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.

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Episode 37 – How the amaXhosa waged war and Governor Van Plettenberg takes a trip to the Great Fish River

This is episode 37 and we’re continuing the saga of late 18th Century Xhosa kingdoms.
By late in the 18th Century, the Zuurveld was home to small groups of San, some khoekhoe chieftans, several Xhosa chiefdoms and the trekboers. They were mixing up together in a fairly confined territory and jostled each other increasingly angrily to secure the summer and winter grazing. While the San weren’t particularly interested in the grazing as they did not keep livestock, the pressure on the land was increasing.
Cultural ignorance concerning each others understanding of the nature of land ownership made things worse. Colonists had a sense of private property and they were spreading across the territory using the concept of Leningsplaatsen – loan farms – that we’ve heard about. For the trekboer, the leningsplaatsen was not a shared space – it belonged to a single person or investors and had defined boundaries which could be mapped.
In contrast, the amaXhosa saw land as communal property with its usage to be allocated by a chief. Where the cattle-owning parties saw their herds and flocks as their capital assets and indication of wealth and power, the temptation was to supplement their livestock through raiding or violence.
And Governor Van Plettenberg decided he'd take a trip to the Zuurveld along the Great Fish River to see how things were going between the Dutch settlers and the amaXhosa.

Episode 36 – The French and British fight over the Cape as bounty hunter Willem Prinsloo crosses the Fish River

This is episode 36 and its time to return to Xhosaland. Before we do that, let’s step back a little and consider the effect of action beyond Africa that was having an influence on the continent, particularly the southern reaches.

Adam Smith may have been somewhat bemused, as American historian Noel Mostert writes in his book frontiers, to find that the very year in which his masterwork was published saw the start of a struggle on the seas that rested on his own declared twin pillars of global destiny – America and the Cape of Good Hope.

The American colonies were in the process of being lost to Britain as Smith published his work – and a wider war was buffeting the seas. The Cape had been drawn into the American War of Independence which changed the destiny of Southern Africa. It’s not well remembered these days, but as America’s early history is interwoven with South Africa’s.
As all of this was taking place on the high seas, the colonists in the Cape found themselves at war on two fronts with two different groups of people. The Xhosa and the San.

As the Dutch East India company feebly tried to stop trekboers from advancing beyond the Gamtoos river near Algoa Bay, a true frontier had developed from 1770 onwards. It was a loose, ill-defined area along the south east coast and the Dutch colonists had now hit a human barrier that stopped their freedom of movement.
That barrier was the Xhosa people.

Episode 35 – The Mthethwa and Ndwandwe flex their muscles in what eventually will become known as Zululand

This is episode 35 and we’re going to focus on the forerunners of the Zulu – the Mthethwa and Ndwandwe, the Qwabe and how they emerged in the region between the Tugela and Pongola rivers in northern KwaZulu Natal or what became known as Zululand.

By the first few centuries AD the migrations of farmers moving into the area between the Drakensburg, the Mzimkhulu river south of modern Durban and up to Pondoland took place.

There had been a steady growth of farmers here until the first phase of the development of more powerful kingdoms. The second phase saw the people there divide into numbers small patriarchal clans which lived alongside each other in relative peace although there were many minor incidents.

The third phase began with the rise of the Zulu Kingdom by around 1810. I’ll get to the third phase in future podcasts. The fourth phase of course was the arrival of the British traders from the Cape – and from the sea.
The Ndwandwe lived In the area around Nongoma in 1780s and 90s while to the south, between the modern town of Empangeni and straddling the black Mfolozi to the north lived the Mthethwa. To their west lived the Qwabe – and those were the ancestors of the people I grew up with in the Nkwalini valley on the Umhlatuzi.
As the struggle for dominance grew at the end of the 18th Century, it corresponded with the expansion of the major groups like the Mthethwa, Ndwandwe and the Qwabe – then later the Zulu into a variety of grazing types.

Episode 34 – Trading and raiding, American whalers and the emergence of pre-Zulu chiefdoms in the East

This is episode 34 and we’re going to take a close look at what was going on in the region bounded by the Orange River, the Kalahari Desert and the Indian Ocean. This is where the Zulu emerged but the story is not the simple tale most of us know about Shaka.

As with other areas we’ve investigated, the popular narrative over time is not always an accurate reflection of real history. This will become very apparent particularly as we unearth facts about the period between 1760 and 1800.

It’s fairly recently in historical research that we’ve come to understand what was going on – earlier historians tended to pay very little attention to the decades before 1810 and the emergence of Shaka’s Zulu. Before then the Zulu were a tiny clan washing around in a much bigger pool of tribes and clans.
An important feature we all agree on now is that the upheavals of the early 1800s were not all about Shaka, it was caused partly by the increasing interaction between European commercial and colonial expansion and indigenous communities, as well as the expansion of Zulu and Ndebele and other warlike people. Traders and settler numbers rose swiftly as we’re going to hear.

Trading and raiding was always part of the southern African landscape, hundreds of years before Jan van Riebeeck setup shop in 1652.

The processes of reorganisation and expansion of increasingly centralized kingdoms can be tracked to this time. While these changes were taking place between the Drakensberg and Indian Ocean, they were also happening among the Tswana speaking societies on the south eastern fringes of the Kalahari Desert. I’ve outlined the most important clans in the last podcast – don’t forget these – they were the Bafokeng, Bahurutshe, Bakgatla, Bakwena, Bangwaketse, Barolong and Bathlaping.

Episode 33 – By 1771 Cape Town has a name and explorers begin arriving in droves

This is episode 33 and we’re focusing on the Cape after spending last episode partly in Xhosaland.

By 1771 the inn on the sea – the town in Table Bay – was being referred to as Cape Town for the first time by travellers. It appears there was not even a formal process, just the town at the foot of the mountain emerged over the preceding 120 years and by 1772 there were approximately 7000 people living there.

Four thousand whites including 1700 sailors, and 2000 free blacks and slaves. Part of this episode is going to be viewed through the eyes of botanist and Scots gardener and explorer Francis Masson who journeyed through the Cape three times. He arrived in October 1772 to find the acting governor was Joachim van Plettenberg.

The newly appointed governor, Pieter van Rheede van Oudshoorn, had died at sea on the way out from Amsterdam. And right there are the men whose surnames would be two future towns – Plettenberg bay and Oudtshoorn.

1772 was an important year because that’s when foreign shipping numbers increased significantly because of the American War of Independence which I mentioned last episode. French ships in particular were sailing through the bay regularly because they were supporting the American rebels who were fighting the British. Cape Town was already known as a pretty and orderly locale, it’s layout admired by most who visited.

Episode 32 – An intermingling on the frontiers begins in earnest and a wide-angle view of the mid-to-late 18th C

This is episode 32 and we’re swinging back to the Cape frontier through the last few decades of the 18th Century.

I am going to thoroughly probe this period because so many crucial things were unfolding across southern Africa such as the development of new centralized powerful kingdoms in the East, the acceleration of land occupation by the trekboers and the first real clashes between the isiXhosa and settlers.

That is far too much to chew on in just one episode I’m sure you’ll agree.

First we need to step back and take a wide-angle view of the region.

By the mid-1700s the eastern Cape frontier was a vaguely defined area east of the Gamtoos river. This is where black South African’s speaking a Bantu language first encountered white settlers as distinct from traders and missionaries. It was also here that policies which have had a profound influence on southern Africa were first formulated and applied.

It was also a cultural frontier between warring states and had many characteristics of frontiers elsewhere across the world at that time. One of course was in north America

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

37 episodes

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