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Friday, 10 May 2013

The Great Trek

The Great Trek (Afrikaans: Die Groot Trek) was an eastward and north-eastward migration away from British control in the Cape Colony during the 1830s and 1840s by Boers (Dutch/Afrikaans for "farmers"). The migrants were descended from settlers from western mainland Europe, most notably from the Netherlands, northwest Germany and French Huguenots. The Great Trek itself led to the founding of numerous Boer republics, the Natalia Republic, the Orange Free State Republic and the Transvaal being the most notable.



The Voortrekkers comprised two groups from the eastern frontier region of the Cape Colony, semi-nomadic pastoralists known as Trekboers, and established farmers and artisans known as Grensboere, or Border Farmers. Together these groups were later called Voortrekkers (Pioneers). While most settlers who lived in the western Cape (later known as the Cape Dutch) did not trek eastward, a small number did.

The flag of Cape Colony in South Africa (1875-1910)
The first colonists, who arrived in 1652 to set up a depot for the provision of ships under the auspices of The Dutch East India Company, were of Dutch stock. Many later settlers were of German origin and after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, French Huguenot refugees. By 1800, white colonists numbered rather fewer than 40,000, and were so interconnected by marriage that they represented a giant family rather than a new polyglot community. The community was also governed by The Council of Seventeen in Amsterdam, who governed the far-reaching empire of the Dutch East India Company. During the Napoleonic Wars the colony passed into the control of the United Kingdom. This was formally ratified in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna.
Historians have identified various factors that contributed to the migration of an estimated 12,000 Voortrekkers to the future Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal regions. The primary motivations included discontent with the British rule: its Anglicisation policies, restrictive laws on slavery and its eventual abolition, arrangements to compensate former slave owners, and the perceived indifference of British authorities to border conflicts along the Cape Colony's eastern frontier. Many contemporary sources argue that Ordinance 50 (1828), which guaranteed equal legal rights to all free persons of colour, and prohibitions on inhumane treatment of workers, spurred the Boer migrations. However, some scholars argue that most Trekboers did not own slaves, unlike the more affluent Cape Dutch who did not migrate from the western Cape. The three republics subsequently founded by the Voortrekkers prohibited slavery, but enshrined racial separatism in their constitutions.
Other possible factors included the desire to escape from relentless border wars with the Xhosa along the eastern frontier of the Cape colony. The migrants also sought fertile farmland, as good land was becoming scarce within the colony's frontiers. The Great Trek also resulted from increasing population pressures, as Trekboer migrations eastward had come to a virtual stop for at least three decades, though some Trekboers did migrate beyond the Orange River prior to the Great Trek.


Natal conflicts

During the Great Trek the Voortrekkers engaged in conflict with the Zulu of Natal. The Zulu launched large-scale hostilities after a delegation under the Trek leader Piet Retief was massacred by their king, Dingane kaSenzangakhona on 6 February 1838.
Various interpretations of what exactly transpired exist, as only the missionary Francis Owen's written eye-witness account survived. Retief's written request for land contained veiled threats by referring to the Voortrekker's defeat of indigenous groups encountered along their journey. The Voortrekker demand for a written contract guaranteeing private property ownership was incompatible with the contemporaneous Zulu oral culture which prescribed that a chief could only temporarily dispense land, which was communally owned.
Most versions agree that the following happened: Dingane's authority extended over some of the land in which the Boers wanted to settle. As prerequisite to granting the Voortrekker request, Dingane demanded that the Voortrekkers return some cattle stolen by Sekonyela, a rival chief. After the Boers retrieved the cattle back, Dingane invited Retief to his residence at Umgungundlovu to finalise the treaty, having either planned the massacre in advance, or deciding to do so after Retief and his men arrived. Perhaps an earlier display of arms from horseback by Retief's men provoked the massacre. Dingane's reputed instruction to his warriors, "Bulalani abathakathi!" (Zulu for "kill the wizards") showed that he may have considered the Boers to wield evil supernatural powers. After murdering Piet Retief's delegation, the Zulu impis (battalions) immediately attacked Boer encampments in the Drakensberg foothills at what later was called Blaauwkrans and Weenen. In contrast to earlier conflicts with the Xhosa on the eastern Cape frontier, the Zulu killed the women and children along with the men, wiping out half of the Natal contingent of Voortrekkers.
On 6 April 1838 the Voortrekkers retaliated with a 347-strong punitive raid against the Zulu (later known as the Flight Commando), supported by new arrivals from the Orange Free State. They were roundly defeated by about 7,000 warriors at Ithaleni, southwest of uMgungundlovu. The well-known reluctance of Afrikaner leaders to submit to one another's leadership, which later so hindered sustained success in the Anglo-Boer wars, was largely to blame.
On 16 December 1838 a 470-strong force of Andries Pretorius confronted about 12,000 Zulu at prepared positions. The Boers reputedly suffered only 3 injuries without any fatalities, while the blood of 3,000 slain Zulu turned the river red with blood, so that the conflict afterwards became known as the Battle of Blood River. The Boers' guns offered them an obvious technological advantage over the Zulu's traditional weaponry of short stabbing spears, fighting sticks, and cattle-hide shields. The Boers attributed their victory to a vow they made to God before the battle: if victorious, they and future generations would commemorate the day as a Sabbath. Thus 16 December was celebrated by Boers as a public holiday, first called "Dingane's Day," later changed to the Day of the Vow. It is still a public holiday, but the name was changed to the Day of Reconciliation by the post-apartheid ANC government, in order to foster reconciliation between all South Africans. However, the Day of the Vow is still celebrated by Boers today.
After the defeat of the Zulu forces and the recovery of the treaty between Dingane and Retief from the latter's skeleton, the Voortrekkers proclaimed the Natalia Republic. This Boer state was annexed by British forces in 1843.
Due to the return of British rule, emphasis moved from occupying lands in Natal, east of the Drakensberg mountains, to the west of them and onto the high veld of the Transvaal and Orange Free State, which were unoccupied due to the devastation of the Mfecane.

Andries Hendrik Potgieter

Andries Hendrik Potgieter, known as Hendrik Potgieter (19 December 1792 - 16 December 1852) was a Voortrekker leader. He served as the first head of state of Potchefstroom from 1840 and 1845 and also as the first head of state of Zoutpansberg from 1845 to 1852.

 File:Andries Hendrik Potgieter, Delagoabaai.jpg

Potgieter was born in the Tarkastad district of the Cape Colony, the second child of Petronella Margaretha and Hermanus Potgieter. He grew up to be a wealthy sheep farmer and fought in the Fourth and Fifth Frontier Wars. However, like many other Boers – farmers of Dutch, French, and German descent living in the Cape Colony – he decided to leave the colony in 1834. Delayed by the Sixth Frontier War, Potgieter and a group of Voortrekkers under his leadership left in 1835. Other treks under Louis Tregardt and Johannes Hendrik Janse van Rensburg had preceded him. The Voortrekkers' spiritual leader, Sarel Arnoldus Cilliers, later joined Potgieter's trek.
Potgieter and his party moved inland to the present Free State, where they signed a treaty with the leader of the Barolong, Moroka. The treaty stipulated that Potgieter would protect the Baralong against the Matabele raiders, in exchange for land. The tract of land was from the Vet River to the Vaal River.
The Matabele leader, Mzilikazi, was threatened by the white incursion into what he saw as his sphere of influence, which led to the Matabele's attack on the Potgieter laager in October, 1836, at Vegkop, near the present-day town of Heilbron. The attack was beaten off, but the Matabele made off with most of the trekker oxen, crucial draught animals for the wagons. The combined trek groups of Piet Retief and Gerrit Maritz came to Potgieter's rescue. Moroka also helped with oxen. His group joined up with Retief and Maritz at Thaba Nchu, where they formed a Voortrekker government and decided to move to Natal. Potgieter was not in favour of this plan and stayed behind in the Free State.
In 1838, after Piet Retief and his party were killed by Dingane, and other Voortrekker parties were attacked at the Bloukrans and Bushman Rivers, Potgieter and another leader, Pieter Lafras Uys assembled a military force. To prevent schism and discord, the new Voortrekker leader in Natal, Maritz, diplomatically pronounced that both Uys and Potgieter were to be in command. However, a struggle between the hot-headed Uys and Potgieter ensued.

A frieze in the Voortrekker Monument depicts a wounded voortrekker in Potgieter's Vegkop laager
The divided force was lured into an ambush by the Zulus at Italeni, and both Uys and his son Dirkie, were killed. The surrounded and outnumbered force fled. Potgieter was criticized for his actions, and the force was called "Die Vlugkommado" or Flight Commando. He was further accused, unjustly, of causing the death of Uys by deliberately leading the force into the ambush. He left Natal for good soon afterwards and moved to the Transvaal.
Potgieter subsequently went on to found Potchefstroom (named after him), by the banks of the Mooi River, and served as its first head of state of the Potchefstroom Republic between 1840 and 1845. Later, in 1845, he also founded Ohrigstad (originally named Andries-Ohrigstad after Potgieter himself and George Ohrig) as a trading station. Owing to a malaria outbreak, the town had to be abandoned. The inhabitants, including Potgieter, moved to the Soutpansberg area, where he founded the town Zoutpansbergdorp (which means 'Salt Pan Mountain Town'), later renamed Schoemansdal.
After the 1842 annexation of Natal by Britain, many Natal Trekkers moved to the Free State and the Transvaal. These newcomers and their leader, Andries Pretorius, refused to accept the authority of Potgieter, and a power struggle developed. War was averted, and in 1848 a peace treaty was signed in Rustenburg. Potgieter died on 16 December 1852, in Zoutpansbergdorp. A number of African chiefs who held him in very high regard came to pay their respects before his death.