Dutch Colony: Free Citizens and Land Wars at the Cape

In 1652, the Dutch East India Company set up a refreshment station at the Cape peninsula to serve European traders and travellers with freshwater, food, and medical services as they journeyed between Europe and the Far East each year. The Company had no intention of settling at the Cape during the earliest days but, despite that, within 10 years, the Cape managed to develop into an independent society. The experiences that contributed to this development included the rise of free burghers or free citizens, the arrival of slaves, together with the presence of local communities that inhabited the Cape long before Europeans arrived to the region. Because the preceding piece explored slavery and slave labour in the Indian Ocean World and gave attention to slavery and slave labour at the Cape, the aim of this article then is to discuss the rise of free citizens as well as the relations between the Dutch and the Khoikhoi at the Cape.

Trade between the Khoisan and Dutch East India Company officials at the Cape.
Image Credit: http://www.artsandculture.google.com

Free Citizens

In 1657, the Dutch East India Company released 9 of its employees from their contracts and set them on landholdings at Rondebosch. These employees became known as free burghers or free citizens. Even though they were released from their contracts, in reality, however, they were still expected to remain loyal to the Company by, for instance, placing the Company’s interests above their own. These free citizens were required to produce grain and vegetables which would be sold to the Company at prices set by the Company. Unsurprisingly then, all private initiatives were forbidden. Throughout the years that followed, more employees were also released from their contracts and placed on landholdings at Rondebosch. Furthermore, large numbers of people of Dutch, French, and German origin were also shipped from the Netherlands to the Cape, expanding the European community at the Cape.

Though European settlement was limited to the Cape peninsula, to areas like False Bay, amongst others, by 1672, however, the Company had taken over the Cape. While the European community was in fact limited to the Cape peninsula, as the years progressed and the population increased, the need to move beyond the boundaries of the settlement rose. By 1707, there were 2000 settlers, 700 Company servants, and the number of free citizens had grown significantly. Not far off from the end of the century, by 1793, there were 13 830 free citizens. All of these settlers were the earliest colonizers of present-day South Africa because they were the first Europeans that journeyed and settled beyond the Cape as the population increased. As to free citizens, while a lot of them ultimately abandoned farming and developed into traders and skilled workers in Cape Town, those who continued working on their farms developed into mixed farmers, producing grain and herding sheep and cattle.

Khoikhoi-Dutch Wars

As more and more Europeans settled at the Cape, they settled on land that was used and inhabited by the Khoikhoi. The reality that they were invading lands that belonged to local communities though, meant very little to them. Different from the Khoikhoi who viewed land as something that didn’t and couldn’t belong to any person, the Europeans, on the other hand, viewed land as property, property that could be owned and used for profit. Even though there were peaceful relations between the Dutch and Khoikhoi at first, over time, however, as Europeans took up ever more land, their interactions soured. For example, in 1655, the Khoikhoi built their housing near a Dutch settlement and refused to move to a different place. Although the Dutch challenged them, trying to drive them out of the area, the Khoikhoi still refused. Moreover, the entrance of free citizens in 1657 into the society only increased tension and the likelihood of violent conflict as more and more pastures were taken on by the Dutch, leaving the Khoikhoi with no other choice but to resist European expansion.

The First War started in 1659 and stretched to 1660. In response to the growing loss of pastures, a Khoikhoi community, under the leadership of Doman, seized 7 oxen belonging to the Company. As some Dutchmen armed themselves, attempting to retrieve their oxen, others escaped, seeking protection at the fort. The Khoikhoi community was able to weaken the Dutch, attacking them only under rainy conditions, and in that way, hindering them from being able to use their weapons. Even though a peace agreement was settled in 1660, fences established by the Company, limiting Khoikhoi movements, only checked the freedom of the Khoikhoi people further. The Second War started in 1673 after the Dutch discovered rich lands in the northern region of the Dutch colony. These lands, however, belonged to a few Khoikhoi communities, like the Chocoqua and the Gouriqua, who all possessed sheep and cattle in large numbers. Even if these communities were willing to trade with the Dutch the terms and conditions proposed by the Dutch plus the Company’s call to attack Chocoqua, only led to several violent clashes.

In 1674, the Third War started and only ended in 1677. Similar to the Second War, the Third War was sparked by a second call from the Company, inviting the Dutch to lead an attack against the Chocoqua. Yet again, resembling the second War, during the Third War, thousands of sheep and cattle belonging to Khoikhoi communities were taken by the Dutch. As the years progressed, so did European expansion into the inner regions of the Cape and onto lands inhabited by the Khoikhoi. Over time, these Wars and processes weakened the Khoikhoi. Some ended up working for free citizens on farms and others continued the struggle against European expansion with the help of the San. Though they weren’t enslaved, the loss of their lands and culture placed the Khoikhoi in a disadvantaged position within Cape society. What’s more, their fight against the smallpox outbreaks in 1713, 1755, and 1767, which nearly eradicated them, only weakened them further, bringing them into the slave economy and under complete Dutch rule. Thus, not forgetting slavery and slave labour, these were the developments that stretched out during the 17th and 18th centuries, forming the society under Dutch rule at the Cape.


References and Further Reading

Elphick, R. (1985). Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa. Ravan Press

Leftwich, A. (1976). Colonialism and the Constitution of Cape Society under the Dutch East India Company. University of York. Unpublished Dissertation [Online]. Available: http://www.etheses.whiterose.ac.uk

Marks, S. (1972). Khoisan Resistance to the Dutch in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, The Journal of African History, 13(1), pp.55-80. Cambridge University Press

McKenna, A. (2011). The History of Southern Africa. Britannica Educational Publishing

South African History Online (SAHO). (2020). The Dutch and the Khoisan. [Online]. Available: http://www.sahistory.org.za

South African History Online (SAHO). (2020). Establishment of the Cape and its Impact on Khoikhoi and Dutch. [Online]. Available: http://www.sahistory.org.za

Thompson, L. (2000). A history of South Africa. Yale University Press

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