Early Boer & British Settlements in South Africa


The early history of Dutch and British settlers in South Africa might help to explain the inequality and problems of present day South Africa. The history of colonialism begins with the Dutch in 1652 followed by the British in 19th century.


Jan van Riebeeck
Jan van Riebeeck

The first European settlers in South Africa were sponsored by the Dutch East India Company which controlled Netherlands trade between India and East Asia. The settlement established in the Cape in 1652 provided fresh food supplies for ships sailing to the east. This group of first settlers was led by Jan van Riebeeck. Initially van Riebeeck and his group traded peacefully with the Khoi who lived in that area. However, after 20 years they decided they wanted to farm the food for themselves and began moving inland. They decided to become permanent settlers and farmers of vegetables, wheat and grapes for wine. In order to acquire land for farming the Dutch settlers attacked Khoi communities and acquired more land forcefully. As the Khoi resisted the advances of the Dutch there were more wars.

The Dutch settlers also needed people to farm the land and as the local Khoi resisted they imported slaves from West Africa and Malaysia. This formed the beginning of the mixed race community in the Cape. After 1700, some Dutch settlers moved away from the Cape in search for more land and became known as trekboers. The trekboers invaded more land that belonged to the Khoi and and San and stole cattle and livestock for their sustenance. As Khoi and San resisted the Boers they fought many wars but lost many because the Boers had guns. Eventually, they retreated to mountain areas such as the Kgalagadi desert while the Nama moved to present day Namibia. The Khoi and San also died from European diseases such as smallpox. The few Khoi people who remained in the Cape region were forced to work for the Boers as slaves. Many of the Boers became prosperous from slave labor before slavery was abolished in 1834.


In 1806, the Cape became a British colony after the Dutch lost a war and by 1820, there were 10,000 British settlers. These settlers were encouraged to become sheep farmers so they could produce wool for the British textile industry. As Britain passed laws against the slave trade between 1807 and 1833, the British farmers and missionaries called for an end to the Boer slave system but with an ulterior motive. They wanted the labor on the Boer farms so they decided to start paying workers and most of the Khoi and African slaves left the Boer farms to go and work for the British. To solidify their power, the British decided to start schools, made English the official language and introduced laws and courts that would govern the Cape colony.

To resist the influence of the British, the Boers left the Cape colony. Between 1835 and 1845, approximately 14,000 Boers left the Cape in a movement called the Great Trek. Eventually, these groups formed new colonies called the Orange Free State and the South African Republic or Transvaal.


As the Boers moved further inland they came into contact with the Nguni who they could not easily defeat. For 30 years the Boers and Nguni fought wars for land with no clear victor. In 1812 and 1818, the British fought the Xhosa for land along the Fish and Kei rivers. As the British demand for land increased, they fought the Xhosa again in 1820 and 1853. The Xhosa were harder to defeat because they also used guns like the European settlers. As a result many Xhosa people remained independent until the 1880s.

Other African states also managed to resist the invasion of the European settlers. The Zulu, Sotho and Swazi states were powerful while the Tswana, Pedi and Venda though small remained intact.Some African states managed to force Boers in parts of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State to pay tribute to them. Other than land and farming the Boers and Africans traded for goods. Boers brought knives, guns, blankets, ploughs to exchange for cattle, ivory and goods produced by Africans. In addition, some Xhosa produced and sold wool to the British. Some African men would go to work for the European settlers for short periods of time before returning to their communities. Until the 1870s many African states within South Africa remained independent and in control of their land. However, the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1885 changed the attitude of the British an soon they wanted the whole of South Africa to themselves.


  1. Racism did not exist until the discovery of diamonds. Slavery existed to support industry. We have been conditioned to believe that racism was a sicial justice issue when it is infact an economic issue. The proof is in the history, this us why history is so important. Thank you GBH.

    • Uhuru you have opened my eyes. I has always looked at racism as a social justice issue or moral issue & not economic issue. It explains why church going men had slaves for them there was no morality involved it was just a matter of free labor=money. Gotcha.In foresnsic accounting they say follow the money. We have followed the $$ to the root racism. The love of $$$ is the root of racism and beginning of empire of evil.

  2. When you read the eurocentric history they make it seem like the Africans were just giving away their resources in a friendly manner as if Africans did not understand the value of precious metals. This is done in a way to try & minimize the stealing of Afro-resources. The land belongs to the African.Amandla!

  3. The Africans were just pawns in the white man’s conquests as they fought each other for superiority in the European pecking order.

  4. Cecil Rhodes and Jan Van Riebeeck should come back so that we kill tell ourselves. They contributes to all the ills that we find today. Damn these guys.

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