History of South Africa podcast

A series that seeks to tell the story of the South Africa in some depth. Presented by experienced broadcaster/podcaster Des Latham and updated weekly, the episodes will take a listener through the various epochs that have made up the story of South Africa.

Subscribe to this channel

You can subscribe to new audio episodes published on this channel. You can follow updates using the channel's RSS feed, or via other audio platforms you may already be using.

RSS Feed

You can use any RSS feed reader to follow updates, even your browser. We recommend using an application dedicated to listening podcasts for the best experience. iOS users can look at Overcast or Castro. Pocket Casts is also very popular and has both iOS and Android versions. Add the above link to the application to follow this podcast channel.

Apple Podcasts

This channel is available on iTunes. Follow the above link to subscribe to it in your iTunes application or the Apple Podcast application.

Player.fm

This channel is available for listening in the Pocket Casts web player, or via the iOS and Android Pocket Casts applications. Follow the above link to listen on Pocket Casts.

Pocket Casts

This channel is available for listening in the Pocket Casts web player, or via the iOS and Android Pocket Casts applications. Follow the above link to listen on Pocket Casts.

Spotify

This channel is available on Spotify. Follow the link above to view episodes on Spotify.

Signup to iono.fm

Sign up for a free iono.fm user account to start building your playlist of podcast channels. You'll be able to build a personalised RSS feed you can follow or listen with our web player.
10
SEP

Episode 31 – Trade increases between Delagoa Bay and the Tswana and the Dutch Reformed Church makes its mark in the Cape

This is episode 31 and we’ll now take a broader look at what was going on across southern Africa after a few episodes peering closely at the northern Cape. We’ll also take a closer look at how the Cape government was expanding.

Sleeping giants were to awaken by the last quarter of the 18th Century, with the emergence and expansion of a number of increasingly centralized chiefdoms in the region between the northern and central Drakensberg and the Indian Ocean. A similar process was taking place at pretty much the same time among the Tswana-speaking societies on the southeastern fringes of the Kalahari Desert.

There is not much documented evidence from this region which makes the telling of the story slightly more difficult. But as we’ve heard over the course of this series already, the wonders of archaeology have begun to paint a scientific picture – and historians have pieced together some of the emerging states of this time.
We also hear about the growing role of the Dutch Reformed Church. The experience of VOC political institutions particularly the local government, formed part of this heritage. But the strongest unifying institution both emotionally and intellectually, was provided by the Dutch Reformed Church.

The doctrine of this church was primitive Calvinism as embodied in the Heidelberg catechism and the decrees of the synod of Dort. Its emphasis was on the old testament and the doctrine was heavily weighted towards the concept of predestination. This particularly suited the colonial whites struggling to survive in a tough environment and accustomed from birth to treating nonwhites as slaves or serfs, and more often than not, enemies.
05
SEP

Episode 30 – Shipwrecked women and their Xhosa clan, the art of making amasi and the amatakati

This is episode 30 and we’re covering the mid-18th Century, including tales of shipwrecked sailors, the art of making amasi and dealing with the amatakati or witches.

We’ve heard much about the developments in the north of the Cape, the bokkeveld and the Roodezand up to 1740. Now we’ll swing our gaze to observe what was going on at the same time in the Eastern Cape frontier.

It’s vaguely defined at least at this time as the area lying east of the Gamtoos River. This is important because its here that black South Africans speaking a Bantu language first encountered white settlers as distinct from traders or even missionaries.

The Nguni people however had a much longer connection with Europeans. Survivors of shipwrecks starting around 1554 lived amongst the Xhosa until they met survivors from other wrecks or from expeditions sent to find them. Many of these former sailors refused to return home.

They were living as Thembu or Xhosa and had found the lifestyle to their liking. For example in 1705 an expedition sent to Natal to look for timber found an Englishman living with African wives there who was so well satisfied that two of the crew actually deserted to join him instead of the other way around.

Two other men who survived from an early 18th Century wreck on the Mpondo Coast became progenitors of the clan still known as the Lungu – short for Abelungu in other words, the white clan. A girl wrecked with them later married Mpondo chief Xwabiso. Her daughter in turn was met by explorer Jacob van Reenen in 1790. By then she was an old woman. But she wasn’t the only European woman who’d been saved by locals as we’ll hear.

And if you consider the statistics regarding shipwrecks off the South African coast as a whole you’ll begin to understand how these first contacts between Nguni and European developed.
29
AUG

Episode 29 – Murder, massacre and pacification of the Roodezand Khoi while settler rebel Barbier meets a grisly end.

This is episode 29 and we’re dealing with the pacification of the Khoisan in 1739. The Bushman War of that year had broken out as we’ve heard over repeated incursions into Khoi territory by settlers who’d abused the hospitality of Captain Gal of the Great Namaqua – then shot him and eight of his family for good measure before driving off most of his cattle.

This was the last straw for Khoi who rose up and began burning Dutch farms along the Olifant’s River. Not to be confused with the Olifants River in the far north of the country – Limpopo province – in fact the Olifants flows through the Kruger Park. No, our Olifants is in the Cape.

The Olifants here rises in the Winterhoek Mountains near modern day Ceres and flows northwesterly through a deep valley that widens downstream near Clanwilliam and drains into the Atlantic ocean.

Remember last week we heard that the Frenchman and company deserter Estienne Barbier had been hiding out in this area protected by various frontier’s folk as he tried to instigate a settler uprising against the VOC.

Ranged against him were men of the company including the powerful owner of many farms, Kruywagen. The latter had been hunting Barbier and trying to pacify the Khoi at the same time and when his commando returned to Stellenbosch at the end of May 1739, Barbier was still on the run.

The Governor had declared Barbier enemy number one and placed a bounty on his head – dead or alive. The northern frontier zone was unstable but the major military operation required to end the fighting would only begin in Spring.

In the meantime the pressure on trying to maintain some kind of semblance of law and order fell on the shoulders of the various veldkorporaals like Barend Lubbe. He was in charge of the Olifant’s River and was instructed to make sure he did not antagonize the “Hottentot Pokkebaas Claas” or any other peaceful Khoi.
22
AUG

Episode 28 – The Bushman War of 1739 and the role of French outlaw Estienne Barbier

This is episode 28, the Bushman War of 1739. Last episode we heard about the growing number of clashes reported in the run up to this full-scale war that did not last long – but extended in a great arc from the Piketberg in the north-west to the valley of the Langeberg in the south-east. It was the most extensive war between the settlers and the Khoisan since Van Riebeeck had arrived in 1652.

Settlers were chased out of almost 60 cattle stations and farms, and more importantly, the stated aim of the Khoisan was to drive the Dutch out of their land and possibly – out of South Africa. More alarmingly, some of the Khoisan raiders were armed with muskets instead of their spears and bows and arrows.

Many of the Khoisan leaders were also former servants of the Dutch farmers – which made for a particularly bitter confrontation as you’ll hear.
The alarm bells rang back in Stellenbosch when they heard a notorious settler trouble-maker had arrived in the northern frontier zone – the deserter and former Company sergeant, Estienne Barbier. Frontier farmers joined him as he called for a rural rebellion against the VOC, and social banditry accelerated. The Boers on the frontier now began lashing out at all Khoi nearby.

This was not going to end happily for anyone
15
AUG

Episode 27 – The slaughtering in the Sandveld and the causes of the 1739 frontier war

This is episode 27 and we’re dealing with the period in the first half of 1700 – give or take a decade.

Last episode we heard how the TrekBoer economy had developed and a new farmer had emerged on the landscape called the Boer.

The descendents of Dutch and French immigrants were beginning to expand their footprint across southern Africa and of course the repercussions were enormous.

Remember last episode we heard the minister of the Church at Drakenstein Petrus van Arkel who had written an extraordinary letter to Governor De Charonnes based in Cape Town. The minister had been shocked by a report he’d just received about the actions of a settler raiding party which made it all the way to Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape and they had been particularly brutal in their treatment of the Khoi.

A party of 70 barterers – or as the Minister pointed out – murderers and robbers – had taken 200 rixdollars worth of goods with them when they setout from Stellenbosch and headed to the Gonakkens as the Dutch called them – the Gonaqua near present day Qeberga or Port Elizabeth.

The tribe was massacred and all their cattle and sheep were carried off. The Gonaqua who survived followed the Dutch raiding party and begged to be killed or taken captive as they were going to starve to death without their animals. Van Arkel back in Drakenstein was briefed by the shocked Khoi from the Peninsular who had joined the raiding expedition not realizing it was going to be a murdering expedition.
08
AUG

Episode 26 – The Boers begin expanding across the Cape frontier

As we heard last episode, the direction of trekker expansion was largely a function of the nature of the terrain, along with the availability of water and the quality of pasture. What was to take place through the 18th century was a steady growth of loan farms that extended northwards along rivers and eastwards between mountain ranges, or following the coastal lowlands.

The main areas settled before 1720 included the country north of the Berg River around the Piketberg, and to the east of the Hottentots Hollands mountains. Trekboers arrived along the Oliphants River Valley about the same time, along with the upper Breede River and adjacent valleys and river basins. Like the isiXhosa far to the north east, it was the streams and rivers that determined trekboer settlement. These two people were going to bump into each other shortly.

The Dutch settlers pushed eastwards into the coastal areas south of the Langeberg Mountains, then by the 1730s the trekboers were entering the Little Karoo and Swellendam which was settled in 1745.

To the north, the Dutch speaking livestock farmers crossed the arid plain between the Cape Mountains and the Roggeveld escarpment in 1745 and occupied the most accessible portions of the interior plateau. They then headed mainly north or northeasterly into the Hantamsberg which was settled in the 1750s and the Nieuveld in the 1760s.

By the 1760s trekkers were spreading along the summer rainfall area leading to farms being established in the good sites of the Cambedo including Graaff-Reinet. During the 1770s trekboers occupied the areas to the north and east of the Sneeuberg Mountains, along the southeast of the country behind Bruintjes Hoogte. By the 1770s the VOC was trying to stop colonists from expanding further east of the Gamtoos River - but trekboers had already taken out loan farms beyond this dividing line.
01
AUG

Episode 25 – The Xhosa social system and the TrekBoer Economy is born

This is episode 25 and we’re following the early history of the Xhosa. They were about to come into direct contact with the Dutch expanding from the Cape Peninsular.
Remember last episode we heard about the growing bizarre behaviour by Gcaleka who was one of Phalo’s sons – and his propensity to believe himself a diviner. That was after he escaped drowning in the musical sounding Ngxingxolo River.
Phalo died in 1775 – but Gcaleka who became chief died only three years later. I was going to cover the infighting between Gcaleka and his brother Rharhabe but will leave that for a little later. We’re following the years of history here in a timeline format and I don’t want us to get ahead of ourselves.
Just a few comments about the Xhosa social system which is going to have a bearing on our story as the Trek Boers came up against their clans.
The matrix of Xhosa political and social organization was the small village led by the homestead-head.
He and sometimes she, was drawn into wider relationships partly through membership of a patrilineage. His brothers, their father and his brothers, their grandfather and his brothers and so on for four or five generations to the earliest ancestor remembered by all these lineages.

So it was an extension of time and space where it was father and his sons, and their uncles and their sons, uncles and their nephews, elder brothers and younger brothers.

The elevation of the amaTshawe to the position of royal clan did not alter these existing linealogies, the chiefs still referred to each other as older brother or umkhuluwa or younger brother known as umninawa. The king was known as inkosi enkhulu which literally meant big chief, but also means the chief who is the eldest son.
With that, its time to head back south to the expanding Dutch settlement in the Cape of the early 1700s. We’ll return to the Xhosa soon.
25
JUL

Episode 24 – The foundation of the Xhosa Kingdom, Tshawe, Phalo, Gcaleka and Rharhabe.

This is episode 24, the Foundation of the Xhosa Kingdom, the heroes Tshawe and Phalo.

I’ve made use of a number of books and documents in the series so far, but Jeff Perez’s House of Phalo is probably my favourite source material mainly because he lectured me at Rhodes University in the mid-1980s. His book on the Xhosa is still the go-to research document and I’m leaning quite heavily on the work for this episode.

Let’s take ourselves back to Xhosa pre-history, that time in early oral tradition where myths and legends are difficult to separate from reality.

The Xhosa people of today think of themselves as being the common descendents of a great hero named Xhosa who lived many hundreds of years ago. Some believe he was the son of Mnguni who gave the name to the Nguni language – and brothers of other kingdoms such as the pre-Zulu Ndwandwe or Mthethwa, as well as the Swazi, or the Zulu themselves.
The word Xhosa is a Khoi word meaning ‘Angry Men’ and Vete who is the main historian of the nearby Mpondomise people believes they were named by the amaThembu.

Remember we met the amaThembu last episode, the people who lived on the boundaries of the Xhosa and were regarded as poorer because their land was less fertile.

The earliest historical occurrance specific to the Xhosa was the installation of the amaTshawe as the royal family – and the story of Tshawe is probably the best-known of all Xhosa traditions. John Soga wrote about this in his work South Eastern Bantu which is a highly respected original document outlining the people of Xhosaland.
18
JUL

Episode 23 – A trip through ancient Xhosaland

This is episode 23 and its time to shift our attention away from the Dutch in the Cape to the amaXhosa.

At the turn of the 18th Century there were signs of increased conflict in the region as the Khoekhoe began to feel the pressures of the expanding Dutch settlements which spread out from the southern Cape.

The boundaries of the territory occupied by the Xhosa fluctuated considerably over time but in the years between 1700 and the mid 1800s they were limited to the area east of the Sunday’s River and West of the Mbashe River. They lived along the coastal strip which separates South Africa’s inland plateau from the Indian Ocean.

It’s an area of temperate grassland which yields a variety of crops such as maize, sorghum, tobacco and pumpkins. However the soils are shallow and better suited to stock farming rather than intensive agriculture. Rain falls in a succession of thunder storms through Summer – basically between October and February. The land is well drained by numerous short rivers which run from the escarpment down to the sea.

None of these is navigable for any great distance and the Xhosa have no taste for fish nor a tradition of building boats. There are no mineral deposits of any significance – those that exist are ironstone around the Tyhume and Kei Rivers. And yet they were and are a metal working people having traded metals with people further west and north for generations.

The landscape is incredibly varied – and these characteristics have led to diverse clan associations as we’ll see. It is very important to note that as a people, the Xhosa’s traditions stretch back far longer than the Zulu, their more powerful neighbours to the north.

To simplify things we identify four major groups of Xhosa in adjacent belts running parallel to the coast. IN the far north close to the mountains of the interior – the Drakensburg as well as a second tier of smaller ranges further south – few Xhosa settled.
11
JUL

Episode 22 – Islam at the Cape, Adam Tas vs the Governor and a radical new land policy

This is episode 22 and we’re dealing with a number of things. First is the arrival in the Cape of an influential Muslim Cleric called Sheik Yusufs al-Taj al-Khwalwari al-Maqasari who was to have a major impact on the colony.

We’ll also hear about what was going on across southern Africa in the first two decades of the 18th Century – a time of major change which set the tone for the expansion of colonialism for the next two hundred years.

Shayk Yusufs was exiled to the Cape from his home in Java in 1694 and was settled at Zandvlier on the False Bay Coast along with fifty of his followers. The VOC officials were highly aware of his influence and attempts were made to isolate him from the mass of the Cape population but these failed.
Van der Stel owned a private estate, Vergelegen, which was the foundation of the present day Somerset West and its wine route.

He granted himself the in 1700 and he spent much of the VOC resources on its development. This allowed him an unfair advantage and led to strained relationships with the local “free burghers” as you’ve heard.

His unilateral actions determining who could participate in the monopoly of wine and meat and eventually triggered a revolt amongst the farmers led by a man called Adam Tas.

He was born in Amsterdam and arrived in the Cape in 1697 as a freeburgher to take up quarters with his uncle, Henning Husing. Unlike most burghers, he was well educated and his diary – albeit carefully edited by the VOC later – provides interesting reading.
So in 1714 a momentous decision was taken to permit loan farming or LENINGPLAAT to develop east of the mountains. For a small fee, a farmer was given the use of at least 6000 acres on which to graze his cattle for a specific period of time. This was ideal for stock farmers who could lease two such farms and then leave one to lie fallow.
04
JUL

Episode 21 – The Nguni move west, maize arrives and smallpox eviscerates the Cape

This is episode 21 and we’re probing the growth of Nguni societies – as well as the terrible smallpox epidemic of 1713.

First a note about historical records. As I’ve mentioned the use of archaeological surveys and oral history along with specific tools used such as pottery and metal artifacts provides quite a bit of detail about the history of the Nguni and Sotho as well as the Tswana in South Africa.

However, the oral history comes with an obvious warning. And nowhere is that more important than along the Eastern seaboard – the future home of the Zulu. After the development of Zulu power in early 1800, oral historians were pressurized to tell the story from the point of view of what had been a tiny clan before Shaka came along in the early 19th Century.

This narrative cleansing if you like expunged a great deal of the knowledge traditional societies had developed over hundreds of years. I’m mentioning this now because that’s unlike other parts of South Africa – the Xhosa for example, the Sotho, Tswana and Venda whose individual clan narratives are still largely intact.

Compounding this truth decay Nguni archaeology in KwaZulu Natal is also less well known that Tswana and Sotho. This is the result of difficulty in locating early Nguni settlements as well as the Zulu state’s revisionist oral history.
Then a terrible disease made its way ashore in 1713 borne by a visiting fleet of VOC ships that anchored in Table Bay. It sent its linen ashore to be washed by company slaves in Cape Town. The laundry bore a smallpox virus which was to rage throughout that year, killing hundreds of Europeans and slaves.

It’s impact on the Khoe was catastrophic.
27
JUN

Episode 20 – The breakdown of Khoekhoe society in the Cape, corruption and miscegenation

This is episode 20 and the expansion of settlers from the Cape is gaining pace.

At the same time, the Xhosa to the north are experiencing political upheavals, while further north, the Nguni speaking farmers have spread into the Free State and Transvaal highlands – now known as Gauteng.

The decline of the Khoekhoe chiefs and the increasingly coercive nature of the trade took place at the same time as another major development in the Cape. This was the intensification of labour relations between the Khoe and the Colony.

Ever since van Riebeeck’s time, some Khoekhoe had worked in the colony as cook’s assistants, domestics, building labourers and dispatch runners amongst other jobs.

Europeans did not hire Khoekhoe as herders or shepherds before 1670 because they feared the theft of their livestock – and then only under close supervision. However the rapid expansion into Stellenbosch and Drakenstein we heard last episode meant the Dutch and Huguenot farmers needed more labour.

There weren’t enough slaves so naturally as the Khoe lost their land and grazing rights, they took up more of these positions as workers. According to the census of 1690, there was one slave in the Bay area of the Cape for every nine cattle tended and for every bushel of seed sown.
Compare that to Drakenstein and Stellenbosch where there was one slave for every 63 cattle and twenty bushels of seed sown.
The Khoekhoe were now experiencing a rapid decline in their wealth and security and responded in large numbers to the new farms and their requirements. The Dutch official Van Rheede whom we met last episode wrote a scathing note to the colonists about the children of slaves – and by 1700 three quarters of these children had white fathers.
He said the children of slaves – dusky skinned, blonde haired and even blue eyed – should receive the same education as other children. The Freeburgers were shocked and disagreed.

31 episodes

« Back 1—12 More »