Equal Subjects, Unequal Rights: Indigenous Peoples in British Settler Colonies, 1830-1910

By Julie Evans; Patricia Grimshaw et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
South Africa: better 'the Hottentot at
the hustings' than 'the Hottentot in the
wilds with his gun on his shoulder'

We set out, briefly, in chapter one the complex background up to the time that the Cape Colony came under permanent British rule. One of the legacies that the British governors inherited from their Dutch predecessors was the situation of endemic conflict on the 'eastern frontier' of the Cape, leading to a century of frontier wars. We noted there that the Xhosa were formidable enemies for the colonists: the governors had to bring in large numbers of regular British troops to defeat them, and most of the wars fought lasted for a number of years. The British ultimately won each war, through a combination of superior military technology and an ability to destroy the Xhosa food supplies. The end of most of the wars was followed by colonial annexation of slices of Xhosa territory – until, in January 1866, all the land west of the Great Kei River (then called 'British Kaffraria', subsequently known as the Ciskei) was incorporated into the colony. The Dutch, in their initial occupation of the Cape peninsula, had assumed their right to take it from the Khoisan by treating it as a form of terra nullius. The British took over the Cape from the Dutch by a combination of military conquest and formal cession by treaty; the colonial annexations of Xhosa land were similarly based on both military conquest and cession by treaties following the various frontier wars. In South Africa, as elsewhere in the settler colonies, the nineteenth century was characterised by the transfer of Indigenous land to Europeans. Although the process was complex and varied, Indigenous land was eventually transformed into property and made available for permanent European settlement, whether by military conquest, treaty or legal doctrine.

In the Cape, White farmers eagerly took over large areas of the Xhosa's land, and the inhabitants of the Ciskei area became servants on the White-owned farms and in the towns of the eastern Cape. East of the Great Kei, in the area which came to be known as the Transkei, the Gcaleka Xhosa and the Thembu were left in nominal independence.

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