How the Khoikhoi lost their land to the Dutch

On January 16, 1647 captain Pieter Pietersz., captain of the Dutch East India Company vessel "Nieuw Haarlem", set sail from Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia) back home to the island of Texel in the Netherlands. It was the beginning of what should have been just an ordinary trip home but it set in motion a series of events that in the end drove the South African tribe of the Khoikhoi off their native land.

When the Haarlem reached Cape Good Hope on May 25, 1647, it was caught in a nasty storm that smashed it on the cape. The marooned crew was left with no other option than to make the best of it until another Company ship would come to their rescue a year later. During their forced stay, the idea was born of setting up a permanent refreshment station that could supply passing Company ships with fresh water and fruits and that could harbor surviving crew of inevitable future shipwrecks.

The Company liked the idea and already in 1652 an expedition of five Company ships, the Reiger, Olifant, Walvis, Goede Hoop and Drommedaris, led by Jan van Riebeeck set sail for Cape Good Hope to make the refreshment station a reality. It was the only settlement the Dutch East India Company ever founded that had no trading purpose in itself. It would merely serve as a safe haven where all Company ships were obliged to moor for repairs, heal the sick and above all take in fresh fruits and vegetables to keep the crew strong and healthy.

Riebeek's men built a small wooden fort –the Redout Duijnhoop, which was later replaced by the Castle of Good Hope– and a hospital. Furthermore, crops and fruits were planted to supply the ships. To work the fields some Company employees were relieved of duty and assigned a small piece of land. Employees that had a craft, from which the Company could benefit, such as carpenters and blacksmiths, were also given permission to settle at the Cape.

At first, the new settlers –also known as burghers (citizens)– had planned to buy the cattle they needed from the natives. However, to the Khoikhoi their cattle was much more than just food: they were high value goods worth far more than what the Dutch offered to trade. Therefore, the burghers decided to grow their own herds for which they needed ever more land.

Not only the need for raising cattle pushed the boundaries of the once so tiny settlement more and more into Khoikhoi territory. In addition, the arrival of burgher families and slaves to work the land made the settlement grow and so increased the hunger for land.

Clashes with the Khoikhoi inevitably followed, but they stood no chance against the Dutch firearms. Those who survived the battles were decimated by European diseases and the survivors ended up as slaves. And so, the Khoikhoi lost their land to what should only have been a refreshment station but ended up as the land we now know as South Africa...

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