeans actually were afraid of Krotoa finding a firm home among the Khoena after they had bust up Autshumao’s proto-port settlement. As Authshumao’s project floundered and was destroyed, the Dutch did not want Krotoa finding an alternative community with her sister’s then still powerful people, the Cochoqua. She knew too much and had a powerful set of skills.

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, China and Indonesia, who worked and lived alongside the Goringhaicona, further relations between slaves and the Khoena also produced offspring in the Camissa community. 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 labeled the Camissa descendants as ‘Coloured’ people.

During her years with Jan van Riebeeck as an interpreter, emissary and negotiator, Krotoa increasingly adopted the Cochoqua as her people and by all accounts they adopted her. This clearly worried van Riebeeck especially when he began suspecting that she was playing games with him and information. Krotoa’s sister was the wife of Chief Oudasoa of the Cochoqua. Krotoa it was said also had a second ‘mother’ among the Cochoqua. She further had kinship ties with the Goringhaiqua and the Chainoqua. Leadership families had a network across the tribes, clans and independent families. Simultaneously Kratoa maintained her ties with the Goringhaicona headed by her uncle Autshumao until its demise in the first Indigene-Dutch War and Autshumao’s death.

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 Chief Autshumao of the Goringhaicona as an ignorant vagabond leader of a bunch of 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 first two decades of European settlement and with the background of the previous fifty years events at Camissa that her legacy can fully be appreciated. (Read my paper on “The founding of the Port of Cape Town at Camissa – The Shoreline Frontier”)

Krotoa’s community context

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 in-depth look at the history of the Cape Khoena and their migration into the Western Cape, through the Eastern Cape, from the Gariep occurred over 1300 years. Prior to their settlement in the Gariep they had another 1200 years of history going back to about 500BC to Limpopo and the periphery of the Kalahari where their ancestors were the Kalahari /Xam who had engaged with northwestern and eastern migratory movements of both Bantu and Hadza/Sandawe people, with roots going even further back to Niolitic peoples. Along these migratory routes sheep and cattle were introduced to the Kalahai /Xam. The San and Khoena presided over a very mixed Kingdom of Mapangubwe around 900 AD in Limpopo. The links through Mapangubwe to East Africa, West Africa, North Africa, India and China was not lost on the Khoen who migrated south to the Western Cape. A number of Cape Khoena tribes emerged like a human settlement chain across South Africa linking its people to the world by overland routes. The only people prior to the Cape Khoena, in the Eastern, Central and western Cape were the /Xam-ka whose roots go back to the earliest Homo Sapiens 70 000 to 90 000 years ago and are the only “First People” of the region. The /Xam-ka were first displaced by the Khoena and their early Xhosa cousins, and then by the Nguni in their gradual migratory drift down the Eastern Seaboard. But this simply resulted in the /Xam-ka consolidating themselves in the Central Karoo and what became known as Bushmenland all the way up to the Gariep and along the Gariep. With European Colonialism the European and Khoena Commandos from the mid 18th century wreaked waves of genocidal attacks on the /Xam-ka with very few surviving. The Baster, Orlams and Griqua Khoena refugee and revivalist groups also unleashed a wave of terror and genocide on the /Xam-ka ‘First People’ destroying both the tribal infrastructure and the people. Today their linage only survives in tiny communities and none of these are wholly /Xam-ka. It is the greatest man made tragedy of South Africa in which both Indigenous peoples and Europeans played a grotesque role.

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.

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 Chief Xhore of the Goringhaiqua after he was kidnapped to England in 1613 and returned a year later. Chief 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 Chief Autshumao, the uncle of Krotoa, was taken on a visit to Java in 1631. 

A new and intricate relationship was developed with Autshumao’s village of Goringhaicona, involving a range of services including a postal service to passing ships. This first involved establishing a service station for ships on RobbenIsland served by more than 30 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 travelers for the acquisition of meat and fresh water 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 lucrative 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 as 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 behaviours.

Authsumao, with his 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. 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.

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. Krotoa’s descendants however are today to be found among thousands of South Africans of all national groups. One entry in Van Riebeeck’s journal makes it very clear that both van Riebeeck and Autshumao were highly conscious of Autshumao’s proud role as a trading entrepreneur; van Riebeeck states – “Herrie in the meanwhile, priding himself on having originated the incipient trade…”.

Historians have grossly violated Autshumao’s role in laying the foundations of the Port of Cape Town.

Commander van Riebeeck first provides a note on Krotoa in his journal in 1654 by referring to  – ‘a girl living with us’ who 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.’

From this first mention in the record, the Commander went on to mention her name over 200 times in 65 entries in the journal. Kratoa 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 my wife” from the beginning (1652). We know why she needed Krotoa too. She needed a servant to help her with her son and two nieces. With the soft young 22 year old Maria frequently being pregnant and sickly, Krotoa would have had her work cut out for her. From being a free ranger independent girl under her uncle’s wardship, Krotoa now was forced to live a much more controlled life as a servant alongside slaves.

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. This I believe to be boasting a bit because Krotoa was already a child who had developed skills including linguistic skills. Certainly Maria would have helped finesse the skills but Maria could not have had much time on her hands in those cramped rough quarters with her condition and all of the children. Krotoa and the three children was soon joined by three more slave children too. Two of these were the Arabus girls of the same age as Krotoa. From the age of 15 years, Krotoa’s service to the VOC transformed to become that of interpreter, emissary and negotiator. This was likely to have started slowly and then increased in frequency and type of tasks. We don’t know how she was paid.

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 later set in. He used these 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 as he does not camouflage his feelings. It is van Riebeeck who was also guilty of playing Krotoa in hiring the services of Doman to try and catch her out. He stoked antagonism between his two highly competitive interpreters. Their positions also allowed them in on livestock trade for their own benefit and this fueled antagonism too. Krotoa is likely to have passed her cattle onto Autshumao for tending as right up until his death Autshumao had a reasonable amount of cattle. He in turn as the Goringhaicona were destroyed as a grouping would have aligned himself with the other independent trader Ainkinsoa.

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 he exposes distrust and sounds warnings about Krotoa. He uses a phrase many times – Krotoa is accused of ‘drawing the long bow’ – meaning exaggerating or embellishing, lying or deliberately misleading them. He also 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.

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.

Krotoa in the service of the Dutch

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 and protection. The Camissa River itself was diverted to form a moat around the Fort when it was constructed. 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 twelve 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. In the early years prior to 1652 Krotoa was probably a lookout for the sails of incoming ships and aiding her uncle in this regard.  Her linguistic skills would have been gleaned running errands and taking messages. When van Riebeeck arrived with his dependent young wife and the three children he would have quickly noticed this child who stood out. As a twelve year old she was at the age that girls even in the lower European classes began working. I do not think that there is too much mystery about how she went from being at Autshumaos side and wardship into the wardship of van Riebeeck. The van Riebeecks probably offered an education as payment and this would have been attractive to Autshumao who knew the benefits thereof from his experience in Java. He also needed someone at the side of van Riebeeck to provide inside information. Krotoa I would think would not have seen this as being a bad offer. Later though when finding herself slaving away and caught up in the ugly world of a crowded fort full of roughneck men, she probably wanted out and that’s why she attempted to run away with her uncle.

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 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 European features and was of fair complexion.  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 ancestry. Her family connections with the inland Cochoqua and the fact that she was related to the leading families that inter-connected some of the Khoena tribes and clans 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 molded.

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 arrival of the Europeans, tensions and conflicts evolved between these groups and also with others such as the Chainouqua. Elphick shows us that Kratoa had a complex set of family relationships across these clans, and that these included persons of influence and power.  (Pg 107, KhoiKhoi and the founding of White South Africa by Richard Elphick) Pioneer researcher and micro-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 ground seized for temporal gains and political kudos.

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 – Lysbeth 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. For instance, two years after entering service at the Fort, Krotoa had absconded with her uncle and had to be brought back to the Fort after Van Riebeeck had pursued them. Between the age of 12 and 15 she was further instructed in language, religion and culture of the Dutch, not for philanthropic reasons, 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 Khoe-Dutch war of 1659 – 60. 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.

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 some tug-o-war of emotions and mental conflict, as well as conflicts of loyalty. Krotoa was to some degree torn between being Eva and Krotoa; between being penned into the European world and prevented from being part of the Khoena. She was being marshaled, briefed and de-briefed by her handler, the Commander. She was asked to go among her people and to report back, but at the same time van Riebeeck did not want her to be with them too long or unchaperoned. 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. She saw the ruthless and manipulating side of the Commander – a hard-nut VOC official protecting the interests of a powerful company one day and the gentleman singing her praises the next. Contradictions surely jumped out at her. As she matured she was clearly less able to be manipulated by van Riebeeck if you read between the lines of his journal and was split in her loyalties between the VOC and her sister’s people, the Cochoqua.

In appearance, age and personality, Jan van Riebeeck was 37 year old by the time Krotoa was doing interpreting. Van Riebeeck was a stout, balding, rough-faced, hardened VOC employee from a posting in Vietnam and highly prejudiced against indigenous people. He was a dishonest man who had been caught out cheating the VOC and enriching himself at its expense. We have a good idea about JvR’s outrageous attitude when comparing his counter-report to the VOC after his 18 day visit to the Cape in 1647 to the main report of Captain Janszens who had spent a year at the Cape and recommended that the Indigenes were great people for developing a partnership with the VOC. Van Riebeeck was disparaging and as a non first-hand witness he misrepresented the situation with his disparaging view of an incident between some of Janszens men and indigenous people, challenging the (just) manner in which the Captain had dealt with the incident.

We also know through van Riebeeck’s letters to the VOC asking permission to enact two draconian forced removals plans to rid the Peninsular of Indigenes, one of which was developing a concentration camp at Hout Bay into which he wanted to force all the Peninsula Indigenes to work for the VOC raising livestock.. The other was a plan to dig a huge canal separating the Peninsular by way of water running from False Bay to Table Bay, and then expelling all the Indigenes from the island. Jan van Riebeeck was the father of ethnic cleansing and the trajectory of “Forced Removals” and “Group Areas” in our history.

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.

One day she 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 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’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.

In her later teens Krotoa had two ‘illegitimate’ children 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. Anyone who has had the life of a ward will tell you that children without parents and in the custody of others are prey to all sorts of abuse including sexual abuse. In a fort and environment mainly made up of European men a child of colour and Indigene on top everything, would have been prey to these wild roughnecks. The use of alcohol and tobacco was policy of the Commander to control the 400 West African slave children who arrived in 1658, sick and dying. Krotoa it would seem would have been pacified with alcohol and tobacco introduced to her by the colonists. This would have started her path of destruction. The sight of all of those dying West African children and the abuse of the teens that must have taken place would have been highly traumatic too.

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 and Resistance

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 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. 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 had compromised her people. But was she? 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 were competing interpreters and working for gain. Krotoa and Doman clashed around who was a more able interpreter and Doman then accused her to unseat her. They both accused each other for whatever reason they harboured. Doman lost in the contest in which it must have been very difficult for a woman to hold her own.

Krotoa certainly gave excellent interpretation and diplomatic service to the Dutch, but equally she provided the same for Oedasoa and the Cochoqua. In looking at the information available, one is indeed sometimes left wondering whether Kratoa worked for Oedasoa 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 Oedasoa 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 Kratoa 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 completely overlooked 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.

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 Oedosoa.

Autshumao’s tactic was to pressurize the Dutch to stay locked in to the Table Bay area and to remain dependent on the Goringhaicona 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. Autshumao and his small Goringhaicona clan were however soon overwhelmed by the Dutch.

The second tactician was Nammoa 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 and undisciplined. Nammoa sought to replace the Dutch dependency on Autshumao and also on Kratoa with himself. 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. Under Nommoa the Peninsula Khoena went to war in the first Khoena-Dutch war of resistance from 1659 – 1660. The result of the conflict was a stalemate, but Nommoa’s power and influence was reduced and the Dutch made significant gains.

The third tactic was employed by Chief Oedasoa 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. Oedasoa 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. Oedasoa 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.

Oedasoa 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. Oedasoa 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 Oedosoa 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 Oedosoa. The chief 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 Oedosoa’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 interpretor 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.

The last tragic decade of Kratoa’s life

Kratoa’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 Chief Oedasoa.

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, Kratoa needed to find some security. She had to use all that she had learnt to make her next moves.

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 Kratoa away from the public gaze without too much ado. The VOC could manipulate its official’s lives in whichever way they desired.

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, responsible too for amputations. The marriage effectively was another wardship and allowed the company to quickly dispatch Krotoa and van Meerhof to company duties on RobbenIsland – 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 Khoena 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 use to being a more stereotypical woman by making home, being a good wife and making babies without any distractions. On Robben island she gave birth to another child. 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.

The years of sexual dalliances between Khoena and slaves with the VOC officials, which Van Riebeeck referred as ‘fructification’, to which Krotoa 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 which was rapidly being transformed into a ‘Castle’ of a sorts and 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, 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 as new custodian of the ward, 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. She was for the first time no longer a ward. But the terrain around her had changed and required a new set of skills and a power based that was not there for her. Krotoa had two more surviving children viewed as ‘illegitimate’. She was rejected by the new gentry and forced to ‘know her place’ amongst the ‘Free Blacks” and 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. She again was made a ward of the VOC and the Dutch Reformed Church. Her children were made wards of the church which then parceled the older children off to a brothel keeper and the younger given over to the “Free Black” Everts family.

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 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 and 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 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 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. Like the destruction of the Camissa port community 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 in being buried first in the grounds of the Fort of Good Hope. Her descendants crossed every group, ethnic and class boundary, but they were largely oblivious to her and her story. 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.

What was Kratoa’s Legacy?

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. 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 1650s and 1660s. By looking at the life and times of Krotoa and her other indigene and slave contemporaries 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 great 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.

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. Krotoa offers the hope that the narrow and race besotted definition of Afrikaans and Afrikaner can give way to something more universally embraced.

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 South East 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.

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.

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, South East 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’.

What happened to Kratoa’s children?

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 consisting of Adriaan de Voogd, Johannes Coon, Adriaan Wils and Gerrit van der Bijl. At the first sitting of this Church Council a decision was taken to remove Krotoa’s three children from her care. The church councilors 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.

In reality Jan Reijneiers was a notorious cattle rustler and sheep thief who had been caught at it by Chief Gogosoa of the Goringhaiqua. The chief had kept van Reijniers as hostage and strung him up after he was caught stealing some years previously in 1661. In 1666 Reijniers was also convicted of theft by the authorities. Barbara Geems ran a brothel. The three children of Kratoa were formally committed to the care of Jan Reijniers and his wife on 1 March 1669.

An order was given by the Fiscal, Cornelius de Cretzir that Krotoa be found, removed from wherever she had found sanctuary and arrested. On 10 February 1669 Krotoa was apprehended and arrested. She was taken and thrown into the donker-gat dungeon (black-hole) at the Castle of Good Hope. On 26 March 1669 Kratoa was banished without trial to Robben Island where she was to remain until her death on 29 July 1674.

Krotoa’s children Pieternella van Meerhof and Salomon van Meerhof were shipped off to Mauritius in 1677 as wards of Theuntje Bartholomeus van der Linde and her husband Bartholomeus Borns on the ship ‘De Boode’.

Jacobus van Meerhof, the eldest of the children was later also sent off to Mauritius to join them. He would later be sent back to the Cape but died mysteriously on the return voyage.

Krotoa also had two other children which officialdom called ‘illegitimate’. These were Jeronimus and Anthonij. It is not known into whose care they had been placed nor whether either the Church Council or the authorities at the Castle officially even concerned themselves with these children. The records are silent. The only records on Anthonij is that he was alone, unmarried and without children when he died during the smallpox epidemic in 1713. One clue that exists is that Anthonij had the surname Everts suggesting that he was brought up in the care of Anne and Evert of Guinea, two freed African slaves.

Pieternella was to return to the Cape with her husband Daniel Saayman after the Dutch East India Company (VOC) abandoned Mauritius. She died aged 50 in Stellenbosch in that fateful year of the smallpox epidemic in 1713. Daniel died the following year. Krotoa’s descendants can be traced through four of Petronella’s 8 children, through the Diodata girls in Indonesia, and the Bockelenberg, de Vries and the Zaaiman (Zaayman or Saayman) lines in the Cape.

  • Catharina Zaaiman who was born in 1678 inMauritius. She married Roelof Diodata and had two children, Elizabeth and Agnita. The family moved from Mauritius to settle inBatavia (Jakarta).
  • Magdalena Zaayman who was born in 1682 in Mauritius and married Johannes Bockelenberg and they had four children – Petronella, Johannes, Anna Elizabeth and Susanna Bocklenberg.
  • Maria Martha Maryke Zaaiman who was born in 1683 in Mauritius and married Hendrik Abraham de Vries who had 4 children Daniel, Jacob, and Izak de Vries.
  • Pieter Zaaiman who was born in 1686 in Mauritius and married Anna Koopman who had 8 children – Pieternella, Daniel, Bartholomeus, Engela, Francina, Barend, Cornelis, and Christiaan Zaaiman

These descendents in turn married into many other families in South Africa and it is through thousands of these descendants carrying many different surnames that the old Goringhaicona, Goringhaiqua and Cochoqua lines of the Khoena people still live on. No children are recorded for the other four of Pieternella’s children. These were: Eva Zaaiman who was born in 1680 in Mauritius and died in the Cape.  Daniel Zaaiman who was born in 1692 in Mauritius and died in the Cape. Johannes Zaaiman who was born in 1704 in Mauritius and died aged 21 in the Cape. Christiaan Zaaiman who was born in 1708 in Mauritius and died 9 months later in Cape Town.

Krotoa was banished to Robben Island and her children tucked away in Mauritius to get rid of the embarrassment of the Goringhaicona who had entered into white colonial society. Leading figures in Cape Society in the early 1700s – Adam Tas and Henning Huysing scornfully referred to ‘the Black Brood among us’. 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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: HB Thom edt; Journal of Jan van Riebeeck 1652 – 1662; Van Riebeeck Society; AA Balkema, Cape Town / Amsterdam (1958) – Anna Jacoba Böeseken; Die dagregister en briewe van Zacharias Wagenaer 1662 – 1666; (1973) – Anna Jacoba Böeseken; Memoriën en instruction 1657 – 1699; (1966) – Mansell Upham; Made or Marred by Time; – Karel Schoeman; Seven Khoi lives; – Cape biographies of the seventeenth century; Protea; Pretoria (2009) Alan Mountain; First People of the Cape; David Philip; Cape Town (2003) – Riaan Voster and Alan Hall; The 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-Smith; Cape 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 – 1900; Written 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 edt; Dictionary of South African Biography: The Early Cape Hottentots – Willem ten Rhijne; (1933)

Maai Angela of Bengal

(1641 – 1720)


IMAAI An the period of 1652 – 1657, the first few years of the settlement established by the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope, there were only 11 slaves. Angela van Bengal was one of them.

Angela arrived at the Camissa River settlement on the shore of Table Bay in 1657 to work as a slave in Commander Jan van Riebeeck’s household in the Fort de Goede Hoop. The small group of slaves at the Fort were mainly from India but the following year, 1658, saw the first large influx of slaves to the Cape. These came from Angola and Guinea (more correctly Dahomey/Benin) in West Africa and were the first significant numbers of sub-Saharan Africans to join the local Khoena Africans at the Southernmost tip of Africa. Besides the fact that Bantu people had old kinship and societal ties to the Cape Khoena, and that Stellenbosch burghers were bringing in amaXhosa captives taken in raiding expeditions from 1707, the arrivals of 402 sub-Saharan African captives at the Cape of Good Hope in 1658 dispels the false historical claims that Bantu people are recent arrivals in Cape Town, still widely propagated today.

Survival of slaves

Survival was the number one concern of slaves at this point in history at the Cape. In 1656 there were a total of 12 slaves at the Cape increasing first to 17 and then to 419 by mid-1658. In March 1659, after the influx of 402 West African slaves in the previous year (of which 172 were been sent on to Batavia) the total new slaves remaining at the Cape in 1659 was 230. When one looks at figures provided by Karel Schoeman in his work ‘Early slavery at the Cape of Good Hope 1652 – 1717’ there were 60 of these slaves owned by the company plus 5 other new arrivals from elsewhere, plus 170 more of the West African slaves sold into private hands of officials and Free Burghers. When one includes the original 12 slaves the total slaves in private hands were 182 of the 242 slaves at the settlement.

The survival rate of slaves in the harsh conditions of the Cape in those early days can be illustrated in that only 4 years later, by 1662, of those 230 West African slaves that arrived in 1658 only 23 privately owned slaves and 49 of the company owned slaves had survived. A further 7 had escaped and integrated with the Khoena and not been recaptured. By 1662 the overall slave population had decreased from 242 to 113 plus 27 locally born slave children, even after continued new arrivals.

Angela of Bengal’s greatest challenge during this time was to ensure that she had a strategy for survival. The tactics that she used to survive this harsh situation can only be judged by the conditions of that time.

The story of Maai Angela of Bengal is both a personal story and the story of those first few slaves and the larger influx that followed them over the next few decades. Maai Angela’s story is not dramatic but it offers us a window to get a glimpse into the early years of slavery and the struggles of those slaves.

The first slaves at the Cape and the challenges faced

Of the first twelve slaves in the Cape up to 1657, four were children under the age of 12, and of the adults, six were from India. These were Maria of Bengal (1655), Catharina of Bengal (1656), Catharina of Paliacatte (1657), Angela of Bengal (1657), Domingo of Bengal (1657) and another Maria of Bengal (1658). Another slave, the very first slave, Abraham, was from Batavia (Jakarta) and had arrived in the Cape as a stowaway. The Bengali’s thus were the majority group.

The situation at this time was that men outnumbered women by around fifteen to one, and these men were largely a wild bunch of soldier-adventurers and company employees drawn from a number of European countries and from the island of Ambon in the Indonesian archipelago. They all worked for the Dutch East India Company (VOC), under the command of Commander Jan van Riebeeck who was still battling to establish a viable coastal refreshment station to support the company’s shipping to the East Indies.

Researcher Mansell Upham in his paper ‘What can’t be cured must be endured: Cape of Good Hope – First Marriages and Baptisms’ dispels the greatest skewed element in South African history – that of the ‘Dutch’ settlement when he outlines, “Too often the VOC is seen too narrowly in a political sense as a ‘Dutch’ company and the Cape of Good Hope as a ‘Dutch’ colony. Effectively, it was a Dutch managed company with a huge workforce of migrant labourers coming from the German lowlands and Scandinavia…”

This roughneck early population of men-folk were also not quite the pious pioneers projected by the official histories of the Apartheid era and most were not adherents of the Dutch Reformed Church. Many indeed were Lutherans according to Upham and most were probably disinterested in religious matters. The importance of this fact is that generally records of the past that inform our historical outlook is often based on baptisms and marriages, whereas it is clear that many relationships were not marriages and many children were born that were not baptised. These are as much a part of our past as the facts that emerge from VOC records.

The commander had his hands full in trying to keep discipline amongst company personnel and trying to outwit and control the local Khoena inhabitants of the Cape who were soon vigorously resisting the intrusion of the Europeans. Assisting the Commander there was also a company of hired Free Black soldiers known as Mardijkers; largely Protestant converts from Ambonye in the Indonesian Archipelago. Ambonye had previously been controlled by the Portuguese who catholicized the island. When the Dutch took over, the Protestant faith dominated.

Survival tactics

In this environment, Angela and those few Bengali slave women were not only exploited for their labour – they were targets for sexual exploitation too.

Under the prevailing circumstances, slave women who were challenged to ensure their survival and lucky enough to live in the Fort de Goede Hoop, under the patronage of senior company officials, had only two survival tactics open for them to exploit. The one tactic was that they had to impress their masters with the quality of their labours and create such a dependency that was both non-expendable and was the envy of other officials. In other words they had to ensure that their own value to the Fort community constantly increased. The other tactic was to selectively offer sexual favours to strategically placed officials who would afford them protection and a special place on the social ladder within the complex political environment inside the Fort. Angela of Bengal seemed to excel in utilising these tactics and made herself indispensable. Angela was later to see the consequential adversity faced by fellow household member Kratoa when she had lost her patronage and become persona non-gratia at the Fort as a rebel outcast. It was a grave warning to all women in positions of servitude.

The Commander’s household consisted of his wife and child, the young Khoena interpreter by the name of Kratoa, whom they called Eva, two of the child slaves – Lysbeth and Cornelia who were from Abyssinia, a Khoena assistant cook, two other slaves Catharina and Maria and, Angela of Bengal.

After 1658 the Commander’s personal slaves increased to 19 by the time he departed the Cape in 1662. In selling off his slaves, including Angela, on his departure he was able to make a small fortune, as the attrition rate amongst the slaves had pushed up the price. Angela of Bengal alongside the young Khoena interpreter Kratoa, was the most influential of the black women in the Commander’s household.

Captured in the Ganges Delta and the long journey to the Cape

Angela, Ansiela or Engela are the variants of the name of the same slave woman from Bengal who appears in many documents of the time. Later in life, in her matronly years, her name was pre-fixed with the old Portuguese-Melayu word for mother – Maai sometimes incorrectly projected as Mooij. Hence she is called Maai Angela of Bengal. The latter denotes that she was a first generation slave at the Cape and had originally been taken by slave-raiders from her home area in the Ganges Delta in Bengal – the north east of India and Bangladesh.

The Dutch East India Company had a presence in India from1605 to 1825 which started in Coromandel at Pulicatte. They expanded their control in Surat and Bengal by 1627 and conquered Saloor (Ceylon) in 1656. After overthrowing the Portuguese in Ceylon, they took control over the Malabar coast by 1662. Besides their search for ever new sources of slaves the Dutch were after textiles, indigo, silk, precious stones, saltpetre, pepper and opium. By the mid 1700s Dutch influence had waned with the rise of the British East India Company and British imperial expansion.

The Dutch were also defeated in the Battle of Colachel in 1741 by the army of the king of Travancore, King Marthanda Varma, with the VOC losing their foothold in Malabar (KeralaState). The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1814 restored Dutch rule in Coromandel and Bengal temporarily but by 1825 the Dutch presence ceased after the new Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824. The very first slaves brought to the Cape were Indian, African and Malagasy slaves from 1652 to 1700. From about 1706 until the mid 1700s, Robert Shell tells us that 80 percent of slaves were from India and thereafter it reduces significantly, with Africa becoming the main source of slaves. Although it was popularly projected that Cape slaves were mainly from the Indonesian islands, the lowest numbers of Cape slaves originated from the Indonesian Archipelago. Of the Indian slave women, those from Bengal were the most popular at the Cape.

Researcher Mansell Upham tells us that the Ganges delta had a number of VOC settlement outposts such as Bellesoor, Volta, Houghlij‎, Kazimbazar, and Patna, around which there were also other European trading posts and factories. Slaves were captured from the fringes of settled areas from amongst tribal groups and mountain people who were not well rooted in Hindu or Muslim societies. They were taken to slaving stations in Ceylon and sold.

Thus Angela along with the other women, children and men who were seized were not brought to the Cape straight away. The Bengali slaves were always taken to slave-market ports such as those in Ceylon or Saloor (Sri Lanka) and to the large slave market in Indonesia at Batavia (Jakarta). Angela, taken from Bengal, was finally sold in Batavia. From there she was brought to the Cape of Good Hope.

Angela was brought to the Cape with Dominga of Bengal, on the VOC ship Prins Willem. Dominga, a female slave, in some latter day genealogies is misread to be a male slave ‘Domingo’ and a wrong assumption made that Angela and ‘Domingo’ were husband and wife, and that other children amongst the Commander’s slaves were theirs.

Angela’s voyage to the Cape was arduous in the foulest of conditions. Many slaves died on these voyages. They arrived on the 24th February 1657 after being 82 days at sea since they set sail from Batavia in December of the previous year. On arrival in the Cape her owner Pieter van Kemp sold her to Commander van Riebeeck who set her to work in his household at the Fort de Goede Hoop, where she was to remain as a slave for the next 10 years. Angela must have been at least around 17 years old at this time, born some time around 1641.

Some research suggests that she was only 10 years old when she arrived in the Cape but a number of records suggest otherwise. Firstly the children in the Commander’s household are clearly identified as such and Angela is not noted as being a child. Neither is she noted as such when sold to van Riebeeck nor when he sold her to Gabbema. Angela is likely to have been in transit as a slave after her original capture in Bengal for three or four years at slaving centres in India, Ceylon and Batavia before arriving in the Cape. Four years after her arrival in the Cape, her daughter Anna de Koningh was born in 1661. It is estimated that she would have at least been 17 years or even up to 4 years older when she arrived in 1657.

Slaves at the Fort de Goede Hoop and the practice of ‘fruitification’

Angela was more fortunate than many other slaves due to the fact that she had been bought by the Commander. She could see the conditions of the other slaves as they were brought in, year after year to the settlement, as well as the high death rate of slaves outside of the Fort. Angela thus used every means to maintain her place within the protective confines of the home of the Commander. She further knew that there was a downside to being the Commander’s slave in that the VOC regularly changed their officials and with such changes slaves were re-sold. She also knew that she had to extend her popularity to others in the Fort.

Angela used all of the charm that she could muster, learnt as much as she could and worked in such a manner so that she would be seen as indispensable. In her initial time with the Commander’s household she had no children.

Over time she seemed to have chosen her relationships tactically. During the time of Jan Van Riebeeck she first engaged in a relationship with company official from Ghent, Francois de Koninck, and had a daughter, Anna, by him in 1661 (possible baptism reference for August 1661 by Ds van Akendam). Then later when owned by Secunde Gabbema she had two children by another company official Jan van Assen from Brussels; Johannes and Jacobus.  In 1668, two years after she was freed but before her marriage to Basson, Angela had another child named Pieter who died in childhood. The father is unknown but likely to have been Basson.

The single slave women and the Khoena interpreter Kratoa who lived in the Fort all had children by VOC officials. The officials and soldiers who fraternised with the women in the Commander’s household all had varying degrees of influence inside and outside of the Fort. An astute woman such as Angela found ways to navigate the abuses of slave women to her own advantage. Inversely slaves in the Commander’s household were also sources of useful information to ambitious officials when they engaged in pillow talk.

Indeed Commander van Riebeeck’s female slaves and his interpreter were in great demand and were regularly visited by a number of officials and records show that all bore children of these officials. There seems to have even been disputes over the women, one of which landed one soldier, Gunner Willem Cornelisz, and the slave Maria of Bengal in trouble with the Commander after he had personally caught them together in a state of undress. The Commander, who in this case had a seemingly contradictory attitude to his usual approach to these matters, had been escorted to the unfortunate Willem’s room by his fellow official’s who themselves were having relations with slaves. The issue in this case was likely to have been that Maria had already been ‘reserved’ to another official.

Angela of Bengal’s closest friend in the household was fellow slave and former convict Catharina of Paliacatte, who also had two children by officials Pieter Everaerts and Hans Schneider (Snyman) respectively.

It is of note that unlike his successor who discouraged officials from having children with slaves, Commander van Riebeeck actively encouraged the practice of what he called ‘fruitification’ of female slaves. Mansell Upham quotes the Commander purportedly addressing Barend Walters saying, “Has any of your men had anything to do with the female salves and ‘fruitified’ them? …Tell it freely, no harm has been done. It is for the benefit of the Company.”

Slave women were the playthings of the company officials and their children were slaves at birth. As slaves these children were property and carried a financial value to their owners. The encouragement of slave women to have children was effectively an investment strategy. Mestize children (the product of Indo-European relationships) were highly valued.

Much later in 1678 the administration took a strong position against company officials fraternising and having sexual relations with slaves, which was then seen as a crime of fornication and whoring. A resolution was a passed and a Placaat published against officials practicing the keeping of concubines and forbidding intercourse with slaves.

Change of slave ownership for Angela

Commander van Riebeeck commended Angela’s services and character. When it was time for him to leave the Cape, the Commander’s wife, Maria de la Quellerie who handled all of van Riebeeck’s financial affairs, sold Angela to the Fiscal, Abraham Gabbema, who later became the Secunde. Thus Angela’s home remained the Fort de Goede Hoop and she continued as a slave in a powerful household.

The only slaves to be freed in the first ten years of settlement were Catharina Anthonis in 1656 and Maria van Bengal in 1658 as these were provided as wives for two company officials Wouterez and Sacharias.

Abraham Gabbema, from Den Hague in the Netherlands, had risen in the ranks of the VOC in the Cape over six years since his arrival as a midshipman in 1656, to become the Fiscal and bookkeeper before becoming Secunde. In 1662 he married the newly arrived Petronella Does from Wesel in Germany. It was left to Angela to assist Petronella Gabbema to settle in at the Fort and the emerging town.

Angela is freed from slavery by an act of manumission

As with the van Riebeeck’s before them, Angela gained such recognition from the Gabbemas that by the time that the Secunde was due to leave the Cape when relocated by the VOC to Batavia in 1666, he came to an arrangement with his friend Thomas Christoffel Muller, the baker. It was proposed that a mutually beneficial arrangement be reached between Muller’s enterprise and Angela, given her knowledge of the inside of company business. It would be good for both parties if Muller could assist Angela for a while with a short apprenticeship to get use to her independence in exchange for her services. What lay behind this arrangement can be tracked to future events and then tracked backwards and will become apparent as the story proceeds.

Muller was asked to take the freed Angela into his service and home outside of the Fort for six months so that Angela could adapt to her new status. She would then continue to assist Muller in his Bakery until she was able to fend for herself. Thereafter she would be able to set up home independently. We may never know exactly how Angela was able to pull off such a favourable manumission agreement as a slave, but it was clear that she had mastered the required tactics for survival to such an extent that ten years after arriving in the Cape as a slave to be sold from a ship, she had won her freedom. However there is a clue to how she did this as will be elaborated upon further into this story.

The slave from Bengal had worked her charm to ensure that Gabbema not only gave Angela her freedom but also assisted in setting her up to make a success of her future.  He manumitted Angela, who became one of the first of the slaves to be freed. Her children from two fathers, Anna, Jacobus and Johannes were also freed with her. Maai Ansiela had effectively charmed her way to freedom, as it was this quality which was mentioned as a supporting factor in the manumission document signed on 13th April 1666.

Angela becomes an entrepreneur and marries

Angela petitioned the VOC for a piece of land while working with Muller and was awarded a deed for a small plot measuring 57 x 50 feet in Heere straat, signed by Cornelis van Quaelbergen. In Heere   Street as the first freed black slave she built a small dwelling and started a vegetable garden and marketed her crops. The entrepreneurial Angela of Bengal was very successful and much admired for her achievements. The Council of Policy of the VOC record notes this achievement with some astonishment. The house and garden was sold in 1720 for 3060 guilders.

On 29 April 1668, Angela was the first adult slave noted as a ‘fullbreed’ to be baptised and thus completed her transition from slavery into the world of becoming a Free Black burgher.

By the end of 1669, on 15th December, Angela the self-made woman, married the Free Burgher Arnoldus Willemsz Basson also known as Jagt who had a ready-made family with the four children Anna de Koningh, Jacobus and Johannes van As, and baby Pieter. Arnoldus and Angela then went on to have seven more children together. These were Willem, Gerrit, Johannes, Elsie, Michiel, Elsje and Maria.

The story behind Angela’s manumission

As previously noted there does seem to be a thread of explanation which runs through this story in the form of a clue as to what may have occurred. The wife of Gabbema the Secunde, Petronella Does, it appears, was from the same Dutch controlled garrison town in Germany that Arnoldus Basson had come from – Wesel. Angela would have become close to Gabbema’s wife and, although a slave, she would have been responsible for helping Mrs Gabbema to settle in at the Cape after Petronella had arrived. As a ‘home-girl’ to Basson, a lonely bachelor, it was most probable that she did both Angela and Arnoldus a favour by arranging the match and then impressed upon her husband to use his power as the outgoing Secunde to set the couple up, with the help of fellow German, Muller. Although Angela only married Basson in 1669, she had another son, Pieter in 1668, and it is possible that this was Basson’s child.

The theory of the facilitating power of the Wesel connection is further given credibility by the fact that Gabbema’s successor as Secunde at the Cape was Heinrich Lacus, later disgraced for corruption, was also from Wesel. In fact there were a number of persons at the Cape at that time who were from the Dutch garrison town of Wesel in Germany and they maintained an informal network. Basson and Angela were known to maintain a close relationship with Heinrich Lacus who landed up first in prison on RobbenIsland and then was demoted to the rank of ordinary soldier before being sent to Batavia. There are too many overlapping coincidences that link back to Angela. It would seem that Angela had a helping hand in securing her own freedom through a chain of connected Germans and that there could have been a corrupt relationship between connected German free burghers and company officials. Mullers hasty retreat from the Cape where he had a successful monopoly bakery just at the time of the outing of the Secunde for corruption, suggests that there was much more to the story than meets the eye.

The Saldanha fish trading network

Arnoldus Basson is recorded as arriving as a soldier in the settlement in 1666 serving in the garrison at the Fort together with Van Assen, the father of Angela’s two sons. Basson arrived on the scene just as his ‘home girl’ Petronella Gabbema was about to leave and Angela was to be freed and go into a business relationship with Muller.

Van Assen, the father of Angela’s two sons, also left the Cape around the same time. In 1667 when Heinrich Lacus from Wesel was Secunde, Basson left the service of the VOC and became a Free Burgher and a fisherman working with a special group of people who had the sole rights to operate a craft between Table Bay and Saldanha – fishing and trading exclusively with the VOC in fish, oil, seal meat, lime and salt. Heinrich Lacus the Secunde had oversight of this trade. Basson worked for Joris Janz the lame former business partner of Muller in the bakery. Janz and the Saldanha traders had a special relationship with Muller and in turn with Angela of Bengal, most particularly after Muller (the monopoly baker) went back to Germany with his family in 1668.

Most of these Saldanha fishing traders were originally from Belgium and formed a very close sub-community into which ‘Jagt’ Arnoldus Basson and Angela van Bengal were drawn. Angela by this time was running her own fresh produce business. There were a number of others who had come from Wesel as well as a number of Swedes who also gravitaded around the Belgians and Free Blacks in this tight community. Many of these also married or cohabited with other Free Blacks in the town that grew up around the Fort and the CamissaRiver, now called the Plattekliprivier.

(Camissa or //ammi-i-sa  is the old indigene Khoena, or Khoi, term for fresh or sweet-water rivers as noted by Portuguese cartographer Lazaro Luis in 1563 on his map as de Camis’ alongside the name ‘Aguada de Saldanha’ – cross-referenced with an entry on 24 April 1682 by Governor-General van Goens captured in Moodie’s Record (1959) page 387 which refers to the inland Khoena people referring to a fresh-water river as Camissa or Cumissa.)

Angela indeed can be seen as the pioneer personality of a private fresh produce business in the city bowl of Cape   Town and Arnoldus Basson as one of the pioneering fishing businessmen. By using her wits Angela overcame her enslavement and became successful, by making the right political alliances in the earliest of corrupt political and economic intrigues in government at the Cape. This is how she attained her liberation. Her marriage itself was an alliance.

Maai Angela’s later life

When Basson died in 1691 some 29 years before Angela who died in 1720, her own created wealth combined with that of her husband put her into a super wealthy bracket. By the time of her death Maai Angela of Bengal had left an estate of considerable property and over 15 000 guilders in cash. At the time of her death Angela also owned the property Kronendal in HoutBay. Another farm that she owned in Drakenstein, Hondswijk, 54 morgen in size, which she acquired in 1695 was sold from her estate for 5000 guilders on her death to the Marais family. Maai Angela of Bengal was a pioneering Free Black farmer but has never been acknowledged in history for this great achievement.

Maai Angela and another Free Black woman known as Black Maria Evert, the daughter of two slaves from Guinea, were the two wealthiest single women in the Cape when they died. But for a simple twist of fate – the 1713 smallpox epidemic – the former slave Free Black community which had positioned itself as a powerful social and economic force, could have steered South Africa down a very different development road. The epidemic decimated the powerful leading members of the Free Blacks and the community never recovered. From 1713 onward, with the exception of the successful Free Black wine-farmer Willem Stoltz, the Free Black community survived largely as labourers, craftsmen, fishermen and subsistence farmers. Black Maria Evert was the first owner of CampsBay and owned a number of other farms at the time of her death. She was a true fighter against all odds in the spirit and tradition of her parents people – the females who would become palace guards known as the Amazon warriors of Dahomey.

Maai Ansiela had at least three children while she was a slave and a further child just thereafter who died in childhood. One of these was Anna de Koningh who went on to marry the controversial Swedish captain Olaf Bergh who after a chequered career including imprisonment and banishment for defrauding the VOC, had redeemed himself and bought the van der Stel property, Groot Constantia. After Olaf Bergh’s untimely death, this daughter of a slave became the third owner of the grandest home and wine estate in the Cape of Good Hope. Thousands of South Africans of all national groups today have Maai Angela as their root maternal ancestor. Yet few know of this slave pioneer in South African history. Many others share the ancestry of Black Maria Evert and the many other slaves and Free Blacks of the Cape.

Maai Angela’s life of freedom was not without its own pains too. In 1671 a young Khoena women by the name of Zara committed suicide in Angela’s sheep pen. When she hung herself Angela was first at the scene and noticing a pulse in the neck of the hanging Zara, she believed that she could save Zara and had her cut down, but it was too late. Zara was well known to Angela as the ‘huisvrouw’ of Heinrich Lacus, the former Secunde from Wesel, who had a close relationship with Angela and Arnoldus Basson.

Zara’s suicide had a devastating effect on Angela. Matters were made worse by the barbaric laws of the Europeans at that time. According to law, because Zara had committed suicide, her corpse had to be tried for murder, and thereafter it was publically hanged at the gallows as a punishment.

In 1682 tragedy struck again, when a fire claimed the lives of Angela’s close friend Groot Catharina of Bengal and her husband Hans Snyman, her daughter and grandchild. Catharina’s son Christoffel Snyman was the only survivor.

Some years later there was a scandal involving the husband of Angela’s daughter Anna which resulted in his detention in 1687 for stealing from the company. Olaf Bergh her son-in-law was disgraced and first banished to RobbenIsland and thereafter to Ceylon. Years later he redeemed himself.

Most devastating was the events of the year 1688 when her eldest son Johannes van As was executed for kidnapping, stock theft & murder. Much later in 1716 a grandson, Jan van As was also banished to RobbenIsland.

The smallpox epidemic of 1713

In 1713 many of Angela’s closest friends were wiped out by the smallpox epidemic which spread through the Cape with devastating consequences. A Danish ship had entered Table Bay after it had been ravaged by smallpox on board. Contaminated clothing was given to slave women to wash at the Camissa river washing place up-river and from there the disease spread. Every community in the Cape experienced losses. Most hit were the indigene Khoena and the Free Black community which could not recover their losses. More Europeans and more slaves could be brought to the Cape. The indigene numbers were reduced by up to 70 percent. The emergent prosperous Free Blacks were a product of the time when the European settlement was most tenuous. That time and opportunity for free persons of colour had passed. The wealth and property of the Free Blacks who succumbed was absorbed into the white community.

The spirit of rising up above adversity

Angela had endured much in her lifetime but had showed an indomitable spirit in rising up above the adversity of slavery and abuse to leave an indelible mark on South African history. She contributed directly to the building of the City of Cape Town, but the city does not acknowledge her anywhere. Her bloodline flows in South Africans of all national groups and she and so many other slaves from diverse backgrounds who struggled for freedom using so many different methods whether by using their wits to beguile their masters, using arson, running away, sabotage, or rising up in rebelling, they walked the long road to freedom over 184 years of slavery.

The Free Black community

While Maai Angela was one of the first to get her freedom, over the next 15 years a number of those who were the earliest of the slaves were also manumitted and joined the small community of freed slaves. The early freed slaves, many of whom allied themselves to independent-minded rebellious and industrious Germans, Belgians and Swedes, who often worked outside of the framework of the VOC, had an amazing and positive impact on Cape Town and its environs. The Free Black tradition was relatively short-lived for a number of reasons which have been the subject of studies by a small dedicated band of researchers in Cape Town over the years. Had the resistance and independent entrepreneurial tradition of the early Free Blacks not floundered by a simply twist of fate, South Africa may have had a very different history.

Amongst these Free Blacks were Angela’s old and closest friend who had been a convict and a slave – Catharina of Paliacatte. Also amongst these were former slaves from many countries – Anna Pladoor of Guinea (Dahomey/Benin); Evert of Guinea; Claez Gerrits of Bengal and Sara of Ceylon; Anthony of Angola; Jackie Joy of Angola; Anthony de Later of Japan; Francois of Malabar; Maria of Bengal; Abraham of Guinea; Catharina of Bengal; Rebecca of Macassar; Armozijn van der Kaap and a number of others. Each has complex stories, many with fascinating paper trails of records. They socialised with each other, got into scrapes together and went into business together. Their families inter-linked. A number of these rebelled against the authorities, each in their own ways and, some were severely punished and others executed.

Some in this Free Black community became pioneer farmers, starting some of the famous farms which exist to this day. Armozijn van der Kaap is the first black person to be recorded as a philanthropist in that she left a philanthropic gift and instruction in her will. The rich and amazing history of these earliest of slaves who literally built the city of Cape Town as well as some of the farms and small towns, under harsh conditions, has been obscured from the public gaze for a long time, as much as the fresh water Camissa River alongside which their lives played out, also was obscured, but remains flowing beneath the city that covered it up. The people of the Camissa settlement which became Cape Town saw slaves from many countries, indigene Khoena and rebel Europeans come together and play out an amazing history, but these were obscured by the skewed official history of the VOC and its ersatz gentry and later the Batavian and British administrations. The Camissa people simply became referred to as ‘Coloureds’.

Slavery’s long reign at the Cape Colony

From 1652 – 1834 slavery was a formal institution in the CapeColony and spread across South   Africa as the Boers trekked to set up new colonised territories after 1834. Even in the Cape, after emancipation, so-called ‘prize slaves’ continued to be brought in until 1845 and then placed with employers under long indenture contracts which differed very little from slavery. Between the years 1652 – 1808 there were 63 000 first generation slaves brought to the Cape and then at least another 8000 ‘prize slaves’ from 1808 – 1845. These figures do not include those many unrecorded slaves brought to the Cape nor the thousands of indigene Khoena and San frontier slaves and indigene African slaves taken by Boer commandos beyond the borders of the Cape. It also does not include the thousands of enslaved persons born to successive generations of the children of the first generation slaves. The first generation slaves brought from other lands include 17 315 slaves from India, 42 150 slaves from Africa and Madagascar, and 13 545 from the Indonesian archipelago. The very last ‘Prize Slaves’ to be brought to the Cape, landed in 1890 – they were the Oromo slaves from Somalia.

Maai Angela witnessed the torture, punishment and execution of slaves

Besides the indignities and the backbreaking labour of the slaves, they were subjected to the cruellest and most barbaric punishments for rebelling. As an example, in 1714, when Maai Angela was around  73 years old, her freed slave community were witness to the punishment, torture, and execution of 11 slaves after their being recaptured having rebelled and ran away. They were Tromp van Madagascar (20), Cupido van Batavia (30), Jeroen van de Malijtse Cust (24), Neptunis van Bima (20), Titus van de Caab (22), Joumat van Ternaten (40), Januarij van Batavia (20), Jonas van Trancquebare (40), Pasqual from the Spanish West Indies (30), Thomas van Bengalen (30), Anthonij van Mallebar, (40).

The meeting out of justice and punishment throughout VOC rule in the 17th and 18th century at the Cape of Good Hope was extremely barbaric and cruel. Crucifixions, dismemberment, burnings at the stake, impalement, being broken alive, and being drawn and quartered were some of the favourite forms of punishment meted out by the courts. The majority of those at the receiving end were slaves and indigenes. Here follows the sentences handed down to 11 rebel slaves on 3 February 1714. The sentence was carried out on 6th February 1714. Here follows the Court record:

The honourable Council of Justice, serving today, having seen and read the written ‘crimineelen eijsch en conclusie’, drawn up for and delivered against the prisoners by the honourable independent fiscal, Cornelis van Beaumont, as well as having noted the prisoners’ own voluntary confessions, properly verified in court for the third time, with the further proof and documents produced with them, moreover, having carefully pondered and considered, with maturely deliberated counsel, everything which served the case and could have moved their honours, administering justice in the name and on behalf of the high and mighty – Lords States General of the free United Netherlands and, having judged the eleven prisoners, is sentencing them with this: – To be taken to the place where criminal sentences are usually executed, the first ten prisoners to be handed over to the executioner:

  • The first prisoner, Tromp, to be impaled alive and to remain sitting there until he has given up the ghost; further the second prisoner, Cupido, to be laid upon a cross, his right hand to be chopped off first, and, together with the fourth prisoner, Neptunis, similarly to be laid upon a cross, to be broken alive from the bottom up with eight blows, after which their bodies are to be placed upon a wheel, on which to remain lying until they have given up the ghost; the fifth prisoner Titus, likewise to be laid upon a cross, to be broken alive from the bottom up, with the coup de grace; further, the third and tenth prisoners, Jeroen and Thomas, to be punished with the rope on the gallows so that death will follow.
  • After their dead bodies have been transported to the outer place of execution, that of the first prisoner is again to be placed on a sharp stake, those of the second, fourth and fifth prisoners are to be laid upon a wheel, and those of the third and tenth prisoners are again to be hanged up there, to remain lying and hanging like this until they have been consumed by the air and birds of heaven.
  • Further, the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth prisoners to be tied to a stake, to be severely scourged with rods on their bare backs and the Achilles tendon on the right-hand side of each to be cut; and, finally, the eleventh prisoner to witness this justice, all with the costs and expenditure of justice, with the five last-named delinquents to be sent home, after their punishments had been meted out, to their masters, on condition that the same pay the costs.

Amongst punishments other than crucifixions, were the following or combinations of the following: – Public humiliation – stocks; Collaring, shackling, horning; Lengthy imprisonment with hard labour; Scourging and curry or salt, pepper and vinegar brushing after lashing; Suspension by the feet and beating with cane rods; Branding; Dismembering and mutilating; Hanging; Shooting; Racking (stretched to death); Garrotting or other strangulation; Being broken alive on the wheel; Being drawn and quartered; Drowning; Impaling; Roasting and burning at the stake.

All of the tortures and gory executions were done at public places for deterrent value. Regular crucifixions and impalements continued for over 100 years in the Cape and the legacy of this violence and trauma introduced by the colonial authorities continues to bedevil South Africa to this day. This dovetailed with the traumas of the 100 years wars in the Eastern Cape and layer upon layer of trauma continued from that time.

The sunset of Maai Angela’s life

The end of slavery saw the introduction of the indentured labour systems in which a new form of slavery replaced the old and thousands of indentured labourers were brought to the Cape from the Mozambique, Congo, Malawi, St Helena and elsewhere for the next 70 years. This was then slowly replaced by the migrant labour system from rural reserves in South Africa and from neighbouring countries, which continued for over another century. It all started with the struggle of Maai Angela of Bengal and the early slave community. She is thus symbolic of thousands of the enslaved who struggled for freedom, each in their own way and in time also collectively. When Maai Angela died in 1720 she also symbolised hope for other slaves that the adversity of a life of slavery could be overcome.

The bloodlines of the slaves flow in all national groups of South Africans today and many of us personally have ancestors who walked that long road to freedom in the struggle against slavery, colonialism and Apartheid. Maai Angela represents a part of all of our slave ancestors on this road.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:  Anna Jacoba Böeseken; Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape 1658 – 1700; Tafelberg; Cape Town; (1977) – Donald Moodie; The Record (May 1888); AA Balkema; Cape Town; (1959) – Eric Jones; Wives, Slaves, and Concubines: A History of the Female Underclass in Dutch Asia; Northern Illinois University Press; (2010) – HB Thom; Journal of Jan van Riebeeck – Volumes II and III; Van Riebeeck Society; AA Balkema; Cape Town; (1958) – Karel Schoeman; Early Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope 1652 – 1717; Protea book house; Pretoria; (2007) – Labiba Ali; The status of Bengali women over the years; Creative Bangladesh; (2010); – Mansell Upham; Mooij Ansela & The black sheep of the family; Capensis – volumes 4/97, 1/98, 2/98,3/98,4/98,1/99 and 2/99; National Library of South Africa; (1997 – 99)- Mansell Upham; ‘What can’t be cured must be endured: Cape of Good Hope – First Marriages and Baptisms; (2012) – Margeret Cairns; Willem Stolts of the Cape 1692 -1750; Familia 16; (1979)- Margeret Cairns; Freeblack landowners in the Southern suburbs of the Cape Peninsula during the 18th century; Kronos 10; (1985)- Nigel Worden; Slavery in Dutch South Africa; African Studies Series; Cambridge University Press; Cambridge (1985)- Nigel Worden & Gerald Groenewald; Trials of Slavery – Selected documents concerning slaves from the criminal records of the Council of Justice at the Cape of Good Hope 1705 – 1794; Van Riebeeck Society; Cape Town; (2005)- Robert Shell; Children of Bondage: A social history of the Slave society at the Cape of Good Hope 1652 – 1838; Witwatersrand University Press; Johannesburg; (1994) – Victor de Kock; Those in Bondage; George Allen and Unwin; London; (1950) – Wayne Dooling; Slavery, Emancipation and Colonial Rule in South Africa; University of KZN Press; Scotsville ; (2007)

 Chief David Stuurman

(1773 – 1830)

David StuurmanChief David Stuurman came to Camissa as a prisoner of war and was incarcerated on Robben Island. Amongst many other exploits Chief David Stuurman is noted for his two successful escapes from Robben Island and became the first of a number of Khoena to be banished to Australia by the British after his third capture.

In 1799 the Khoena Chief, Klaas Stuurman, brother of David Stuurman, who had given refuge to many escaped slaves (drosters), went to war against the colonists when he took up the cause of the Khoena who had been forced into ‘apprenticeships` to become near-slaves on the farms of Boers and who faced increasing enforced conscription into military service.

Because of his fearless outspokenness and oratory talents Klaas Stuurman found himself being a leading figure of a rebel Khoena confederacy which together with the amaXhosa were an adept military force in the region. Klaas was the older brother of David Stuurman.

Both were born on a farm in the Gamtoos valley noted as van Reenen’s farm. Prior to the events of the late 18th century they had initially lived peaceful lives on this reserve farm at the river mouth. According to historian VC Malherbe who has produced the best available evidence on David Stuurman’s origins, the farm although deeded as Van Reenen’s farm “was reserved for the Hottentots and could not be lawfully acquired by the colonists”.

Based on this evidence, the Stuurman’s as free Khoena would have been of Gonaqua linage, although the Europeans saw them as ‘Vagabond Hottentots’ and later as the ‘Gamtoos Hottentots’ of whom the authorities saw Klaas and later David as Chiefs.

Klaas Stuurman, his brothers and their families began to experience problems when the Dutch Governor van Plettenberg toured the area in 1778. The visiting Governor noted that the entire area was occupied by colonist frontiers farmers who had pressured the previously free Khoena in the district to become their farm workers. The Stuurman clan at the river mouth were not under any control so the Governor then gave farmer Hilgert Mulder the farm on loan. The Stuurmans from this point on were also forced to take up work on the farms that had sprung up around them.

David Stuurman’s early years

David Stuurman was born in 1773 and was just 5 years old at the time of van Plettenberg’s visit. In his teens the young David Stuurman went out to work on the farm of the Vermaak family where he was illtreated and beaten by Hannes Vermaak. Another of his masters, Hendrik de Bruyn, had David Stuurman tied to a wagon and beaten with a sjambok. Witnessed by David’s cousin, Jan Valetine, after the beating salt was rubbed into David’s wounds and he was left tied to the wagon in the blistering sun until his cousin untied him and helped hime escape. Two of the listed complaints made by the Bethelsdorp missionaries led by Rev Johannes van der Kemp, to the governor, about ill-treatment of the Khoena on the frontier directly related to the ill-treatment of David Stuurman by these farmers.

In the 1790s tensions and conflict spread throughout the frontier region. Sometime around 1799, David Stuurman and his family fled from Vermaak’s farm. It was alleged that he had threatened Johannes Vermaak and later the farmer died of poisoning. Many of the Khoena began abandoning the farms along the Gamtoos between January and April 1799. Chief Klaas Stuurman demanded land and freedom for enserfed Khoena who led lives no different to that of slaves on settler farms. The Khoena no longer had an independent existence and their children were being ‘apprenticed’ by the time they reached their teens or conscripted into colonial militia. David Stuurman himself avoided being conscripted.

Klaas Struurman builds the Khoena (Khoi) Resistance Confederacy

In the Baviaanskloof area of the Kouga Mountains in 1799,  Klaas Stuurman began to organise his followers from the Gamtoos area, other Gonaqua and, also offered refuge to ‘Drosters’ who were escaped slaves and, to other descendants of relationships between slaves, Europeans and Khoena who had deserted from European settler farms.

The local amaXhosa who were a mix of Hoengeyqua Khoena and amaXhosa known as the Gqunukhwebe under Chief Chungwa faced the same threat that the Gonaqua and other free Khoena were facing and thus also joined in the fight of the Khoena. Under Chief Klaas Stuurman, these formed themselves into a new grouping referred to as the ‘Gamtoos Nation’ and by some as the ‘Hottentot Confederacy’ organised into a military force, sending raiding parties as far afield as PlettenbergBay.

Historians often incorrectly project that by 1800 the Khoena were all but wiped out and that Chief David Stuurman was the so-called ‘last of the ‘Hottentot’ chiefs. This is a common conclusion rooted in the very real decimation of the Khoena through a combination of the smallpox epidemics and the European assault on them. But neither these epidemics nor the military assault wiped out the Khoena formations even although it struck a devastating blow.

Apprenticeship, conscription and subjugation of the Khoena was followed by labelling the Khoena as ‘Coloured’ and robbing them of their identity in a systematic process from around 1775 to 1850. The European colonial historians, and their descendent historians distorted the situation in keeping with the British ideology which promoted assimilation and contributed to leaving an equally devastating legacy that has resulted in many surviving Khoena and clan formations still fighting for recognition as indigene formations to this day. The distortion essentially pivots on the difference between physical annihilation and the suppression of social and cultural organisation amongst the Khoena.This suppression has continued ever since the defeat of the Gamtoos Khoena resistance.

The main aim of the Caledon Proclamation and the military assault on the Khoena and the drive to split the Khoena and the amaXhosa from operating as a united front was by fomenting antagonism and to de-tribalise and de-Africanise the Khoena. The Codes were aimed at making the Khoena simply subjects of the British Crown and controlled wage labourers. Thus it was important to wipe out the Chieftainships and break up any semblance of clans, traditions and social organisation. It is unfortunate that many fighting for Khoena recognition and rights today do not take cognisance of this British strategy and buy into one of the fundamental tactics of the British strategy – that of formenting antagonism with the amaXhosa. This continued antagonism to the amaXhosa is effectively buying into one of the tools of ones own oppression.

The Khoena did not disappear through annihilation but were camouflaged as ‘coloured’ farm labourers. It was rather the case that their culture and institutions of self governance were destroyed and over time this was airbrushed out of existence with Khoena, freed slaves and Free Blacks being merged by the colonial authorities into one entity labelled as ‘Coloured’.

Klaas and David Stuurman’s battles were a struggle to halt this process. Both men articulated their opposition to this process very well.

By 1806 the Khoena population in the CapeColony numbered around 20, 000, while the colonists were around 26, 000; the slaves around 29,000; and the Free Blacks around 1,200. Most of the Khoena at this time lived in the north eastern districts of the Colony and in the north western districts of the colony. Before the large influx of British troops and settlers in the Eastern Cape frontier, the white colonists were more and more reliant on Khoena conscription for their militias. A threat of military revolt by the Khoena in the Eastern Cape posed a serious problem for the authorities. The Khoena figures for Cape of Good Hope were put at zero for this time, while Swellendam was put at 500. But in contrast Stellenbosch district which at the time was a very vast area had 5000 Khoena and the Graaf Reinet district which included the Gamtoos had 8 947 Khoena.

The armed struggle of the Stuurmans – the first rebellion

When the authorities refused the demands for justice, respect and land made by Chief Klaas Stuurman and his Khoena Resistance Confederacy, he built up and led an army of 700 including 300 horsemen and 150 men with firearms to regain Khoena independence. His allies were the amaXhosa Gqunukhwebe of Chief Chunga. They successfully defeated a Boer Commando of 300 and British soldiers numbering 200. The Khoena-amaXhosa allies succeeded in driving the settlers out of the Suurveld area.

In 1801-1803 Chief Klaas Stuurman allied with amaXhosa Chief Ndlambe, and the Boers lost out on 50 000 sheep in the conflict before peace was declared.

It is during this resistance war that a number of outstanding fighters and leaders emerged from the Khoena Confederacy. The Stuurman name emerged as the strongest with the brothers Klaas, David, Bootsman and Andries at the head of raiding parties. Other Kapteins included Hans Trompetter, Boezak, Jan Kaffer, Bovenland,  Kees, and Beesje. These were referred to as the Rebel Kapteins. Of these Klaas Stuurman, Hans Trompetter and Boezak were men recognised as having broader authority as Chiefs. When Klaas Stuurman died it was David Stuurman who succeeded him as Chief.

Between 1795 and 1806 the situation in the CapeColony was in a state of fluidity. Both Britain and France wanted to capture the Cape when war broke out between Great Britain and France in 1793 so as to control the important sea route to the East. The British occupied the Cape in 1795 and ended the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) role in the region. The British relinquished the colony to the Dutch in the Treaty of Amiens (1802) and the Batavian Republic (Jakarta) took over the administration of the Cape. In 1806 the Cape was annexed as a British Crown Colony after the start of the Napoleonic Wars. The Khoena of the Eastern Cape thus found themselves first in conflict with Boer frontiersmen under the authority of the VOC, then under the British, and then again under the Dutch Batavian governors and then once more under the British.

The story of the Stuurmans has to be seen in this context where at one stage the enemy was the VOC and then the Batavian Dutch Governor and the British were their friends. Because the Boer frontiersmen were rebelling against the British, Klaas Stuurman made overtures to them. The war however continued into the short period of rule by the Dutch between 1802 and 1806. The first Khoena uprising led by Klaas Stuurman concluded in 1803.

Then later when the British became the permanent governing authority at the Cape they became the new enemy as they systematically assaulted the freedom of the Khoena. It was David Stuurman who had to deal with the change of relations.

Klaas Stuurman’s articulation of the Khoena grievances

During the parallel British conflict with the rebel Boers in 1799 during the first occupation by the British, there is an account of Klaas Stuurman’s leadership qualities made by John Barrow who together with General Vandeleur had met the Khoena on the road near AlgoaBay. 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 went on:

“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.”

The war concluded in 1803 when Chief Klaas Stuurman was able to negotiate a peace agreement for all Khoena to have written contracts and better working conditions. Klaas Stuurman had been firm in his resolve:

“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?”

Klaas was reacting to Barrow in this statement when Barrow suggested that the Khoena would not be able to gain any advantage from controlling a country without having any property or the means to gain subsistence from it. As it happened the peace negotiated by Klaas Stuurman only produced some very short term gains in terms of limited security of tenure and protection for Khoena labourers.

David Stuurman succeeds Klaas as Chief and leads the second rebellion

Under the Batavian government at the Cape, 1802 – 1806, Governor Francis Dundas granted land to Stuurman and his followers to establish a permanent settlement. 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 KleinRiver 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. 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. Frontiersmen 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 Stuurmans 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 frontiersmen Boers were alarmed at this development.

Chief David Stuurman was even more vocal than his brother in communicating his grievances around military conscription of Khoena youth by the British authorities. 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. In 1808 antagonisms flared at Chief David Stuurman’s village, an outstation of Bethelsdorp near the GamtoosRiver. The magistrate (landdrost) Cuyler complained that Stuurman declined to fetch his staff of office due to differences with a recruiting officer. A ‘staff of office’ controversially became an instrument for the British to incorporate Chiefs into the colonial system of administration.

In 1801 during the first British occupation, a 735-member corps, constituted as a British line regiment was established and a recruitment drive occurred, extending into the territory of the Stuurman`s. David Stuurman and his little settlement was the last thorn in the side of the authorities amongst the Khoena still in colony territory and there were growing signs of Khoena resistance amongst the youth. The conscription issue was highly emotive for mobilising youth into the rebel fold.

Recruiting parties would tour the colony and hold sessions to recruit volunteers at farms and mission stations. Increasingly they found resistance. VC Malherbe in ‘The Khoe Khoe Soldier’ says:

“There were no volunteers at the farmsteads they visited. At the mission stations, by then fairly numerous, the Khoi proved reluctant to enlist. A few did so to escape creditors; others were found later to be under contract.

Recruiters at Hoogekraal (Pacaltsdorp) a mission station near the town of George, took along ‘a quantity of brandy and tobacco’ to encourage enlistment. But ‘notwithstanding every inducement’, they observed, ‘the spirit of volunteering seems to have ceased amongst the free Hottentots’.

In one officer’s words- ‘Nothing but compulsion will induce the Hottentots to enter the service.’ Things went a little better in Swellendam where, of 53 enrolled, 47 came from Genadendal mission station. Twelve ‘fine lads’ signed on after the Khoi Captains there, ‘whose good offices I purchased by a small bribe’ produced their young men for a recruitment parade.”

David Stuurman like his brother Klaas were dead against the conscription of Khoena youth into the European led militias. Already in the 1730s, a soldier by the name of Mentzel had noted the weakness of the regular European militia and he recommended that the offspring of Khoena-European relationships made ‘good marksmen’. The idea quickly gained acceptance by some and opposition from others. The argument was won by those amongst the colonists who believed that selected and trained Khoena and so-called ‘Bastard Afrikaners’ (the derogatory term for mixed descendents of Khoena, European and Slave parentage) should be armed to resist in case the colony came under attack due to Dutch involvement in a European war.

Opposition to military conscription of the Khoena youth

The practice of recruiting Khoena into Commandos sent out to attack San settlements was the starting point. In Stellenbosch in the 1770s a unit of Khoena and other ‘Free Black’ militia was formed and called the Korps der Vrijen, but in 1781 when the threat of external attack was foreseen, the Khoena and other ‘Free Black’ subjects were constituted as a unit. This unit became known as the Corps Bastaard Hottentotten, but was disbanded after fourteen months. The term Corps Vrijen Hottentotten was also used.

In 1793 a new unit, the Corps Pandoeren, was raised when France declared war on the Netherlands. Boer farmers had to release their servants and furnish them with weaponry. The Moravian mission at Genadendal was one of the areas used for recruitment. The Corps Pandoeren also recruited three Khoena Chiefs. This placed the authorities on a collision course with Chiefs Klaas and David Stuurman, as they sheltered those who refused such military service.  The tensions and divisions between some Khoena descendents today and other Khoena descendents and particularly to the amaXhosa with whom they were allied can be traced back to this time, when lines were drawn between collaborator and resister Khoena.

Co-option of Khoena in a divide and rule strategy had been practiced from the earliest days by Jan van Riebeeck and it continued into the struggles of the 1980s amongst some sections of ‘Coloured’ people who collaborated with the Apartheid regime. The Stuurmans were amongst the many who are part of the noble resistance line who opposed collaboration, colonialism and Apartheid.

When British rule began in the Cape, the British had a number of problems to deal with, including rebellious Boer communities in the eastern districts, rebellious Khoena and runaway slaves, and the threat of the amaXhosa on the frontiers of the colony. They were challenged to assert control over the vast eastern frontier which had been weakly administered for a long period. The British believed that by enlisting the Khoena in a regiment, they would be able to kill a number of birds with one stone. It would help them control the rebellious Khoena and ‘Free Black’ people and it could intimidate the rebellious Boers and, create a buffer between the amaXhosa and the Boer frontiersmen.

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.

The introduction of the ‘Hottentot Proclamation’ of 1809

Once the British had settled into power at the Cape Governor Lord Caledon introduced what was called ‘The Hottentot Proclamation’ in 1809 including codes to control all aspects of Khoena life and which literally turned the Khoena into farm-workers. This resulted in all Khoena working on farms having to be registered and all others to be declared vagrants. The ‘vagrant` Khoena were to be arrested and forced to work on farms. All Khoena children between 8 and 18 were to be ‘apprenticed’ to the farmers controlling their parents. This registration was nothing more than a pass-law system to control freedom of movement. A wooden or metal pass would have to be carried on a string around the neck by all Khoena if travelling.

The British attack on David Stuurman

In April 1809 Chief David Stuurman and some of his men were lured off his land and then the authorities moved in and the lands occupied were “appropriated for other purposes”. All of the Khoena men were rounded up except for two who escaped to the amaXhosa. All of this was done on the command of the Landdrost Cuyler who gave a number of reasons for his actions.

Stuurman was accused of being a villain who received many Hottentots with whom he had no relationship and he refused to hand over those accused of breaking contracts. Stuurman was further accused of permitting a whole kraal of  amaXhosa and Gonaqua to live on his land. Furthermore he was accused of concluding an offensive and defensive alliance with Chief Chungwa of the Gqunukwebe.

Those arrested with David Stuurman were his brother Bootman, Cupido Michiel and Cobus Wildeshut. Their wives and children were also taken with them and the entire party were escorted as prisoners to Cape Town. They were never afforded a trial of any sorts. By executive decision on 11 September David Stuurman was imprisoned on Robben  Island for the crime of ‘Disobedience to the Field Cornet’. The other three men were sent to Robben Island for the same charge a month later. The women and children remained in the prison on the mainland in Cape Town for two years. By the end of August 1809 four of the seven children taken prisoner were dead.

David Stuurman’s first escape from Robben Island

By December 1809 David and Bootman Stuurman  and a few others made history in that they were the first to successfully escape from RobbenIsland, in a whale boat. The group split up into two parties. One party took the route through the HexRiver and the other through Swellendam. The second group were surprised while helping themselves to a goat for sustenance, where one was captured and one shot. In the first group Bootman was captured when trying to steal fruit from an orchard in the Long Kloof. But David Stuurman, Cupido Michiel and Cobus Wildeschut made it all of the way out of the colony and were given refuge amongst the amaXhosa.

This escape and Chief David and his men being known to be amongst the Gqunukwebe spread such alarm in the Colony that an emissary, Veld Commandant Stoltz, was sent to entice Chief Stuurman to return to the Colony. A handsome offer of land, cattle, money and a reunion with his brother, wives and children, guarantees of safety and recognition as a Chief was made to David Stuurman to entice him back into the Colony. The offer was rejected by Chief David Stuurman who demanded that his family were released to come and join him outside of the Colony.

The authorities then first sent his son together with Stoltz on a second bargaining mission and then sent his brother Bootman to plead with him. They were given the same negative message by David Stuurman. The British were so afraid that the combined power of Chiefs David and Chungwa would result in the kind of war that had raged a decade earlier. By June 1811 David Stuurman was spotted on raids in his old stomping grounds where he had teamed up with another amaXhosa Chief, Habana.

The fourth frontier war of resistance

By the end of 1811 the Colonial forces under Lt Colonel Graham in cooperation with Landdrost Anders Stockenstrom of Graaff-Reinet, the father of Andries Stockenstrom, mounted an attack on the amaXhosa in the Suurveld. In one of the attacks aimed at clearing the amaXhosa from the Suurveld , Anders Stockenstrom was killed. Some records say that Chief David Stuurman was responsible and thus his profile as a formidable foe increased. In January 1812 Stuurman’s ally Chungwa was killed and Stuurman allied with Ndlambe of the Rharabe amaXhosa retreated across the FishRiver.

The British then moved their forces into the liberated territory of the Suurveld and expelled its 22 000 combined free Khoena and amaXhosa inhabitants. Chief David Stuurman continued in his cause of resistance and in offering sanctuary to rebels and runaway slaves.

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.

The capture of Chief David Stuurman and his second escape from Robben Island

In 1818 the fifth frontier war of resistance broke out and towards the end of the following year Chief David Stuurman had entered the Colony and was captured as a prisoner of war. He was again taken to Cape Town along with eight other amaXhosa prisoners of war on 22 December 1819 on board the ship Queen and after they were landed they were incarcerated on RobbenIsland.

In August 1820 a convict, Johan Smit who planned the escape with Hans Trompetter and others, overpowered and disarmed a sentry. He then freed a number of other prisoners who broke into the armoury and released and armed even more prisoners. Amongst these was Nxele also known as Makana the great warrior prophet who had been captured in the fifth frontier war of resistance and David Stuurman.

Makana the amaXhosa warrior prophet and Stuurman had a strong affinity in that Makana’s mother was a Gonaqua Khoena woman. Stuurman and his men ensured that Makana travelled with them.

After a gunfight with the prison guards in which one was killed and others wounded, some 30 prisoners made their way to the whalers boat station. Here they split into three groups each with an escape boat.

The boat carrying Trompetter, Stuurman and Makana overturned in the heavy surf at Blouberg. Only four people escaped, amongst them Trompetter and Stuurman. The great resistance hero Makana, the prophet warrior of Gonaqua and amaXhosa heritage was drowned. 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 r Bryant’s life was spared. However he was sentenced to be transported for life to the penal settlement in New South Wales in Australia. Until the ship Brampton departed for Australia on 25 February in 1823, Chief David Stuurman was sent back to RobbenIsland for the third time. He is the only person to have successfully escaped from RobbenIsland on two occasions.

The exile of Chief David Stuurman and his death in Sydney in Australia

Twelve convicts were sent off on the ship Brampton. David Stuurman and Jantjie Piet were the only two Khoena in the group. They arrived in 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 who had visited Bethelsdorp and met with Chief David Stuurman’s children who had implored him to help them get their father back home. Another philanthropist and journalist Thomas Pringle wrote an article for the New Monthly Magazine in 1828 wherein he recorded the long struggle of David Stuurman with the colonial authorities. This was read by Lt Governor Bourke at the Cape who then wrote to the Governor of New South Wales on behalf of Pringle advocating for Chief David Stuurman’s release. In 1831 Bourke was made Governor of New South Wales and before he left England he acquired an order for the release of Chief David Stuurman as long ass the Cape government was agreeable. It was all too late.

Thomas Pringle who together with John Fairburn, established the South African Journal and the South African Commercial Advertiser, and was a leading abolitionist wrote:

“The ‘Last Chief of the Hottentots’ had been released by death, before General Bourke reached his new Government. A communication which the General was so good as to address to me, soon after his arrival at Sydney, conveyed the information that Stuurman had died in the hospital in 1830; and that his conduct in the colony had been good.”

Until 1829 Chief David Stuurman had worked as a government labourer in Sydney. Early in 1829 he was given a ticket of leave, meaning that he was allowed to work for wages for himself. It is said that Chief Stuurman converted to Catholicism in his last years.

In 1830 only a year after his prisoner conditions were relaxed, on the 20 February he died in the general hospital in Sydney and was buried on the same day.

Chief David Stuurman’s life is testimony to the long road to freedom that he walked. His remains still lay abroad but his spirit marched on at home with all our heroes in celebration of a life well spent in rising up above adversity and sacrificing so that others may be free.


VC Malherbe; ‘The Khoekhoe soldier’; Cape Archives Depot, COl86Military History Journal – Vol 12 No 3; (2002) – VC Malherbe; David Stuurman: Last Chief of the Hottentots; WitwatersrandUniversity Press; Johannesburg (1980) – Susan Newton-King & VC Malherbe; The KhoiKhoi Rebellion in the Eastern Cape 1799 – 1803; Centre for African Studies UCT Communications No:5; (1981) – Julia C Wells; The return of Makahnda – Exploring the legend; University of KZN Press; Scotsville; (2012) – Martin Leggasick; The Struggle for the Eastern Cape 1800 – 1854 – Subjugation and the roots of South African democracy; UWC KMM Review Publishing Company; Johannesburg (2010) – Nigel Penn; Labour, land and livestock in the Western Cape during the eighteenth century: The Khoisan and the colonists; – W C James & M Simons (eds); The Angry Divide, Social and economic history of the Western Cape; Cape Town & Johannesburg; (1989) –  Richard Elphick; KhoiKhoi and the founding of White South Africa; Raven Press; Johannesburg (1985) – Monica Wilson & Leonard Thompson; A history of South Africa to 1870; Croom Helm; London & Canberra; (1982)


Louis van Mauritus

(1778 – 1808)

LOUIS2On 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 wearing military style uniforms. On this day, over 326 slaves, 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. He was sold from a passing ship to the Kirsten family. Louis was born in Isle de France known as Mauritius and thus as was custom in the naming of first generation imported slaves, he was called Louis of Mauritius. Second generation locally born creole slaves were given the surname ‘van der Kaap’ and third generation slaves were then often given the first name of their slave father as a surname.

 Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope

From 1652 – 1834 slavery was a formal institution in the CapeColony and spread across South Africa as the Boers trekked to set up new colonised territories after 1834. Even in the Cape, after emancipation, so-called ‘prize slaves’ continued to be brought in until 1845 and were then placed with employers under long indenture contracts which differed very little from slavery. Between the years 1652 – 1808 there were 63 000 first generation slaves brought to the Cape and then at least another 8000 ‘prize slaves’ from 1808 – 1845. These figures do not include those many unrecorded slaves brought to the Cape nor the thousands of indigene Khoena and San frontier slaves and other indigene African slaves taken by Boer commandos beyond the borders of the Cape. It also does not include the thousands of enslaved persons born to successive generations of the children of the first generation slaves. The first generation slaves brought from other lands include 17 315 slaves from India, 42 150 slaves from Africa and Madagascar, and 13 545 from the Indonesian archipelago. The very last ‘Prize Slaves’ to be brought to the Cape, landed in 1890 – they were the Oromo slaves from Somalia.

Besides the indignities and the backbreaking labour of the slaves, they were subjected to the cruellest and most barbaric punishments for rebelling. The meeting out of justice and punishment throughout VOC rule in the 17th and 18th century at the Cape of Good Hope, the period of Batavian rule and the early years of British rule was extremely barbaric and cruel. Crucifixions, dismemberment, burnings at the stake, impalement, being broken alive, and being drawn and quartered were some of the favourite forms of punishment meted out by the courts. The majority of those at the receiving end were slaves and indigenes.

It was into this world that the child slave Louis van Mauritius was sold.

The toddler slave and the background of a world movement of freedom revolts

Willem Kirsten, who had bought Louis, was the fourth son of the influential German burgher Johan Friedrich Kirsten. Willem had married Maria Catharina Grove in 1880 and together they had purchased Louis the toddler slave on the waterfront.

Louis was raised as a child by the Kirstens and was their slave. Although never baptised he was given a basic education, being allowed to attend school classes and brought up with an understanding of the Christian faith. By the time he was 12 years old he would have made the transition from being a child in the household to being a slave worker who had to earn his keep and turn a profit for his owners. Louis was also hired out by his owners; a common practice at that time, to bring further income into the household.

Louis was only five years old when William Wilberforce formed the Abolition Society in England in 1783.  At this time slaves were still pouring into the Cape now mainly being trafficked from East Africa. The practice continued to grow and after British rule in 1806, slave prices increased fourfold. By the time Louis turned ten years of age, the French Revolution had erupted and the declaration of the rights of man circulated widely. This had a great impact on the Cape. Within the next decade abolitionists such as Dr Johannes van der Kemp were active in the Cape and slave revolt and disobedience spread.

In Louis teen years the world was was erupting. A series of events unfolded that would have a major influence on the destiny of Louis of Mauritius. In 1791 rebellion broke out in St Dominique in the Caribbean which by its succuessful conclusion in 1804 claimed over 300 000 lives on both sides. Led by Toussaint l`Overture against the French colonists the revoltion established the first black republic of rebel slaves which they name the Republic of Haiti.

In 1794 the abolition of slavery was also declared in France. In 1794 the Maroon War in Jamaica 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. The first British governor at the Cape in 1806 had been in Ireland during this rebellion which had been put down by the same Dragoons which put dowm the revolt by Louis of Mauritius.

The impact of the ructions in Europe was first felt in the Cape when it was occupied by the British in 1795. This occupation ended in 1803 when the Cape was given over to Dutch Batavian Rule under the Council for Asiatic Possessions of the BatavianRepublic.

Previously the Cape was under the control of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The VOC rule in the Cape since 1652 came to an end in 1795. The VOC collapsed under the burden of debt in 1798. Louis was working on the Table Bay waterfront at this time which was a mine of information about what was going on around the world. The seamen’s grapevine of stories would have had the young Louis enthralled. At this time Louis was hired out to work as a coolie – a porter or stevedore, which also gave him the chance to mingle with other slaves in similar circumstances.

Louis the hired out slave

In 1800 the marriage of Willem Kirsten and Maria Catharina Grove ended in a judicial separation. Louis became the property of Maria Grove and she continued to hire out Louis as a labourer so that she can earn an income. In a peculiar arrangement Louis was now hired out at 12 Rixdollars per month to his own wife, Anna – a free woman. He then moved out of Grove’s house to the home of his wife Anna beneath the balcony of Stadler’s house and near to Windell’s livery stables at 18 Strand Street. Here Louis and his wife Anna acquired three horses and hired them out to generate an income. while Louis assisted his brother-in-law Abraham Anthonissen in his licensed pachthuis – tavern.

Louis of Mauritius occupied a really complicated station in life. He was a slave but at the same time he was ‘rented out’’ to his free wife and was thus able to live a life of relative freedom as long as money flowed back to his owner Mrs Grove.

It thus fell upon Louis and Anna to do everything that they could to earn a surplus income to pay the rent on his head and to ensure their own survival. They were most entrepreneurial in how they went about ensuring that Mistress Grove got her payments but it must have been a humiliating and emasculating experience for Louis who was also controlled by all the laws, rules and norms of the slavery system.

In 1806 the battle of Blaauberg between the French aligned Cape forces and the British took place. The 20th light Dragoons arrived in the Cape and were part of the British forces that defeat the Dutch/French alliance at Blaauberg. Uniforms and weaponry of the dead who were strewn on the battlefields of Blaauberg were appropriated from those battlefields, some of it by slaves.

It is perhaps from this source that Louis and his co-conspiritors indirectly accessed uniforms and weapons for their revolt two years later. They certainly also learnt from this battle that nobody is invinceable in war, as one seemingly powerful authority was relaced by another. The Cape was taken over by British Rule and British Crown Colony status was conferred on the Cape.

In 1807 the slave trade was abolished in Britain and the Royal Navy began to patrol the high seas to stop slave trading. Slavery in the colonies remained in place for another three decades. New slaves were still being brought into the colony in roundabout ways, but particularly through the Royal Navy bringing in ‘Prize Slaves’seized as ‘cargo’from slave trader ships which they intercepted. These slaves still had a priceon their heads and were not set at liberty. They were indentured out to farmers as ápprentices’for 14 years before they could get their freedom.

The conspiracy at the waterfront tavern

These then were the circumstances and conditions that Louis found himself in on that fateful day in 1808 when he met two Irishment, James Hooper and Michael Kelly in the waterfront tavern where they planned the slave rebellion. The tavern was a crossroads of stories and sharing of ideas. It was a seaman`s tavern. Here where Louis worked for his brother-in-law, he first met the James Hooper, a runaway cabin-boy in the service of the Captain of the ship. Louis befriended James and offered him refuge at his home with his common-law wife Anna. Through the stories that he heard, Louis came to learn about freedom struggles in Ireland, France, Haiti and elsewhere. They discussed the abolition of the slave trade in the English parliament in 1807. The news from other parts of the world was about discontent and upheaval. The smokey air in the backroom of the tavern was thick with talk of revolution, liberty, equality and fraternity. As Louis had a poor command of English, the duo was joined by Abraham of the Cape, another slave, who acted as interpreter.

In his trial Louis was later to testify to what he had heard; “I had heard that in other countries all persons were free, and there were so many black people here who could also be free and that we ought to fight for our freedom and then – enough!”

The discussions became more intense as the days rolled on and soon turned to planning, with Louis taking the lead. Another Irishman Michael Kelly, a contrated labourer who had deserted his master, joined the group fairly late in the process. Louis had already taken the key decision that they would be more successful in recruitment and organisation amongst rural slaves who would then march on the town. Louis had a connection on a farm in Malmesbury, Vogelgezang who would assist the leadership group. This was a fellow slave Jephta of Batavia who at one time had also did stevedoor work on the waterfront. At the time of the revolt he had a new master at the Vogelgezang farm – Petrus Louw. The leadership group of four were joined in town by another runaway slave Adonis of Ceylon.

The slave revolt.

LouisBefore embarking on the operation, James Hooper and Abraham travelled to Malmesbury to meet with Jephta and reconoitered the entire route. With all plans and arrangements completed Louis sold his horses and bought various bits and pieces to create their own quasi military and naval style uniforms of quite an elaborate nature. He opted for a Spanish naval uniform with ostrich plumes in his hat, complete with epaulettes. He also purchased two swords. He had enough money to hire two unsuspecting hired wagon hands and a wagon complete with six black horses and provisions for a few days.

On reaching Vogelgezang farm the group pulled off an amazing stunt after finding that the farmer was away from home. Mrs Louw, the farmer’s wife and his five children were taken in by the charade whereby the olive skinned Louis acted as a ‘Spanish’ sea Captain and the Irishmen as ‘English’ military officers. They succeeded in being wined and dined. On the morning after, Louis produced a bogus notice from the Fiscal freeing all of the slaves on the farm and ordering that they accompany him to see the Governor. A shocked Mrs Louw protested but was ignored. Jephta organised that the nine slaves and the Khoena servant joined the party which then set off to the farms en route to Cape Town to liberate all of the slaves. Hooper and Kelly had gone on ahead to organise at the other farms with an agreement to meet at a rendezvous point after two separate routes were to be followed. It was later to emerge that they had lost some of their bravado once they had parted from Louis. Michael Kelly had played a role in undermining the unity of effort and proved to be a frivilous and unreliable adventurer motivated only by self-interest. The remaining leadership group split up taking the new recruits in smaller groups to each of the farms along the way. As they moved on they became bolder.

Some slaves and Khoena servants believed the story about Louis being sent by the Governor to free them whilst others simply joined in conscious that it was a rebellion. They rounded up the whites on the farms, barked out orders as though the masters were now slaves and tied them up. Other than two occasions of serious misconduct towards their captive masters and mistresses involving assault and rape, the slaves under Louis disciplined command behaved in an exemplary manner even although the rebellion was boisterous.  Homes however were ransacked and looted of arms, ammunition, food, wine, clothes and bedding.

The rebels had marched on 34 farms and took farmers and their families’ prisoner and then marched on Cape Town, where it was their aim to hoist the bloody (red) flag and fight until they were free. Over 40 farmers and their sons were captured and tied up on the wagons. The winding processions soon grew to over 326 slaves and Khoena servants.  With a rendezvous point agreed at Salt River the rebel columns took three different routes to Cape Town where they were to launch an attack on the Amsterdam battery, turn the guns on the Castle, then negotiate peace and establish a state authority of free slaves. They had no training or experience of waging battle and the endgame of their plan had little chance of success against a powerful force of the British Empire which was on an onward march to conquer highly the experienced resistance fighters on the eastern frontier. But the slaves’ desire for freedom was greater than their fear of the obstacles which they were up against.

The revolt at first went according to plan and was well executed. Then at a crucial point its fatal flaws came to the fore and all hope of freedom ended in tragedy. The entire action was over within two days. At the rendezvous point in Salt River, the Dragoons dispatched by Lord Caledon, attacked the rebel column of slaves and the rebellion was put down. The marchers were pursued, captured, interned, interrogated and 51 were put on trial. Perhaps if this revolt had occurred in the earlier VOC era it may have stood a better chance of success.

In the course of the uprising Louis constantly upped the tempo and improved the organisation of the uprising. The initial tactic of subterfuge and misleading the slaves to believe that they had been set free, changed over the journey with no doubt being left that this was a rebellion. Slavery historian Nigel Worden points out that during the course of the day, Louis appointed subalterns to lead different contingents of rebels and formally invested them with swords and ensured they rode on horseback. Worden states that Louis asserted strict command, punishing those who disobeyed his orders. The 1808 revolt was not anarchical frenzy, as the authorities (and some later commentators) believed. It was a carefully calculated movement which deliberately sought to overthrow and reverse the social order by an elaborate appropriation of the symbols of slave-owner power.  In his appraisal of the event Worden says the following in a newspaper feature article celebrating the 200th anniversary of the event in October 2008.

“It was an amazing feat of organisation, given the poor communications of the time, lack of any military experience, the long distances covered between town and countryside, difficult terrain, and the complexity of the plan itself. Added to this is the relative orderliness and discipline of the operation and the extent to which it had proceeded before it was checked, by the mounted, armed and most experienced military force of the times. For a small group of committed conspirators to have achieved this is quite phenomenal, given the context”.

At the most crucial moment at the rendezvous point for the final push forward, James Hooper and Michael Kelly were nowhere to be found. Abraham had also gone to ground and when the troops of Dragoons were seen advancing on the column the slaves all started to hurriedly disappear. The poorly armed and inexperienced rebels could be no match for the Dragoon fighting machine and the columns dispersed and fled in the face of the advancing troops. The soldiers rounded up the slaves and the following day most slaves voluntarily gave themselves up at two internment points – FortKnokke and at Maastricht. The leaders all initially escaped and went to ground. Hooper, Kelly and Abraham were the first to be captured. Louis was tracked down and eventually arrested at a tavern in Wynberg.

Trial and punishment

With all persons accounted for, interrogations proceeded and the 326 rebels were whittled down to 51 who were selected for trial, punishment and the demonstration of deterrence. The 5 leaders and 46 others were tried in the Court of Justice. Only one was found not guilty of an array of charges.

While the other leaders contradicted each other in court and clearly Michael Kelly seemed to have become a turncoat, Louis stood by his beliefs in explaining himself and argued that he kept discipline in the course of the revolt. He was sincere in his opposition to slavery and believed that he conducted himself well even although the courts labelled the act of rebellion an evil deed. Abraham too made a statement which 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 Jij (you).

Sixteen of the rebels were condemned to death by the Court. The Governor, Lord Caledon intervened to commute 11 of the death sentences. Louis, Hooper, 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. Michael Kelly mysteriously escaped any sanction and left the Cape.

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.

The other 46 slaves were given various heavy sentences including imprisonment on RobbenIsland. Many of these slaves were from Mozambique – the Masbiekers who were the most down-trodden of slaves at the time. While it is notable that there was a ‘rainbow` element to this rebellion, involving locally born slaves, slaves from the East Indies, Europeans, and indigene Khoena, it is clear that the most fertile ground for rebellion was the East African slaves of the wheat-belt farm fields because they were at the bottom of the exploitation and cruelty pile in the Cape. Urban slavery had already began to metamorphis into an almost wage labour mode whereas rural slavery was raw, harsh and humiliating where slaves had little to lose but their chains.

The majority of the slaves who participated in the revolt were given over to their owners for “correction” by Governor Lord Caledon.

The central features of the revolt and its achievements

This story of 1808 has everything dramatists dream of – an amazing array of characters, tragic childhood, love, anger, dissatisfaction, a revolutionary world climate, the meeting of different cultures, a tavern conspiracy and intrigue, clandestine organisation, a tragedy, comedy, a rebel campaign, betrayal, a military clash, internment and interrogation, turncoats, courtroom drama, a prison escape, brutal executions, slavery conditions and the quest for equality and freedom. It is an amazing story of a freedom seeking rebellion by the victims of the terrible system of slavery. Yet this story was one of South Africa’s best kept historical secrets simply because it may have provided later generations with a rallying event promotiong rebellion.

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.

While other dates relating to freedom from slavery, such as the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and emancipation from slavery in 1834 are important, these are legislative dates. Emancipation was only really put into practice in 1838 and slavery only finally petered out in 1870 after the last of the ‘prize slaves` compulsory indenture periods were completed. October 1808 is important because it was an enactment by slaves themselves to claim their own freedom. In a period where the revolutionary words liberty, equality and fraternity was frequently on the lips of many, here in the Cape a group of slave rebels coined their own version of this statement using one simple word ‘Jij’ (you) to express their desire for equality.

During the trial, the court officials were incensed that one of the slave leaders, Abraham, had incited his fellow slaves by making the statement, “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 Jij.” The alleged incitement that led to Abraham`s execution, was that he encouraged a fight for freedom and suggested that slaves could use a term of familiarity and equality to address their self-proclaimed superior owners – a term considered to be the greatest act of insolence.

Slave owners were entitled not to be addressed 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 ‘Jij`. It is the simple usage of the word ‘you’ that became the baring of the standard in the fight for ‘equality and freedom`.

Abraham van de Kaap’s little phrase in the Court records is one of only a very few direct words of Cape slaves which shouts out from the past – but it says it all. These words cost Abraham his life as the court viewed it as ‘treason, sedition, and incitement to an outrageous revolt characterised as ‘evil’. The leadership shown by Louis in his thirst for freedom also cost him his life. Perhaps ever since he arrived as a toddler slave in the Cape he had never known the dignity and freedom that he had for just those two days in October 1808. He did not waver when faced with the call to take his place on the freedom road as he like our other great ancesters of resistance walked the long road to freedom. In rising up above adversity he felt the freedom for two days even although the price was to forfeit his life.


George McCall Theal; Records of the Cape Colony (36 Vols) Volume 20; William Clowes and Sons ltd; London; (1900) – Hugo de Villiers; Commanding the Archives – A discourse analysis of the 1808 Slave Rebellion at the Cape; Historial Approaches 5; (2007) – Jackie Loos; Echoes of Slavery; David Phillip; Cape Town; (2004) – Karen Harris; The Slave ‘Rebellion’ of 1808; Kleio 20; (1988) – Nigel Worden; The day Cape Slaves made themselves masters – The 1808 Rebellion a dramatic shift in the nature of resistance; Cape Times; (2008) – Robert Ross; Cape of Torments; Routledge & Kegan Paul; London; (1983)

Chief Makana (Nxele)

1780 – 1820

MAKANAMakana the great resistance warrior and prophet was brought to Camissa as a prisoner of war and incarcerated on Robben Island. He died in an a daring escape from Robben Island on the shore of Bloubergstrand – at Camissa. The warrior-prophet Makana carried both the heritage and tradition of his Khoena mother and his amaXhosa father. He was born of a Khoena woman and died amongst his Khoena kin when Chief David Stuurman’s escape boat capsized in the waves. As much as Makana is a hero of the Eastern Cape amaXhosa he is a hero of the Khoena of Camissa.

It’s 1980 in an ANC guerrilla camp of Umkhonto we Sizwe at Quibaxe in war-torn Angola and MK guerrilla soldier Barry Gilder alias Jimmy Wilson, guitar in hand, is belting out a popular song and the other combatants are singing along with the chorus…..

Two centuries before this one; In Africa’s southern lands

A war was just beginning, that would put blood on many hands….

Every struggle has its heroes – this song is about just one

Makana of the Xhosa, who drowned off Bloubergstrand

 – Swim Makana, swim Makana, swim Makana, swim

On the shore where we wait, our children go thin

Come Makana, come Makana, come Makana, come

 – I hear you, said Makana, to the voices in his head

But the water’s growing higher now, I am as good as dead

New people will come to lead you, and many will die

Before the spirit of Makana will at last be home and dry….

Makana, the powerful spiritual leader, an ‘Itola’, who arose from humble roots to lead his soldiers 200 years earlier in the attack on Grahamstown, and who drowned in an escape from Robben Island imprisonment, still commanded the hearts of his soldiering people in the same drawn out anti-colonial resistance struggle of the latter 20th century.

James Read the missionary described him as “a stout and handsome man, who commands respect.” British soldiers said of him, “we were surprised at his lofty demeanour and appearance.” John Campbell the missionary described him as “a fine figure of a man, measuring six feet and two inches in height and had many marks of old cuts, or wounds, on different parts of his body, especially behind his shoulders. He had a kind of tattooing in the form of a cross, under his breast.” The writer Charles Lennox Stretch described him as “adorned with “bracelets made of coarse hair which hung from his arms, but he especially valued his ivory arm-band, the insignia of a very great man amongst the amaXhosa.” He also estimated his height to be six foot and four inches.

In his work ‘Frontiers – The epic of South Africa’s creation and the tragedy of the Xhosa people’ Noel Mostert draws on all of these descriptions of Makana when he said, “he had … forceful presence and physical impact. He stood six foot six, and was stout and handsome. His demeanour was reserved, solemn and abstracted. He impressed all who came in contact with him by his dignity …”

The man thus described also had a number of names and much mystique surrounded him. Two centuries later his name still commands awe and respect. Makana, (also written and pronounced as Makhanda), was also known as Lynx, and Nxele (the ‘left-handed one’). Perhaps the name Lynx was derived from an Anglicisation of the Dutch word ‘links’ meaning ‘left’ referring to Makana’s left-handed disposition or perhaps it was from the stealthy Cape Caracal wildcat with its lynx-like looks and sometimes apparition-like sudden appearances as if from nowhere. Like the Caracal, Makana was also given to wandering around in the wilds, often deep in contemplation.

Birth and upbringing

Makana is said to have been born somewhere along the Qhagqiwa river (Swartkops river) near to Uitenhage. His father was an amaXhosa man by the name of Gwala from the amaCwerha clan and his mother was a Khoena (Khoi) woman of the Gonaqua clan. The people of this area of the Eastern Cape were strongly rooted in a mix of amaXhosa and a number of Khoena clans with longstanding roots in the district – the Gonaqua, Hoengeiqua, Inqua and others, and one cannot always easily separate out the two cultural streams that merged in the south eastern Cape.

The date of birth of Makana cannot be pin-pointed with accuracy, but if one works from the time that Makana said he held discussion with Dr van der Kemp and was in a position to present him with a cow around 1800 as a young man then his birth would date circa 1780. Long before Dr van der Kemp launched his missionary work amongst the Khoena and later established the mission at Bethelsdorp, he first spent a year amongst the amaXhosa, being the first missionary to do so. It is during this period that Makana says he met van der Kemp.

Makana’s father Gwala died when he was a young boy and thus he was brought up by his mother and came under a strong Gonaqua traditional influence. She had a reputation as a spiritual diviner and medicine woman. Makana’s persona as one later to be recognised as an ‘inyanga’ was rooted in the early guidance of his mother and in his Gonaqua roots. The amaXhosa particularly held the Khoena and San spiritual guides in high esteem.

But Makana’s mother’s influence held sway largely in his formative years and early teens. Thereafter the broader amaXhosa community and other influences around him would dominate his life. Makana grew up in a period where there was much fluidity within the Zuurveld and the FishRiver areas with constant mobility over fairly wide distances. Another display of his Khoena roots was Makana’s tendency to wander around and to spend much time in the bush away from human settlements.

Life was punctuated by one dramatic event after the other in the region and traditions were assaulted and open to remoulding. There also was a great mixing amongst amaXhosa, Khoena, missionaries, runaway slaves known as Drosters, Boers and later the British in south eastern Cape. This turbulent period would have a tremendous influence on the young man. When his father died, Makana’s mother took him and his siblings to the FishRiverValley where they lived with his foster father Balala in the vicinity of what was to become Glenmore.

Here Makana was schooled in the traditions of the amaXhosa and their traditional leaders. As a commoner he found his way into the presence of the royal leaders and their advisers, rapidly rising to becoming an advisor, an appointed chief and military commander. During his days as a wandering preacher an incident had occurred where he came under assault from a gang of detractors and was rescued by one of Chief Ndlambe’s councillors Qalanga. It was this patron who introduced Makana to the great royal chief and one time regent of the Rharabe, Ndlambe who first conferred upon Makana the special status that launched his resistance career.

Makana’s spiritual calling and reputation was the key to providing the means for this social mobility. The captivating message of the missionaries and the advantages that they offered also meant that any inter-locater between the missionaries or their message and the chiefs, would also build a degree of power and influence. A number of such inter-locators emerged over the years, the most important of these being Ntsikana and Makana who soon became rivals. Ntsikana, represented a strong bias towards the missionaries and the purity of their message which effectively was useful to colonial interests. Makana on the other hand crafted his Christian message to synchronise with the interests of his traditional society. In taking the latter role Makana was to become demonised by the mainstream missionaries, their inter-locaters and converts and, much of what he stood for was distorted over time. Ntsikana became strongly associated with Chief Ngqika and Makana with Chief Ndlambe.

Records reflecting Makana

Much of the writing to which any researcher will turn, involves a litany of statements, maligning Makana and painting him as a lunatic and trickster. Modern writing often simply reflects this image, not stopping to question that much of mainstream writing reflects the views of his opponents and their opposition to African traditional belief systems and a culture that they believed to be uncivilised and evil.

There are however a number of other researchers and evaluators of Makana who present a different picture. In most recent literature Max du Preez presents Makana as one of the ‘tricksters’ and curiosities of history based largely on the first school of writers who range from the biased missionary and colonial commentators to those who first begin to break with this tradition. Even although he frames his story based on these writings, du Preez however still pauses momentarily to cast some questioning of the claims that Makana was a madman.

In contrast, Julia Wells in her work which more thoroughly explores Makana, the legend and the man, she opens her readers up to those particularly amongst black researchers and commentators who view Makana differently and also offers her own unique and refreshing perspectives. Particularly in times of conflict, even a cursory glance at world history will reflect a degree of the barmy in any of the most prominent leaders on the global stage. In South Africa in the conflicts of the 1800s Sir Harry Smith may well be described as  being as ‘mad as a March hare’, but history does not project this as his defining characteristic in the same manner as it does when it comes to portraying Makana as having a touch of lunacy and being a trickster. Colonial history in South Africa often maligns opponents of colonial expansion.

Kindred spirits

 Makana, well known for his enquiring mind and for matters spiritual, was influenced to a degree by his contact with particular missionaries such as the Dr van der Kemp of the London Missionary Society. Dr van der Kemp was also considered eccentric and, had a reputation amongst his European detractors for his respect for African traditions and in his having strong non-conformist millennial theological leanings. Dr Johannes Theodorus Van Der Kemp established himself in the region in 1799 when he first went to live amongst the amaXhosa. He later built up a missionary settlement on the little SwartkopsRiver which became known as Bethelsdorp. It is likely that he first met Makana at the time when he inter-acted with Ngqika and Ndlambe. It is interesting to note that Dr van der Kemp was a latter day convert to the missionary calling and had formerly also been a soldier. Dr van der Kemp was an abolitionist and a harsh critic of the colonial authorities and the cruelty of the Boer frontiersmen. All of these things would have fascinated the mind of Makana who always spoke highly of van der Kemp.

But Makana has over the years often been overly associated with the missionary millenarian tradition to such a degree that it clouded evaluation of his role in the resistance to colonial expansionism. Julia Wells in her work on Makana sounds a caution that we should not look at Makana as simply being a half-finished product of the missionaries but be bold enough to look at him as a self-made man.

The Prophet – Inyanga and Itola – Makana’s syncretic Christian and traditionalist belief system

Evaluation of Makana’s role in history was largely cultivated by his Christian detractors and by propagandists justifying the British conquest of the peoples of the Eastern Cape and twisting the causes for the wars that raged through the region for over 100 years.

Makana’s beliefs are misrepresented as a mix of witchcraft, exploitation, abuse of religion, manipulation and the irresponsible duping of his people. Many myths, untruths and distortion overlay the evaluation of his life, which later researchers have challenged. Much of the derogatory assessment arises from contestation by Christian contemporaries where a debate, which still rages two centuries later, took the form of so-called civilisation versus backward heathenism, or European notions of culture versus perceived African backwardness.

This debate unfortunately smothered and covered up a campaign of conquest accompanied by violence against Africans which adopted genocide proportions, including naked land grabbing and the subjugation of the amaXhosa by a powerful British imperial force. By painting Makana as a false-Christian and a barbaric threat to the civilising mission, his role as freedom fighter and champion of justice, was effectively covered up.

In the first two decades of the 19th century during this intense period of the British assault on the amaXhosa, which was rooted in the earlier Boer vs amaXhosa conflicts that first began in the decade before his birth, Makana made an indelible mark on resistance history. He stood out as occupying the position of ‘Itola’ where he was recognised as being both a spiritual and military leader in service of Ndlambe, the one time regent of the Rharabe, one of the highest of the traditional leaders in the region.

This was remarkable because the fact was that Makana was a mere commoner who rose to this role from amongst the lower echelons of society. Julia Wells points out that the traditional role of ‘Itola’ amongst ‘Inyangas’ was never really understood by historians evaluating the life of Makana. At best it was seen as a ‘war-doctor’ or ‘warrior-priest’. But by the time of his death, Makana was held in similar esteem as any of the royals of his time, though not a royal nor heredity chief.

History shows him to have been both a pioneer of the independent African Christian tradition and a traditionalist. The huge following of African Independent Churches such as the ZCC and others today are accepted as a normal part of modern South Africa, but in Makana’s time he was portrayed as demented and as a blasphemer because of his early Africanist challenge to mainstream European missionary defined Christianity.

Makana was highly attuned to the inter-connectivity of everything in life, animate and inanimate, the elements, fortunes and afflictions, to the human spirit. The human spirit too was inter-connected to the ancestral spirits, and the ancestral spirits provide access to Qamata or Thixo, in which all things seen and unseen found union. Makana challenged both the European Christian message and the amaXhosa traditional belief system by referring differently to the almighty, as Mdalidipho and used the name Taay for Jesus. He spoke of having a special personal relationship with Taay whom he referred to as his brother.

Makana’s spiritual awareness struck everyone who met him and was commented upon by the missionaries as being striking, but his special gift was the manner in which he could inspire others to follow a spiritual path which was not simply ‘other-worldly’ but which could be applied to the struggles of their lives.

In the face of the colonial onslaught Makana provided hope and a sense that the power of the nation could be mustered to counter attack an evil that had befallen his people. Everything that we know about Makana suggests that he held awareness that the amaXhosa faced a major crossroads in time and that the new challenge of British colonialism was the greatest challenge ever faced by his people. It is recorded that many attested to Makana having the prophetic gift of being able to see future events and the gift of healing.

Contradictions lead to the championing of justice and liberation theology

At some stage in his early youth Makana had also regularly come into contact with Boers on their farms and perhaps had even briefly worked on a Boer farm. He was known to have had a strong understanding of Christianity and white culture even before his later contact with missionaries not some much as a result of having been taught but rather gained through interaction and experience. The term Christian and Boer, were at this time both used as an almost ethnic group term, for Europeans, by them and by the Africans. In itself this was problematic for those at the receiving end of proselytization because where did this leave the black convert?

Makana furthermore had first-hand knowledge of the mistreatment of black people by the Boer farmers, the Christians, who wanted black people to accept their Christian message but not to have equality with the white man.  Makana had a deep sense of justice and injustice which he recognised in Christian teaching but at the same time could see great contradictions between these teachings and the Boers who had adopted the term Christian as a kind of ethnic identity. In the British he saw another face of Christianity where this powerful military force saw their imperial majesty almost as the representative of Christ on earth. Makana could see that politics, military action and religion had a special and powerful relationship. He sought to apply this same formula of a relationship between the political, military and spiritual, to amaXhosa resistance and advancement.

Makana and all of the amaXhosa had a clear understanding that the British and the Dutch before them were after taking their land from them. From the late 1760s when the Boer trek farmers started moving into their lands until the brutal expulsion of the amaXhosa from the Zuurveld in 1812 the Europeans had made it clear that they coveted the amaXhosa territory.

Makana was known to wrestle with these issues and had begun to weave a syncretised union of some elements of the Christian faith with traditional African belief systems. This may have indeed been the best way that he could see of immunising his people to what he recognised as the beguiling and disarming message of the missionary advance guard of British imperialism, while at the same time taking advantage of some of the very real benefits to be had by engaging with the missionaries and at least part of their message.

Makana was astute in being able to distinguish that there were very different schools of thought between different missionaries, showing respect for the teachings of van der Kemp in particular. He further went out of his way to engage with a wide range of others, particularly the Military Chaplain van der Lingen, in Grahamstown. The latter interactions are particularly interesting in that some may well characterise Makana as the Military Chaplain of the amaXhosa.

Makana may have been one of the first indigene proponents of African liberation theology and black consciousness. At one stage in his life he practiced a quasi-indigenous form of evangelism which had the missionary James Read impressed, bemused and befuddled all at the same time.

As such he was the one to take the gospel (albeit according to Makana) to Chief Ndlambe and his people. He did this in a manner which literally assumed the roles of John the Baptist, Jesus the preacher and Saint Paul where he acted out the message and did not simply convey it as a detached messenger. Makana’s African style of bringing across the message of Christianity incensed the European church who saw it at best as a false Messianic enactment and at worst as blasphemous. This is a very similar reaction to the spread of Voudoun, Santeria and Dukun through the colonial world of the Americas and Caribbean where Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths such as Islam were over-laid with elements of African and Eastern animist belief systems as a result of the African and Asian diaspora brought about by the slave trade.

Emergence of the advisor and warrior

Makanda was not the only unusual commoner of his time to engage as an advisor to the chiefs. Hermanus  Ngxukumeshe Matroos the son of a slave who had sought refuge amongst the amaXhosa and free-Khoena later also rose to the rank of adviser and military leader. Likewise, the rebel Boer non-conformist Coenraad de Buys who had as one of his many wives, the mother of Chief Ngqika, had also risen to the role of adviser. There was further, a number of Khoena leaders who would interact with and ultimately share a fate with Makana in being imprisoned together on Robben Island – amongst these namely, Khoena Chief David Stuurman and fellow combatant in the Khoena Confederacy, Hans Trompetter. Makana had one of Trompetter’s sisters as a wife. These relationships between Makana and resistance contemporaries were complex.

There were also a number of white rebels who made common cause with the amaXhosa and rebel Khoena in the region too. Besides the already mentioned de Buys, there were men such as the German, Klaas Liebenberg, Irishman MacDaniel, and Boers – Bezuidenhout and Faber.

The unfolding drama of the Zuurveld conflict and the successor frontier wars threw Makana into the role of warrior leader amongst other notable warrior leaders. They all graduated from lower level resistance conflict with the Boers to having to stand up against the full might of the British Empire as the invaders implemented a scorched earth approach to establishing control over the whole of South and Southern Africa. Makana however stood shoulders above all in that he led a full frontal attack by 10 000 warriors on the British garrison town of Grahamstown. It had all of the hallmarks of a major military battle from its early espionage and intelligence gathering to its planning and implementation. It was also both a symbolic target and a military target. If Grahamstown had been successfully seized by the amaXhosa the course of history may have been very different.

Grahamstown was named after the man considered by the amaXhosa to be the butcher of the Zuurveld, Colonel John Graham. He had arrived in the Zuurveld in 1809 and launched the scorched earth campaign of genocide proportions in the region with gusto and great brutality. Under orders of Lord Caledon, with massacre and destruction, he blazed a path through the Zuurveld wiping out and pushing back all amaXhosa in his path, even those working on white farms. Orders were given to shoot any Xhosa person on sight and by 1812 he had succeeded, where each of the previous three frontier conflicts with the Dutch had led to failure by the authorities to halt the expulsions of Boers from the area by the amaXhosa.

The battle of Grahamstown was thus highly symbolic and offered an opportunity to literally ‘do a Colonel Graham’ on the British.

The south eastern CapeZuurveld had been argued by the Europeans  to have been an ‘empty land’ – an argument which even in modern times is a popular historical untruth. Stellenbosch based commandos had done sorties as early as 1702 into the south eastern Cape region and come across amaXhosa long before the trek Boers. AmaXhosa oral history tells us that the Imidangwe clan lived around Graaf-Reinette before 1700. In the 18th century long before the trek Boers arrived the Kucha and Ntinde clans entered into an agreement with Chief Gola of the Gonaqua Khoena where they purchased the area between the Fish and the Sundays rivers for 800 head of cattle which the Gonaqua then took to Bruintjies Hoogte. It was these Gonaqua here at Bruintjies Hoogte that were the first to receive the trek Boer incursions. When the first Boers started arriving in the Zuurveld around 1770 its amaXhosa lived with them in peaceful coexistence. But then more and more arrived and they started to want to lay down their rules. The amaXhosa also disapprovingly witnessed how they treated their slaves and Khoena labourers. Furthermore they were using amaXhosa labourers who were not properly rewarded and they did not respect amaXhosa grazing rights for cattle and coveted the cattle of the amaXhosa.

The first approach of the amaXhosa was to use their traditional method of cattle reeving to caution and punish the Boer farmers for their transgressions. This entailed stealing cattle through raids and then returning it in a show of strength as to establish who was in charge. When this failed the amaXhosa took to expelling the Boers from the area at different periods and going to war, where after negotiated treaties established frameworks of rules. These became known as the first three frontier wars of resistance.

In 1799 Chief Nlambe led a mass movement into the Zuurveld to join his resident brother Mnyaluza to strengthen his hand. In coming together to make a stand they also joined up with a revolt by the southern Gqunukwebe amaXhosa and the Khoena Confederacy under Klaas Stuurman of the Gonaqua Khoena of the Gamtoos who had been forced into slave labour conditions and brutalised by the Boer farmers. The amaXhosa clans and Khoena joined forces to expel the Boers from the Zuurveld in the third Frontier war of Resistance and were largely successful in this endeavour against the weakened Dutch and the temporary occupying British government troops. Many runaway slaves given sanctuary by the amaXhosa also participated in this resistance.

The period 1800 to 1809 was a time when Makana prospered and earned respect as a leading figure amongst the amaXhosa. Allied to Chief Ndlambe, this was the learning ground for the young prophet Makana who was emerging as an important advisor to the Chief and one who was in turn influenced by other warrior contemporaries in times of war. From 1807 to 1810 Ndlambe had a relatively free reign in the Zuurveld after Ngqika had been defeated in the Thuthula civil war. Makana made his full transition to prophet-warrior during the period from 1811 to 1812 when he bore witness to the brutal wresting of the lands of the amaXhosa from them by Colonel Graham’s troops. Ndlambe and his people were impoverished by the scorched earth campaign by Colonel Graham and driven out of the Zuurveld to east of the Fish River to become completely reliant on King Ngqika.

At this time after the war, Makana held a mass ceremonial cleansing service and traditional slaughter of cattle on the beach at Gompo Rock near today’s East London, where he called on the people to reconnect with their ancestors so that the dead may arise to infuse their spirit of resistance with new life at this most terrible moment in the history of the amaXhosa. The nature of this traditional ceremony was greatly distorted by missionaries and colonial commentators.

Councillor in a time of civil conflict within the Rharabe amaXhosa

The character of Makana was also moulded by his experiences in being caught up in the civil conflict within the Rharabe amaXhosa. Like any large family the Rharabe had its own inner family disputes. In a complex extended family such as the royal family with its many structures and subjects scattered over a wide area, family disputes were easily able to descend into broader civil conflicts. The complexity of the regional environment and new social forces in the midst of the Rharabe contributed to escalating disputes and conflicts which well may have otherwise died down quickly. Social change within the Rharabe and broader amaXhosa society was a further contributor to civil conflicts becoming drawn out. The principal characters in the conflict were Chief Ndlambe and King Ngqika.

Like most family disputes there were ebbs and flows in the Rharabe disputes with relatives and councillors coming in from the wings to put out the fires. At times Ngqika was in ascendency and at other times Ndlambe was on top, with each having very low points at different stages. Over time ‘blood is thicker than water’ and what at one time may seem insurmountable, at another, a resolution was able to be found. Even at the height of their conflict, stepfather and uncle Ndlambe, and stepson and nephew Ngqika, there was always an awareness of being part of the same royal family and communications remained open. Ndlambe was not just Ngqika’s father’s brother, he was also stepfather to Ngqika because Ndlambe had taken his brother’s wife a his own. Perhaps these dynamics also played itself out with Ngqika being 4 years old when his uncle and stepfather became regent. The regency rule continued until 1796 some 13 years later.

The roots of the conflict go back to the social change within the amaXhosa after King Phalo had passed away. and the single royal lineage gave way to two branches of the amaXhosa in the form of the great house of the Gcaleka’s and the right hand house of the Rharabe. This also had a territorial dimension and a period of adjustment played itself out over a few generations. Hardly had this began to settle, when King Rharabe died and his heir Ngqika was too young to rule. Rule was thus exercised by his uncle regent. Together with his councillors the regent ruled for 13 years until Ngqika came of age when he completed his initiation into manhood. This scenario was unsettling given the new regional dynamics with the white settlers.

As with many impetuous youth, there was still a way to go in terms of maturing and the polishing of character but the 17 year old Ngqika was eager to demonstrate his mettle to his fellow graduating initiates. He wanted people to know immediately that he was the new authority and he also wanted the colonial authorities to recognise the same.

While it was vital to the Rharabe that some form of continued sharing of authority and good counsel between Ndlambe and Ngqika had to hold at this time of intrusion by the colonial forces, the concept of sharing his stage with stepfather Ndlambe  could not be seen as an option by Ngqika. He overstepped the mark in terms of due respect and protocol by humiliating his stepfather after Ndlambe had very amicably handed over to the young King shortly after he had been inaugurated. It was this initial act of a brash and inexperienced youth that soured relations between the Ngqika and Nlambe and led to a lifetime of a peculiar conflict between the two.

The problem could have been easily mended by councillors on both sides but the young King was peeved that many of his subjects had decided to move off with the former regent when he left the Great Place.

When Ndlambe protested at his humiliation, Ngqika retaliated to teach his uncle a lesson to ‘know his place’. At a later stage when conflict had receded, Julia Wells in her comprehensive research, quotes a story where Ngqika is purported to have told his uncle, “When you were my tutor, you taught me to be a generous king, and since I became King I hope I have taught you to be a faithful subject.” Julia wells also makes the observation that regardless of their conflicts, Ndlambe still showed due respect to Ngqika as King and that Ngqika still turned to Ndlambe for advice.

The youthful Ngqika was also the first of the amaXhosa leaders to have to deal with the Europeans – the Boers, the missionaries, the Governors from the Cape and the British soldiers. It was a huge responsibility and nothing could have prepared him for this task which called for great wisdom. The civil conflict which went on for 24 years, played into the hands of the British forces with their ‘divide and rule’ tactics and posed one of the greatest threats to amaXhosa social cohesion in times of war.

The differences between the two royals were differences around respect for protocols, and difference of young and old, stepfather and son and of divergent styles. It also became differences of tactics on how to deal with their common enemy. These differences at times crossed the threshold of the acceptable in broader amaXhosa society at crucial points in time with devastating consequences for both leaders.

Makana entered this mix as spiritual adviser to Ndlambe while Ngqika took on another dynamic young preacher as his spiritual advisor, namely the evangelist Ntsikana. And thus emerged yet another dimension, of different approaches to the Christian faith that had been introduced. Ngqika and Ndlambe’s conflicts slowly began to include a playing out of a spiritual war between their two proxies Ntsikana and Makana.  Each was proponent of diametrically opposed interpretations of the Christian faith. They also differed in their approaches to the colonialists. Makana’s war started as a war of words, ideas and spiritual expressions.

As councillor to Ndlambe, Makana inevitably became a warrior in this civil conflict and it in turn dovetailed with his anti-colonial resistance.

Makana’s War

In January 1818 Major Fraser set out across the FishRiver to attack Ndlambe but had a rude awakening when his small commando found themselves almost surrounded by 2000 warriors and had to beat a hasty retreat. To impress his superiors Major Fraser set upon his own British allies – Ngqika’s Rharabe and, robbed them of a couple of thousand head of cattle. This outrageous act of blunder ended up temporarily uniting the followers of Ngqika and Ndlambe against the British, as anger spread through the territory. King Hintsa and the Gcaleka and, their neighbours the Tembus, were also drawn into what began to emerge as an anti-British amaXhosa confederacy of the aggrieved. The ferment included a number of Khoena groups as well as fugitive slaves who had fled their masters in the Colony.

One of the latter groups allied with amaXhosa Chief Kratu. They made common cause under the direction of Khoena leader Klaas Geswind  in a plot to attack Uitenhage and kill the hated Landdrost Cuyler. The plot was uncovered and Klaas was tried and hanged while the other co-conspirators were sentenced to imprisonment on RobbenIsland.

The confederacy of the aggrieved did not hold together and instead of a focus on their British enemies, a civil conflict panned out between King Ngqika who had become distrusted and isolated and the rest of the allies led by Ndlambe. The culmination of this civil conflict was that King Ngqika was defeated at Amalinde in November 1818.

Faced with this situation King Ngqika appealed for British support against Ndlambe and in December 1818  Ndlambe was attacked in a devastating raid by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Brerton. The British knew that the weak underbelly of Ndlambe and his people were the cattle herds on which they relied for sustenance. The aim was to starve Ndlambe and his people into submission. The British attacked the cattle herds of 25 000 head of cattle, destroying some and capturing the rest which they handed over to King Ngqika. The amaXhosa were united in their outrage about this raid which caused great suffering amongst many people as it impacted negatively on the livelihoods and sustenance of Ndlambe’s people.

Julia Wells in her excellent appraisal on the lead up to the attack on Grahamstown, elaborates in fine detail on these events and argues that the Fraser and Brerton incidents became the rallying point for the ensuing war of Makana and the attack on Grahamstown. She shows how neither Makana nor the amaXhosa started the fifth frontier war but it was rather these two significant attacks by the British that unleashed a state of war in which the battle of Grahamstown became the most significant of battles.  The Fraser and Brerton events provided an anchor for the orations of Makana which had people near and far spellbound and fired up.

This climate produced the perfect storm where Makana’s spiritual, oratory and military skills came together at the right time and place as he became respected in the role of Itola. His became the rallying call for all freedom loving amaXhosa to join in the war. The amaXhosa had gone through 40 years of land grabs and suffered aberration upon aberration at the hands of the Boers and the British. Makana made a rousing call for united action by all of the aggrieved and promised to raise a force like no other to ensure a British defeat such as they never experienced before in Africa. His objective was to halt the British advance and to drive them out of the land.

But Makana was not just talk. He was a planner and intelligence chief too. He was also a strategist. He was not interested in carrying out a simple raid. It was his belief that a major demonstration of conviction and strength was needed to teach the British a lesson in war.

In the first four months of 1819 Makana launched a preliminary offensive of some note in the Zuurveld, expelling settler farmers in his path. He conducted over 21 raids and battles. This was both the curtain-raiser to the Grahamstown attack and also the decoy. Furthermore it was a means to collect the material resources to produce and build up the weaponry for the attack on Grahamstown. The logistics of the Grahamstown battle was a huge challenge against which Makana’s abilities must also be evaluated. Julia Wells in her comprehensive research on this period calls this the ‘guerrilla warfare’ stage of Makana’s war. This ‘war of the flea’ wore down the British quite considerably. Makana’s raids and battles in the Zuurveld over these four months forced the British to change their military leadership and to adopt new tactics. This was how Lord Charles Somerset ended up appointing Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Willshire as British military commander on the frontier.

Julia Wells in her research points out those traditional accounts of these times that focus only on the Grahamstown defeat of Makana which attempt to paint a distorted picture of a ‘foolhardy’ attack without any context. She demonstrates the need to separate out colonial traditionalist, missionary influenced African traditionalist, revisionist, African liberationist, and post-revisionist research traditions in arguments to analyse the life, times and war drama of Makana. A detailed rebuff of many disparaging arguments on Makana and his role using a narrative of the events, which cross-references a wealth of previous research and commentary, results in the interestingly new and refreshing conclusions by Ms Wells. Ultimately it is proven that the lens through which one examines the available resources is what determines the outcomes of all research and commentary on Makana. It is from such an approach that Makana emerges as a truly remarkable and most understated man.

On the amaXhosa side of the war, Makana held the position of ‘Itola’ and shared the command of the Grahamstown battle with Chief Ndlambe’s son Mdushane. Chief Phato the son of Chief Chungwa of the Gqunukwebe and King Hintsa of the Gcaleka also played leading roles in mobilising for the attack. Up to 10 000 warriors were amassed and thousands of spears and other war-gear had to be produced for the battle. This mammoth event was organised secretly whereby the amaXhosa maintained the element of surprise. Makana also commanded spies amongst the British in Grahamstown to provide intelligence.

Makana through one of his agents in Grahamstown, Hendrik Ngcuka, provided false intelligence to the British on amaXhosa intentions. As a result of the false information the British forces were depleted of a quarter of its garrisoned fighters as these rode off to investigate Ngcuka’s story.

The rallying point for the battle was the secluded Icibilentonga pond some way from the FishRiver en route to Grakamstown. From the rallying point the amaXhosa had to march over 20 kilometres to the outskirts of Grahamstown largely by cover of night. By dawn troops of warriors were within five to ten kilometres of Grahamstown. Makana moved around to motivate and address the troops of warriors throughout the night and at dawn met with the other chiefs to give final command and direction to detachments and squads. He was to take the lead on horseback with a small, and the only, cavalry detachment.

When the amaXhosa appeared at Grahamstown on 22 April 1819, the town’s inhabitants and the British commanding officers were completely surprised and taken aback. This was even although British frontier commander Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Willshire had received a cryptic war-protocol message from Makana on the previous day as a warning on the pending attack. His message to Willshire was that he would be joining him for breakfast. Willshire had shrugged it off with an ‘oh yeah’ response, saying that Makana ‘would find him in all readiness’. Effectively he arrogantly did not believe Makana.

The element of surprise was not absolute in that Makana did not carry out a night time attack as he easily could have done. The attack on Grahamstown carried a deliberate message of a nation aggrieved at being invaded and it was clear that in terms of the protocols of war Makana was wanting to make a statement in this regard.

It was pure arrogance on the part of the British that they were unprepared for the battle for Grahamstown. The garrison was spread out all over the Grahamstown surrounds. Willshire himself was some five kilometres out of town and literally had to race back to town with only ten minutes to spare before the first attacks were launched.

By all accounts the amaXhosa attack was not a wild move on the town. It carried all the hallmarks of good planning, supported by intelligence and an analysis of enemy tactics. The amaXhosa used conventional battle tactics, encircling Grahamstown and attacking on its weakest side where the British had not expected them to have attacked. The amaXhosa attacked in formations and pinpointed their targets.

The weakness of the amaXhosa is that they did not have modern weaponry in the form of guns and artillery, nor did they have sufficient cavalry to breach the enemy’s defences. They had also not chosen to use the surest tactic which would have resulted in the sure defeat of their enemy – namely a night time assault. The only weaponry that they had was their spears and cowhide shields. British cannon loaded with shot and shrapnel wiped out wave upon wave of warriors as they attacked. Cannons on high ground and at the defence lines took out numerous warriors with each blast while marksmen picked off others. Only the small squad of cavalry led by Makana came anywhere near to hand to hand combat but also had to retreat in the face of cannon fire.

The pressure that the British faced was that some of their defence lines were cut off from supplies of powder and munitions. The warriors just had to keep up the pressure for long enough and keep drawing British fire until their foes munitions were spent. At the same time the amaXhosa had to keep their casualties low. This tactic would have worked had it not been for the sudden and opportune involvement of a factor that no intelligence would have foreseen.

A Khoena trader with the British garrison who had been some distance away was drawn to Grahamstown by the noise of the cannon fire. Jan Boesak was a man who was highly experienced in warfare and also knew the amaXhosa leaders by sight. The British garrison was also Jan Boesak’s bread and butter as he supplied them with buffalo meat. He and his men broke through the amaXhosa lines and connected with the mounted CapeCorps to whom he provided leadership. They now constituted a formidable force of mounted marksmen. Boesak’s men started picking off the known amaXhosa leaders and through their high speed mobile troops brought in a support dynamic to the artillery. At the same time the supply lines between the munitions and the artillery cannons was opened by one of the civilian women in Grahamstown. These two actions closed the only tactic for success still open to the amaXhosa who were then forced to retreat.

Illustrating the success of the divide and rule tactic, the British were successful largely due to the intervention of the Khoena free-trader Jan Boesak and the conscripted Khoena of the CapeCorps. The Battle of Grahamstown had Khoena on both sides and Makana himself was part Khoena through his mother’s heritage. The Khoena amongst the amaXhosa were amongst the bravest and most effective warriors.

The victory of the British at Grahamstown was decisive in the 40 year struggle of the amaXhosa to hold on to the Zuurveld. The frontier would be pushed back effectively to the KeiskammaRiver, with the territory between the FishRiver and KeiskammaRiver becoming a ‘neutral’ British regulated territory. Four more major frontier wars would ensue over another 60 years. Makana lost no esteem in the great battle of Grahamstown. Indeed, instead his name became legendary and inspirational to liberation fighters over the next two centuries.

After Egazini – surrender and ‘Prisoner of war’

Makana’s War carried on for five months after the battle for Grahamstown and was fought bitterly with much losses on both sides.  In August 1719, a couple of days after the decisive defeat of Ndlambe in a major battle in the FishRiverValley, Makana shocked Andries Stockenström by walking into his camp at Trompettersdrift in an act of surrender.

Makana was said by Stockenström to have ‘displayed an air of pride and self-possession.’ He was prepared to sacrifice his own liberty and possibly his life to take the heat off his people. Makana had clearly thought out the surrender which also seemed to take the focus off British attempts to hunt down Chief Ndlambe. It was further also Makana’s attempt to invoke the protocols of war through a negotiated end to the war by the vanquished. It was perceived that a better deal could be negotiated with the respected Stockenmström rather than with Willshire with whom their was no trust. His councillors soon emerged to conduct negotiations. But Stockenström advised that only Willshire could preside over a formal surrender and any negotiations. The British had no respect for this scenario and immediately incarcerated Makana in preparation to have him removed from the region. There was no way that the honourable public enemy number one, the Kaffer Chief Lynx, as they called him, was going to be allowed to walk away. They also declared that all the leading amaXhosa chiefs were wanted persons and issued an order to the population to deliver them up dead or alive.

It was a dramatic moment with Makana making it quite clear that he was not captured but that he was volunteering to lay down his arms. He boldly stated   “People say that I occasioned this war. Let me see if by giving myself up it will restore the peace.”

Stockenström declared Makana to be a prisoner (of war) and handed him over to Makana’s arch enemy, Lieutenant Colonel Willshire who took Makana to Grahamstown before moving him to Uitenhage, whereafter he was held on the ship HMS Nautilus. He was then transferred to the ship HMS Redwing and shipped off to Cape Town by sea. In Cape Town without any trial or sentence Makana was removed to RobbenIsland and isolated some distance away from the other prisoners.

Makana’s enemies even feared him when he was their prisoner. Makana was kept prisoner in a small house near the harbour at the bottom of the garden of the whaler John Murray’s house. Makana’s quarters was around a kilometre and a half from the male prisoners quarters.

The underlying truth of Makana’s comment indicating that he rejected that he was ‘the cause of war’ and by the sarcasm of saying ‘let us see whether giving myself up will restore the peace’ was demonstrated by the fact that war was to break out four more times over the next 60 years, long after his death. Makana’s War was however a defining moment in the conquest of the amaXhosa. In a smaller but equally bold re-enactment, an attack was made on Fort Beaufort 30 years later led by Hermanus Ngxukumeshe Matroos who lost his life in that attack.

After his surrender and the colonial declaration that he was a prisoner, Makana made two escape bids and was captured each time. His fighting spirit continued.

As a result of Makana’s war the British found that the only way that they would be able to hold onto the Zuurveld and effectively take over all of Xhosaland, would be to flood the area with thousands of British settlers who needed to lay down permanent roots. Thus in 1820 shortly after the end of Makana’s war over 5000 British settlers poured into the extended CapeColony and took over the traditional lands of the amaXhosa.

Under the British, black South Africa experienced a much worse and more intense colonial onslaught carried out by ruthless and well organised military invaders, such as never been seen during the Dutch colonial period.

Escape from Robben Island – the death of Makana

With the cream of the crop of resistance leaders incarcerated on Robben Island, an escape plot was initiated by Khoena leader Hans Trompetter and a break-out organising group was formed which was made up of Hans Trompetter, Johan Smidt, William Holmes and Abraham Leendert.

Makana was not part of the organisers because he had been isolated from all of the other prisoners and was held in a small building more than a kilometre and a half from the others. It is a sign of Makana’s esteem that one of the first actions taken by the rebels was to go and find him and to release him. It is speculated that the organisation of the breakout took quite a few months.

In the dark hours of the morning of 9 August 1820 Smidt attacked and seized the weapon of a sentry on  duty. In carrying out this action Smidt then freed the other prisoners and they took over the armoury where they distributed arms and ammunition to the rebels.

Now armed, the group released more prisoners amongst whom was Makana and Khoena Chief David Stuurman who was ill at the time. Hans Trompetter and a group of 8 amaXhosa prisoners of war had formed a squad to rescue Makana from his place of internment in the garden enclosure at Murrays House.

By this time the garrison was awakened by the commotion and a short but intense fire-fight ensued with injuries on both sides in this battle. One soldier was to die of his wounds in that fight. After the skirmish with the garrison, there was a group of 26 amaXhosa and Khoena rebels, plus two European convicts and 2 slaves, who then seized 3 whaler boats after they took over John Murray’s whale house for the escape across the sea..

Johan Smidt took charge of one boat of ten persons; the second boat of ten was under the control of William Holmes and the third boat of ten was under Hans Trompetter. Also on this third boat was Makana and David Stuurman. Only Smidt’s boat made it safely to shore with all ten landed.

In the case of Holmes boat, all but three of the ten perished in the sea. Trompetter’s boat capsized in the rough surf off Bloubergstrand and this is how Makana met his end along with 5 others on board. Only four, including Trompetter and Stuurman survived. Makana it was reported by the survivours, brave to the end, clung to a rock, shouting encouragement to his comrades, before he was consumed by the sea and drowned.

Fourteen of the 30 escapees drowned in the escape bid. Two more were killed by those who tracked them down. Only two persons evaded capture. Twelve escapees were finally put on trial. All were given heavy sentences; even some of the dead. Khoena Chief David Stuurman had twice escaped RobbenIsland, so he was thus sentenced to deportation to Australia where he died in 1830.

After this event, because of his larger than life reputation amongst the people including his own family, Makana was believed to be alive and at large, even for many decades after. His long lifetime walk to freedom had come to an end, but his spirit kept marching on in new generations. “Come Makana, Come Makana Come Makana Come!”  Comrade Jimmy, an MK liberation bard in the 1980s, reflected that the spirit of Makana was alive as ever.


Barry Gilder; Songs and Secrets – South Africa from Liberation to Governance; Jacana; johannesburg; (2012) – Andries Stockenström; Autobiography of Sir Andries Stockenström – Sometime Lt-Governor of the Easter Province of  the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope Volume 1; 1887 Edited CW Hutton; Juta; Cape Town (1964) – B Le Cordeur (edt); The Journal of Charles Lennox Stretch; Maskew Miller; Cape Town; (1988) – Ben Maclennan; A proper degree of terror – John Graham and the Cape’s Eastern frontier; Ravan Press; Johannesburg; (1986) – Charles Lennox Stretch; Makana and the attack on Grahamstown in 1819; Cape Monthly Magazine Volume 12; (1876) – Ezra Tisani; Nxele and Ntsikana – a critical study of the religious outlooks of two nineteenth century Xhosa prophets and their consequences for Xhosa Christian practice in the Eastern Cape; MA Thesis; UCT (1987) – G Tylden; Major-General Sir Thomas Willshire GCB and the attack on Grahamstown on 22 April 1819; Africana Notes and News Volume 9; (1953) – George McCall Theal; History of South Africa from 1795 to 1872 – Volume 1; Allen & Unwin; London; (1897) – J B Pieres; The house of Phalo – A history of the Xhosa people in the days of their independence; Raven Press; (1981) – J B Pieres; Nxele, Ntsikana and the origins of Xhosa religious reaction; Journal of African history Volume 20 No 1; (1979) – Julia C Wells; The return of Makhanda – Exploring the legend; UKZN Press; Scottsville; (2012) – Max de Preez; Of tricksters, tyrants and turncoats: More unusual stories from South Africa’s past; Zebra Pres; Cape Town (2008) – Martin Legassick; The struggle for the Eastern Cape 1800 – 1854 : Subjugation and the roots of South African Democracy; KMM; Johannesburg; (2010) – Noel Mostert; Frontiers – The epic of South Africa’s creation and the Tragedy of the Xhosa people; Alfred A Knopf; New York; (1992) – Richard Elphick & Hermann Giliomee; The shaping of South African society 1652 – 1820; Maskew Miller Longman; Cape Town; (1979) – Thomas Willshire; Attack on Grahamstown in 1819; Grahamstown Journal; (26 Sept 1846) – VC Malherbe; David Stuurman – “Last Chief of the Hottentots”; African Studies Volume 39 No 1; (1980)

1 thought on “FIVE STORIES

  1. This is very rich history but what i want to know what happened to the wife and children of this great mans particularly of David Stuurman.

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