Timeline of Land Dispossession and Segregation in South Africa 1652-1799


Artist view of Khoikhoi settlement and the expanding colony in the background. Artist view of Khoikhoi settlement and the expanding colony in the background. Artist view of Khoikhoi settlement and the expanding colony in the background.

The history of white colonial land dispossession dates back to the expansion of the Dutch colonial settlement in the Cape, which was established after the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) authorised Jan van Riebeeck to set up a refreshment station for their ships. Land was seized from the Khoikhoi and later the San to increase Dutch grazing pastures, expand their farming activities and to establish settlements. Over time, the increasing lack of access to grazing pastures by the Khoikhoi gave rise to conflict with the Dutch. While in some instances the Khoikhoi were successful, the Dutch defeated the latter and expropriated more of their land. As a result, the Khoikhoi and the San were systematically deprived of their livelihood forcing them to seek employment on the farmlands of white colonial settlers. Thus, the period between 1652 and 1799 is largely characterized by Dutch colonial expansion through occupation of land and resistance against this by the indigenous inhabitants. 


6 April, Jan Van Riebeck, a contract employee of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) or the Dutch East India Company, arrives in the Cape Colony with instructions to establish a refreshment station for the company’s ships passing through the Cape on their way to the Far East.
The first land grants are made to settlers in Cape Town to encourage vegetable growing under the Dutch system of land tenure. Settlers were allowed to carve their own land. The Cochoqua, one ethnic group of Khoikhoi herders refuse to accept the Dutch attempts to control land permanently and continue to graze their land across the VOC’s gardens. 
22 April, Jan Van Riebeck complains to the Company directors in the Netherlands that Khoikhoi on the Peninsula were curtailing in land trade, inflating prices of cattle and threatening Company servants. He suggests seizing Khoikhoi cattle and sheep while captured Khoi would be used as prisoners for catching seals and digging silver mines.
5 November, Jan van Riebeeck complains about the Khoikhoi withholding their livestock. He wrote in his journal:

“These rogues are not at all keen to part with their cattle and sheep although they have an abundance of fine stock.”

The Khoikhoi build their shelter and graze their cattle close to the fort, the Dutch attempt to chase them away, but they refuse declaring that the land was theirs and that they would attack the Dutch if they were not permitted to graze their cattle or build their huts wherever they chose.
The VOC releases company employees from their contracts and grants them land to farm along the Liesbeeck River. These burghers were to sell their produce to the Company at fixed prices. The newly settled farmers build hedges to protect their gardens but in the process take land which used by the Khoikhoi for grazing their cattle. In response, the Khoikhoi refuse to acknowledge the seizure of land and continue to graze their cattle even breaking down hedges built to protect the settler’s gardens.
Jan van Riebeeck formally bans the Khoikhoi communities from living and grazing their livestock west of the Salt and Liesbeek rivers.
July, Jan van Riebeeck takes Autshumato, a Khoikhoi leader hostage and seizes his cattle in attempt to force some Khoikhoi to recover some slaves that had escaped inland. Autshumato is imprisoned at the Fort and later transferred to Robben Island.
The first Khoikhoi-Dutch War breaks out over loss of grazing land by Khoikhoi.
6 April, War between the Khoikhoi and Dutch ends and ‘peace’ agreement is concluded. The Dutch tell the Khoikhoi, “You people have now once for all lost the land around the Cape through war and you must accordingly never dwell on the idea of getting it back through peace or through war.” (Harold Scheub, The Tongue is Fire, South African Storytellers and Apartheid, p. 5)
May, Doman leads the Khokhoi into resistance against the Dutch destroying food supplies and farms of the colonists, and also seizing cattle and sheep. He ordered his attack during the rainy season knowing that Dutch match cords could not ignite gunpowder.
May, Jan Van Riebeeck establishes a burger militia to combat the theft of livestock.
19 May, The Council of Policy resolves to mount a punitive expedition against Doman.
December, Autshumato escapes from Robben Island on rowing boat at lands in the Bloubergstrand area.
Van Riebeeck orders the plating of bitter almonds trees and all sorts of growing brambles, thorn bushes as boundaries along farms including his farm in Wynberg. He specified that:

“The belt will be so densely overgrown that it will be impossible for cattle and sheep to be driven through and it will take the form of a protective fence...” (Jan van Riebeeck’s diary as quoted in Worden et al, p. 25).

A Khoi leader who had accumulated more than 100 sheep through the clientship system is denied access to them by the white landowner.
11 December, Doman a Khoikhoi leader who led a fight against the Dutch in the war of 1659 dies.
The Dutch sign two treaties with two groups of the Khoikhoi, the Goringhaiqua and the Gorachouqua to diffuse rising tensions over loss of land. In terms of the agreement, the two groups apparently agree to surrender large tracts of land stretching from Table Bay in the south and Saldanha in the north and across the Hottentos Holland in the east. The Khoi would retain the cattle they had seized during the war.
Company soldiers occupy the Hottentos Holland area.
The Second Dutch Khoikhoi war breaks out based on suspicions by the Dutch that Gonnema a chief of the Cochoqua Khoi was instigating a series of attacks on European hunters and settlers.  Four punitive expeditions were sent, but Gonnema. During the conflict the Dutch seize nearly 2,000 cattle and 5,000 sheep owned by the Cochoqua.
The VOC sends out an expedition consisting of Khoikhoi and Europeans against the Cochoqua (another Khoikhoi ethnic group) and seize 800 cattle and 4000 sheep including weapons.
Dutch settlers exclude the Khoikhoi from living in the area near the castle.
The VOC appoints itself as an arbitrator in disputes among the Khoikhoi clans or chiefdoms, and gives itself the right to enforce its decisions by force. This was to prevent Khoikhoi from forming alliances whenever there was conflict with the Company.
25 June, War between the Dutch and the Khoikhoi ends.
The colonial government concludes peace with Gonnema who apparently agree to ‘pay tribute’ of thirty cattle per annum to the colony.
The VOC allocates land to Dutch settlers beyond the Cape Flats to increase agricultural production. Land allocated becomes increasingly larger as farmers needed to also graze their livestock. This deprives Khoikhoi even more of their grazing pastures.
Simon van der Stel arrives in the Cape Colony with orders from Henry XVII to begin expanding the Cape settlement. He grants land in the Stellenbosch area on ‘first come first served’ basis and places no legal limits on the size of the land claimed by colonists as long as it was cultivated within 3 years. He abandons any semblance of alliances with the Khoi and appoints himself as the person who had the right to approve the appointment of chiefs over the Khoikhoi.
Dutch expansion into interior continues as evidenced by the establishment of the district of Stellenbosch which is administered by a landdrost or magistrate, burgher council, a field coronet and a field militia.
The Governor of the Cape Colony Simon van der Stel opens new land for white settlement in the Upper Berg River Valley.
The number of white settlers increases as Huguenots arrive in the Cape and are given land grants in the Franchoek area.
Captain Dorha (also know by the Dutch as Klaas) a captain of the Chainoqua clan refuses to supply the VOC with anymore livestock.
Simon van der Stel breaks a twenty year alliance with Dorha and orders an attack against him seizing his cattle. Van der Stel claims he is punishing him for his disloyalty to the colony.
The Cape government approves a punitive measure whereby a Khoikhoi whose cattle had damaged a freeman’s crop compensated the farmer with five young heifers.
Several Khoikhoi whose economic backbone had been decimated find themselves as servants in the farms or had become dependent on the Colony for their livelihood. Their cattle and grazing pastures had been sized by the Company and their chiefs had been subordinated.
Cape settlement expands into the Tulbag Basin or Land of Waveren further reducing land available for Khoikhoi grazing lands.
The VOC begins issuing permits to farmers who applied to take their livestock to areas further way from settlements for extended periods of time. This marked the beginning of the ‘farm loan system’ which prepared the ground for the settlement of the interior easier.
Farmers along the northern part of the colony area are attacked by Khoikhoi and San as they seek to regain their livestock and lands.
An expedition of the VOC is sent inland and raids almost 2000 cattle and 2500 sheep from the Inqua which was the largest Khoikhoi chiefdom between the Hessequa (another Khoi group) and the Xhosa.
The VOC begins issuing grazing permits to farmers who apply for permission to take their livestock further inland for a period of months.
Smallpox breaks out and further weakens the Khoikhoi who had already lost a significant amount of land and livestock to Dutch colonial settlers.
The VOC begins charging a fee for the use of grazing permits and also gives permit holders permission to grow small amounts of cereal. The standard land size allocated on these loan farms is 6000 acres which is fifty times bigger than the old freehold farms.
Scab and other livestock diseases break out killing hundreds of animals and endangering meat supply in the colony. The VOC responds by making more demands for Khoikhoi livestock through ‘tribute’. The Khoi respond by slaughtering their cattle rather than give them over through ‘tribute’.
Control of the commandos passes from the VOC to the burgher militia who in turn raid the San and coerce them into being their labourers.
The first recorded case of deliberate extermination of the San. Men are killed while women and children are captured and turned to servants. 
Otto F Mentzel, one of the colonial soldiers observed that trekboers frequently settled in Khoikhoi kraals thereby gaining access to best water supplies and pasture and labour.
The first known expedition of colonists reaches the Orange River where an exchange for cattle takes place, but also raids are conducted.
The so called Bushman War breaks out and free burgher commando seizes the best land south of Namaqualand and west of the Doorn River. This encouraged further settlements at Hantam and Roggeveld areas.
Dutch colonial expansion continues and the town of Swellendam is established.
February- March, Europeans settle in Namaqualand for the first time after frequenting the area in previous years raiding cattle from the Khoikhoi and in search of ivory or pursuing ‘stolen cattle’. Settlers also begin allocating and registering land as ‘loan farms’ to white.
 War breaks out between the Khoikhoi and the Dutch in the Roggerveld after the latter accuse the former of stealing their cattle and arson. The war ends in defeat for the Khoisan and their incorporation into the labour force.
A group of Khoikhoi in the Swellendam area complain that Dutch famers constantly raid their kraals and seize cattle.
Dutch colonial settlements through the trekboers reach Sneeuberg and Camdeboo. Khoisan communities in the area launch fierce resistance attacking homesteads of colonists.
Tensions between the San, Khoikhoi on one hand, and the Dutch on the other reach a breaking point and the Dutch appoint a commandant and a force to capture or kill as many San people as possible. In the first operation 503 San were killed and 239 are captured.
Colonists respond to attacks by the Khoikhoi by forming the ‘veldcommandant’ who launch a fierce attack on the Khoikhoi killing 503 during the year. This increased to 2 480 between 1786 and 1795. (R. Elphick, p.27)
September, Cape authorities and local colonists vote in favour of the immediate establishment of a system of indentured labour in the colony. Children of Khoikhoi and slave ancestry, born and raised on colonial farms were to be immediately indentured until the age of 25.
August, Jan Pearl a charismatic Khoi begins preparations to lead a religious movement which he said would through divine intervention assist the Khoikhoi to fight against the Dutch and restore the lost land to the people in October 1778.
Governor van Plettenberg travels East to the area between the area between the Sunday River and the Great Fish River. He establishes the Great Fish River as a boundary between White colonial settlement and Black Xhosa speaking people.
Several Khoikhoi, San and other people of mixed racial background cross the Orange River to continue their lives as pastoralists and to flee increasing Dutch colonial control.
The government recognises the occupation of rich pasturelands and lands by trekboers in the Karoo area by establishing the district of Graaf Reinet.
The Second War of Dispossession breaks out in the Zuurveld with Xhosa capturing thousands of cattle, horses, sheep and horses, and destroying over 100 farms. This results in famers deserting the Zuurveld.
Farmers who had organized themselves into a commando launch attack the Xhosa people and seize an estimated 8000 cattle forcing the Xhosa to retreat beyond the Fish River.
The pass system is introduced for the Khoisan in Swellendam to prevent servants from deserting and to prevent famers from stealing labourers from their neighbours.
The only known census of Khoisan livestock is carried in the Graaf Reinet area and subsequently a pass system is introduced for Khoisan people.
March, Hundreds of servants leave farms where they work and launch a four year rebellion against settler farmers with the aim of reclaiming land which their forefathers had lost to the colonists. Amongst its leaders are Hans Trompter, Jan Kaffer, Bovenlander, Wildeman, Ourson and Klaas Stuurman.
April, Klass Stuurman seeks British military assistance in Algoa Bay, but reconsiders his plan and moves inland where he forms an alliance with the Xhosa in the Zuurveld.
June, A combined force of 150 Xhosa and Khoisan defeat a strong burgher commando authorized by the British to expel the Xhosa across the Fish River.
July, A 300 strong armed and mounted Khoisan force raid Long Kloof in Swellendam  seizing livestock, wagons, arms and ammunition forcing the colonists to abandon their farms.

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• Mountain, A, (2003),  The First People of the Cape: A Look at Their History and the Impact of Colonialism on the Cape’s Indigenous people, ( New Africa Books),  p.29, 49-51
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• Penn, N, ( The Forgotten Frontier: Colonist And Khoisan on the Cape's Northern Frontier, (Ohio University Press)
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• Viljoen, R, ‘Aboriginal Khoikhoi Servants and Their Masters in Colonial Swellendam, South Africa’, 1745-1795, in the South African Historical Journal, 35, (1996)
• Elphick, R & VC Malherbe,   (1989), ‘The Khoisan to 1828’, in The shaping of South African Society 1652-1840, (Cape Town), pp. 8-28.
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• Elphick, R, (1977), Kraal and Castle Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa, (Yale University Press), pp.102.

Last updated : 08-May-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 19-Feb-2013

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