The Xhosa v The Settlers (The Kaffir Wars)
Before we dive into this sordid history, I must define the “kaffir” and its history with South Africa. Its origins stem from Arabic-Isalmic and it means “non-believer”. Due to the offensive nature of the word and it’s connotations, it has become illegal to use since 1976 in the South African Nation. It was only used here in a historical sense as that was what the wars were titled during the time of the conflicts.
The Xhosa are a group of people related to the Bantu who are known to inhabit the Eastern Cape province (world atlas).They migrated over 2,000 years ago from the Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa. They took over and replaced the Khosian to occupy large swaths of land along the basin of the Fish River and also along the border of the Zulu Nation.
It is these Xhosa that the Settlers had conflicts with starting in 1779. Even though many history books also have these wars breaking out in 1789, 1799, and 1811, the skirmishes were ongoing throughout those marked years. The outcome of these wars was undetermined in the end and considered stalemates as the Settlers, though outnumbered, were better armed.
At the time this was going on, the new Republic of France had conquered the Netherlands in 1795, and the Republic renamed the Netherlands the Batavian Republic. The dethroned Prince William of Orange fled to England in hopes of persuading the British to prevent the seizure of the Dutch colonies in South Africa. This led to the eventual occupation of the British of the Cape in 1806. By this time, The British Empire had military sources in India, which put them in a better position to hold the Cape and also provide a solution to the “frontier problem”.
In 1820, The British Empire brought 5,000 British Settlers and placed them in the frontier. This only lent fuel to the fire of competition for land between the White Europeans and the indigenous peoples. As could be predicted, spears and clubs proved no match for firepower and organized military troops. This lead to a great number of losses for the Xhosa and the decentralizing of the large tribe into smaller tribes; tribes unable to unify into one cohesive fighting force. The problems of the Xhosa did not end there.
In 1857, under the guidance of their Witch doctors, the Xhosa suffered mass starvation. Their holy men told the tribal leaders they could defeat the white man if they killed their own cattle, which they did, all 400,000 head. Due to this edict, 40,000 Xhosa died, further weakening any chances they may have had to rally and take their lands back. In 1877, The Cape Colony was able to take the lands the Xhosa had left with little resistance. The Xhosa lost their land and their independence.
Next week, we will cover why the Settlers left the Cape and struck out further into South Africa.