History of South Africa podcast Episodes 16 – 18: The Dutch expand their settlement in the Cape

An example of Bitter Almond Bush somewhat hidden back there in the Cape Fynbos as Kirstenbosch Garden in Cape Town.

As we’ve heard, the trading with the Khoe at the Cape is not going as well as the Dutch hoped and Jan Van Riebeeck the fort commander had decided to lay out his formal frontier albeit a tiny start to what would become a major immigration.  And it would start with a tree called the Bitter Almond which considering what was to happen to the Khoe over the next century, is a pretty accurate name. 

Living with the van Riebeecks was a really interesting Khoe woman called Krotoa. As Patric Mellet points out in his work, the lie of 1652, Krotoa was a key figure in the struggle between the Khoe and the Dutch. From various descriptions, Krotoa is likely to have been fathered by a European traveler with her Khoe mother who left Krotoa’s upbringing to her brother Autshumao. Basically her mother disowned her it appears but that didn’t stop the youngster from developing into quite a force at the Dutch fort. 

She was exposed to many languages as her uncle, a Khoe man, was the port-master for the Dutch. Van Riebeeck took Krotoa from her uncle into his service as a maid when she was ten and she carried out the demanding role of both nurse to the sick Maria and her children. 

So Krotoa spent ten years with the van Riebeeck family, learning Dutch and Portuguese and for six of those years, she was the VOC interpreter, emissary and diplomat. 

The dutch called her Eva – and we met her last episode. At first van Riebeeck was charmed by her capacity as a linguist, but soon began to distrust what she was saying – believing she was misleading him and said that Krotoa was, in his words “drawing the longbow” in her interpretations. 

That was Dutch slang for disinformation and interpreting untruthfully. By now the local Khoe who made a living directly from the Fort and the new freeburghers were based in the area called Camissa inside the bitter almond hedge. 

By Leo za1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35726098

Krotoa began to build a relationship between herself and her sister who had married the powerful Cochoqua chief Oedasoa.  So Krotoa was caught in a vortex of social and economic change and was obviously wrestling with her place in life. Her relationship with the other main interpretor, Doman was not good and van Riebeeck purposefully set up conflict at times to ensure that between the two of them, he received accurate information as they competed in tittle-tattling.  

As she entered puberty, Krotoa was surrouned by 140 roughneck men which included some from Ambon in the east – and where protection was difficult to ensure. Between the ages of 12 and 15 she absorbed the religion and culture of the Dutch.

I have not fully explained yet that the role of women in Khoe society at that time was far more egalitarian than has often been described. We know it was common for women to be leaders of Khoe groups which gave Krotoa a great advantage compared to the position held by Dutch women in the 17th Century. 

By the time van Riebeeck departed with his family in 1662, VOC leaders were wary of Krotoa. Her role in the first Khoe-Dutch war which we’ve just heard about was contradictory. At times she travelled to speak to her sister living amongst the Cochoqua, at others she acted as an intermediary with the Goringhaiqua. 

In many ways, Eva or Krotoa as we’ll now call her, was torn between her African culture and her European culture. There was a tug-of-war going on. She would wear both the attire of an Asian maid, a robe basically, and other times, she would strip off the robe and walk about in her Khoe tiny leather skirt, barebreasted. 

She was also in a tug-of-war between two different Khoe groups. The Cochoqua and the Goringhaiqua tribe known as the //Ammaqua. Some days she would journey amongst the Cochoqua, riding one of the prized bulls, treated like the daughter of a leader. Other days she’d travel with European men who treated her as a slave and we believe, as a form of concubine. 

Fynbos in Kirstenbosch – examples of the kind of landscape on the foothills of Table Mountain. ©Des Latham.

Between 1656 and 1661 Krotoa blossomed and began to deal more effectively with the other translator, Doman, who led the first Khoe uprising. 

As van Riebeeck’s tenure at the Cape drew to a close, Krotoa had managed to personally assure the delivery of cattle by the Cochoqua, setting up high-level meetings between van Riebeeck and the important Khoe group. She also argued in their favour at discussions – clearly her strategy was to be effective for both groups but she was walking a tightrope. 

Things changed for her in 1662, when van Riebeeck left the Cape. Krotoa then married the Danish soldier and surgeon Peter Havgardt. Because of the custom enforced by the Dutch East Indies Company the VOC,  Havgardt adopted the Dutch persona of Pieter van Meerhof. 

He was both barber and amputator. Such was the life of a surgeon back in 1660. 

He was also a profligate adventurer and decided to head off on a slave-raiding expedition to Madagascar where he died – but not before Krotoa was pregnant with their child. By this time, she was living on Robben island not as a prisoner, but as the wife of the Dutch Danish surgeon

Krotoa had a breakdown after Meerhof died, her children were taken away and placed in the care of the church. Two of her four children, Pieternella and Saloman, ended up living with a brothel-keeper called Barbara Geems. 

Her one illegitimate son Antonij Evert was looked after by a freed slave couple from West Africa, Anna and Evert van Guinea, while nothing is known about what happened to her fourth child, a son called Jeronimus. 

Pieternella and Salomon were taken to Mauritius after the brothel-keeper Barbara Geems passed them on to Bartholomeus Borns and his wife.

We’ll return to what happened to Krotoa in a later podcast but as we embark on this series at times we’ll hear personal tales of the people of South Africa. 

So in the decades after the first Khoe-Dutch war the VOC’s frontier of trade expanded much more rapidly than agrarian settlement – the rate at which freeburghers increased their farms outside of the dedicated areas on the Peninsular was still controlled tightly by the company and the local colonial government. 

The company’s impact on the Khoekhoe was gradual and cumulative rather than cataclysmic, like the impact on Krotoa if you like. But a turning point was coming in the 1670s as we’ll hear. 

Episode 17

In Episode 17 I cover the second Khoe-Dutch war of 1673 which dealt the Peninsular tribe known as the Cochoqua a terminal blow. 

The growing population at the Cape meant both the colonisers and the passing fleets needed to be well fed with fresh produce. The colonial programme was created to foster farming to supply the station’s needs – and it was the expanding use of arable land and fresh water that went along with it that further exacerbated the conflict with the indigenous peoples. 

The diversity of faces of South Africa – Zeitz Mocaa Modern African art museum. ©Des Latham.

The VOC initially offered land grants to individuals from 1657 as we’ve heard – along with many restrictions. This was nothing like the full ownership of property – it was similar to a feudal quitrent leasehold system in everything but name. With this system, a person holding land was obliged to pay an annual rent to the lord of the manor and various services had to be levied. The more rent paid, the fewer services were required. 

More modern renditions of diversity. ©Des Latham.

This form of leasehold system was called Leningplaats or loan farm – and would remain in place for the next 160 years. IT was similar to the other systems of land use in Europe at the time. 

But that wasn’t all facing the new freeburghers who’d begun to farm the Cape. There were also grazing licenses which would be issued, followed by the farmer staking a formal claim to the grazed land which was then converted into a Leningplaats bond. 

The VOC benefitted from an annual rent of 10 percent of whatever the farm produced. 

Think of it as a form of tax – and a way in which the Dutch East India company could control both the freeburghers and the sale of goods to passing ships. Individual freehold was only introduced in South Africa by British governor Sir John Cradock in 1814.  So the initial contact between the VOC and the indigenous Africans was that of a collective Dutch company licensed by the Dutch States General.

It so happened that the Dutch VOC system was not very different from the community land ownership under trust of custodianship of Africans where the chiefs were instrumental in dishing out the grazing or farming land. We’ve heard about this in our earlier podcasts. 

There is the irony in South Africa’s land history if you think about it – the early forms of land as property where the chief or governor leased locations to people and then demanded constant form of tax payment back for the right to use it. 

And both the Dutch and the Khoe had a use it or lose it system. 

The Khoe trust ownership was not defined by having feudal or corporate dictatorial powers over land, it was more fluid where the Khoe chiefs for example had no right to dictate to individuals about exactly what they did with the land – just that it should be used and they would gain a portion of the proceeds. 

These chiefs had already warned the Dutch about land use – and van Riebeeck’s journals show how these men and women drew parallels with the Dutch practices – specifically when they became angry about the encroachment on their land and demanded what would happen if they went to Holland and did the same. 

Episode 18

In this episode I focus on the 1670s through to the 1680s where a whole lot was going on in the south of Africa. 

Let me first start with race relations. South Africans probably have no idea that the man who launched the most aggressive drive to expand into Africa was not born in Europe – he was born in Mauritius of Dutch and Indian stock. Had he been born after apartheid’s firm grasp fixed South African in a race-based laws after 1948 he would have been classified coloured. 

The man who ran the first version of our country would have been denied the right to vote and forced to take second-class trains. And yet he introduced colonialism in South Africa in its full stark reality. 

History. Got to love it in all its irony. 

That man of course was Simon van der Stel – who was dark of skin and who was Eastern in his ways – as well as Dutch of course. Half and half. 

History is a vicious taskmaster of the bigot, the blind contemporary. 

He was to usher in the formation of a whole new people – the Afrikaners. Part black, part white, part French, part Dutch, somewhat Khoe, a spattering of Angolan layered with Madagascan, infused in Africa. Later Afrikaners would be English or Irish or Scots in origin as well, Scandinavians too. 

They are the trekboers of the 19th Century and the poets of the 21st

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. 

When Simon van der Stel arrived from Mauritius, the colony was still confined to the Cape peninsular with outstations at Dassen Island, Saldanha Bay and the Hottentots Hollands mountains. 

Twenty six years later when his son Adrian van der Stel was recalled – it covered many hundreds of square miles with new towns of Stellenbosch and Drakenstein – the former with its own magistrate and council and the latter populated by industrious French refugees known as the Huguenots. They arrive in 1688 and are part of our next podcast. 

Van der Stel was driven by a relentless energy and a talent for organizing. Within a month of his arrival in 1679 he was off surveying his command and had identified a site for the new town of Stellenbosch. He had laid out land holdings of 160 acres per plot watered by the Eeste Rivier but he needed immigrants to populate the land.  

When he first sailed into Table Bay in 1679 he would have noted a few interesting things in the tiny settlement that adjoined the Fort now built of stone and an imposing building close to the seafront.  

Fynbos in the Western Cape - a thing of beauty indeed.

There were now around 200 freemen, burghers, freeburghers. Some were unsavoury such as P Bartolemi a carpenter who threatened to shoot the previous governor like a dog. There was J. Jans, a drunkard who in an intoxicated state thought it would be interesting to see what happened if he fed pigs and dogs with sugar and eggs mixed with wine, then picked another drunk’s pocket. 

He was flogged, given three years in chains, and all property confiscated. He had turned into a convict. That meant he was technically of a lower status than a slave. 

Below the rung of freemen white and black, were the slaves and all were black.  

And yet under Dutch law based on Roman practice, slaves had a recognized legal status which did not exist in English common law – nor the common law of America at the time.