The situation in the Eastern Cape in the early late 18th and early 19th century (approximately1780 - 1850) was as follows:

There were three groups of people:

  • The Xhosa, who had lived there for hundreds of years.
  • The Trekboers, who moved into the area from the Cape.
  • The British settlers, who arrived from Britain in 1820.

Each group needed land for their families and their livestock.

  • The Xhosa believed that land was for the use of all the people. People didn't own land. The chief of a village would allow people to use land for crops and grazing. There was also communal grazing land for everyone's livestock. The Xhosa's most precious possession was their cattle. Cattle gave them milk and meat, and wealth was measured in terms of the number of cattle a person had. Cattle were used for lobola and for ancestor worship. Without good grazing land, it was difficult to keep large herds of cattle.
  • Dutch and British farmers had very different ideas about land ownership. They believed that people could own property and buy and sell land. It was very important to them that all adult men should own land.

Frontier wars on the eastern frontier of European settlement

The situation in the Eastern Cape led to a great deal of conflict between the Dutch and British settlers on the one side and the Xhosa on the other. Nine wars were fought over land and cattle between 1779 and 1878. This time is known as the 100-year war. The conflict started in 1778 when the Dutch governor of the Cape made the Great Fish River the eastern boundary of the Cape Colony. The Trekboers and the Xhosa got into conflict over grazing land and cattle theft. Three frontier wars between Dutch settlers and the Xhosa had already taken place by 1802. However, after the British took over the Cape in 1806, things became much worse. British soldiers were sent in to get Xhosa people off the land that they had been living on for many years. They argued that the Xhosa were stealing cattle from the settlers.

Soldiers and officials

After the British took over the Cape from the Dutch, in 1806, one of the things they had to deal with was the conflict between the Xhosa and white Trekboers on the Cape's eastern frontier. In 1811, Colonel John Graham was sent in to push the Xhosa beyond the Fish River, which at that stage was the recognised border between white settlers and the Xhosa. The British built a series of forts, military posts and signal towers along the Fish River.

British immigration

When the British took over the Cape in 1806, there were about 25 000 European settlers at the Cape (mainly Dutch). There had already been five frontier wars between the Xhosa and settlers before 1820. The Cape government wanted to increase the number of settlers in the area and enlist more British people to defend the Eastern frontier against the Xhosa.

In 1820, the government in Britain paid for a large group of about 4 000 unemployed British people and their families to go to the Cape as settlers. The ships carrying these settlers landed at Algoa Bay. Each family was given a small piece of farm land to grow crops.

Abolition of slavery 1836

During the late 18th century the British started to question the practice of slavery and their own involvement in the trading of slaves. In 1807, the British stopped the slave trade in all its colonies. However, this did not mean that slavery had ended. The ending of the trade in slaves did not help people who were already slaves. No new slaves could be brought into a British colony, but slaves could still be bought and sold within the colony itself.

Boers migrate and move into the interior: The Great Trek

The following issues made the Trekboers angry:

They felt the British government at the Cape did not protect them.

They felt that the Dutch language was losing out to English.

They were always in conflict with the Xhosa over land.

The Trekboers saw only one solution: to move out of the Cape Colony and settle away from the British in a place where they could make their own rules and organise their lives in the way they wanted.

From 1836 to 1846, thousands of Voortrekkers, as they are now known, left the Cape and moved into the South African interior. They grouped themselves into a number of trek parties under various leaders. The Trekboers were used to moving around in search of land for grazing. They packed their belongings into ox wagons, gathered their servants and slaves, and headed north in search of new homes. These journeys became known as the Great Trek.

As they moved into the South African interior, the Voortrekkers met many groups of indigenous people. The battles over land continued and, because the Voortrekkers had guns and horses, they often won the battles. They took land from local people and disrupted their way of life.

The Northern Frontier of European settlement

Expanding trade relationships on the northern frontier of European settlement

There were four main groups of people living across the border of the Cape Colony in the early 19th century:

A. The Khoisan

They were a mixture of Khoikhoi and San people.

B. The Boers

They were the descendants of the Dutch people from the Cape Colony.

C. The Oorlams

Their ancestors were from different groups - some were a mix of Boer and Khoikhoi, or slaves and Khoikhoi, or Boer and slaves. They spoke Dutch (Afrikaans).

D. The Tswana

They were African people who spoke Setswana and ruled by chiefs. They farmed cattle and sheep. They also hunted elephants and traded their tusks.

The Kora and Griqua were groups of people of mixed descent and runaway slaves who had left the Cape Colony. They traded manufactured goods, tobacco and pack oxen from the Cape.

The Kora

The Kora originated from small groups of Khoikhoi who had lost their land to the Dutch in the south-western Cape. The groups included runaway slaves and people of mixed European and Khoikhoi descent. Most of the first Kora people had worked on Dutch farms and spoke Dutch. They knew how to use guns and ride horses. They lived in groups along the Gariep River in the central parts of southern Africa.

The Kora kept close contact with the Cape Colony. They got goods from the

Cape like material for making clothes, flour for making bread, and tobacco

that the Dutch farmers grew. The Kora traded these goods with the different

groups living along the Gariep River and beyond. They also traded pack

oxen, which they got from the Cape.

The Griqua

The Griqua were a group of people of Khoikhoi, slave and European descendants who had left the Cape in the late 1700s (18th century). They owned cattle, had guns and horses and used ox-wagons. They usually wore European style clothes, spoke Dutch and were Christians. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Griqua settled north of the Gariep River, in an area that later became known as Griqualand West. They were first group from the Cape to settle north of the Gariep River.

The Griqua took their name from the Khoikhoi group the Guriqua. The Griqua saw themselves more as Khoikhoi than Dutch. They traded material, flour, tobacco and oxen. The Griqua traded mainly with southern Tswana groups.

The southern borders of the Tswana world

The Tswana people also lived on the land across the Orange River. They had moved to that area in about the 16th century. They spoke Setswana. They grew crops such as grains and tobacco and herded cattle, sheep and goats. They were skilled at crafts such as wood carving, basket weaving and metal work. They also hunted elephants for their tusks, which they traded.

The Tswana traded with the Kora, Griqua and Boers:

The Tswana killed elephants for their tusks, which people sold for a lot of money. The Griqua were involved, as middlemen, in this trade.

They hunted and killed other animals for their skins, which they traded.

They also traded iron and copper, which they used to make farming tools.

They wanted to buy guns to protect themselves.

In the early 19th century, missionaries came into the Tswana territory. They converted many of the Tswana to Christianity and taught them how to read and write. They encouraged Tswana people to live like the Europeans. They built schools and churches.

Tswana walled towns

The Tswana lived in villages led by a chief. Their houses and kraals were inside the villages and the farmland was outside. Some of the bigger towns were surrounded by stone walls for protection. Some of the villages grew into towns with thousands of people living together. The Tswana allowed people who were not Tswana to join them, so their settlements grew in size. They also grew bigger because there was so much trade happening with the other people living in the region.

Three important cities were Marothodi, Molokwane and Kaditshwene:

Marothodi had a good water supply and fertile land. People there probably made things out of copper and iron.

Molokwane was in a fertile area that was close to good grazing land. The people of Molokwane probably traded with other towns (such as Marothodi) for tools.

Kaditshwene had a population about the same size as Cape Town. It was on a hill which was good for defence. The area was good for farming and grazing. People in Kaditshwene made metal goods.

In the early parts of the 1800s, there was much conflict among the peoples of southern Africa. Many people had to leave they places where they lived. When the Tswana were attacked, they left these cities and went to other places.

Missionaries and traders

European traders and missionaries started arriving in the area north of the Orange River after 1800. They explored areas that the Cape Colony did not know and drew up maps of these areas. Later, the colony used these maps to push its borders further north.


European traders could make big profits north of the Orange River. They could trade in ivory, furs from animals and feathers from birds. They also wanted to buy cattle from the Griqua and Tswana to sell as meat in the Cape Colony.

Many local people became powerful if they controlled the trade with Europeans. They could get guns and gunpowder from the Cape Colony. It was against the law to sell weapons to the people outside the colony's borders, but traders did it anyway because they could get ivory and other valuable goods in exchange.

Some missionaries became traders so that they could make more money. They also needed to get basic goods through trade. They traded goods such as buttons and beads which they brought to southern Africa. They also made friends with local chiefs by giving them gifts. Because of this, the chiefs let them stay in the area.


Missionaries from Europe wanted to spread Christianity. The people living north of the Orange River had their own religions. The Tswana people, for example, believed in Modimo, their god, and that their ancestors would help them. The missionaries moved into the area and lived among the local people. They set up permanent mission stations.

Missionaries learnt local languages to talk to people about Christianity.

They set up churches and taught the people to read and write so that they

could study the Bible. They wanted local people to become more like

Europeans in their clothes and customs. Some missionaries converted chiefs and then their followers to Christianity. The chiefs trusted them ad so they became important people in the area.

Some missionaries helped to protect the people they had converted. For example, Dr John Philip lived and worked with the Griqua. He arranged a treaty with the Cape Colony that said the Colony would help protect the Griqua in 1843.

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