A series that seeks to tell the story of the South Africa in some depth. Presented by experienced broadcaster/podcaster Des Latham and updated weekly, the episodes will take a listener through the various epochs that have made up the story of South Africa.
Episode 36 – The French and British fight over the Cape as bounty hunter Willem Prinsloo crosses the Fish River
This is episode 36 and its time to return to Xhosaland. Before we do that, let’s step back a little and consider the effect of action beyond Africa that was having an influence on the continent, particularly the southern reaches.
Adam Smith may have been somewhat bemused, as American historian Noel Mostert writes in his book frontiers, to find that the very year in which his masterwork was published saw the start of a struggle on the seas that rested on his own declared twin pillars of global destiny – America and the Cape of Good Hope.
The American colonies were in the process of being lost to Britain as Smith published his work – and a wider war was buffeting the seas. The Cape had been drawn into the American War of Independence which changed the destiny of Southern Africa. It’s not well remembered these days, but as America’s early history is interwoven with South Africa’s.
As all of this was taking place on the high seas, the colonists in the Cape found themselves at war on two fronts with two different groups of people. The Xhosa and the San.
As the Dutch East India company feebly tried to stop trekboers from advancing beyond the Gamtoos river near Algoa Bay, a true frontier had developed from 1770 onwards. It was a loose, ill-defined area along the south east coast and the Dutch colonists had now hit a human barrier that stopped their freedom of movement.
That barrier was the Xhosa people.
Episode 35 – The Mthethwa and Ndwandwe flex their muscles in what eventually will become known as Zululand
This is episode 35 and we’re going to focus on the forerunners of the Zulu – the Mthethwa and Ndwandwe, the Qwabe and how they emerged in the region between the Tugela and Pongola rivers in northern KwaZulu Natal or what became known as Zululand.
By the first few centuries AD the migrations of farmers moving into the area between the Drakensburg, the Mzimkhulu river south of modern Durban and up to Pondoland took place.
There had been a steady growth of farmers here until the first phase of the development of more powerful kingdoms. The second phase saw the people there divide into numbers small patriarchal clans which lived alongside each other in relative peace although there were many minor incidents.
The third phase began with the rise of the Zulu Kingdom by around 1810. I’ll get to the third phase in future podcasts. The fourth phase of course was the arrival of the British traders from the Cape – and from the sea.
The Ndwandwe lived In the area around Nongoma in 1780s and 90s while to the south, between the modern town of Empangeni and straddling the black Mfolozi to the north lived the Mthethwa. To their west lived the Qwabe – and those were the ancestors of the people I grew up with in the Nkwalini valley on the Umhlatuzi.
As the struggle for dominance grew at the end of the 18th Century, it corresponded with the expansion of the major groups like the Mthethwa, Ndwandwe and the Qwabe – then later the Zulu into a variety of grazing types.
Episode 34 – Trading and raiding, American whalers and the emergence of pre-Zulu chiefdoms in the East
This is episode 34 and we’re going to take a close look at what was going on in the region bounded by the Orange River, the Kalahari Desert and the Indian Ocean. This is where the Zulu emerged but the story is not the simple tale most of us know about Shaka.
As with other areas we’ve investigated, the popular narrative over time is not always an accurate reflection of real history. This will become very apparent particularly as we unearth facts about the period between 1760 and 1800.
It’s fairly recently in historical research that we’ve come to understand what was going on – earlier historians tended to pay very little attention to the decades before 1810 and the emergence of Shaka’s Zulu. Before then the Zulu were a tiny clan washing around in a much bigger pool of tribes and clans.
An important feature we all agree on now is that the upheavals of the early 1800s were not all about Shaka, it was caused partly by the increasing interaction between European commercial and colonial expansion and indigenous communities, as well as the expansion of Zulu and Ndebele and other warlike people. Traders and settler numbers rose swiftly as we’re going to hear.
Trading and raiding was always part of the southern African landscape, hundreds of years before Jan van Riebeeck setup shop in 1652.
The processes of reorganisation and expansion of increasingly centralized kingdoms can be tracked to this time. While these changes were taking place between the Drakensberg and Indian Ocean, they were also happening among the Tswana speaking societies on the south eastern fringes of the Kalahari Desert. I’ve outlined the most important clans in the last podcast – don’t forget these – they were the Bafokeng, Bahurutshe, Bakgatla, Bakwena, Bangwaketse, Barolong and Bathlaping.
Episode 33 – By 1771 Cape Town has a name and explorers begin arriving in droves
This is episode 33 and we’re focusing on the Cape after spending last episode partly in Xhosaland.
By 1771 the inn on the sea – the town in Table Bay – was being referred to as Cape Town for the first time by travellers. It appears there was not even a formal process, just the town at the foot of the mountain emerged over the preceding 120 years and by 1772 there were approximately 7000 people living there.
Four thousand whites including 1700 sailors, and 2000 free blacks and slaves. Part of this episode is going to be viewed through the eyes of botanist and Scots gardener and explorer Francis Masson who journeyed through the Cape three times. He arrived in October 1772 to find the acting governor was Joachim van Plettenberg.
The newly appointed governor, Pieter van Rheede van Oudshoorn, had died at sea on the way out from Amsterdam. And right there are the men whose surnames would be two future towns – Plettenberg bay and Oudtshoorn.
1772 was an important year because that’s when foreign shipping numbers increased significantly because of the American War of Independence which I mentioned last episode. French ships in particular were sailing through the bay regularly because they were supporting the American rebels who were fighting the British. Cape Town was already known as a pretty and orderly locale, it’s layout admired by most who visited.
Episode 32 – An intermingling on the frontiers begins in earnest and a wide-angle view of the mid-to-late 18th C
This is episode 32 and we’re swinging back to the Cape frontier through the last few decades of the 18th Century.
I am going to thoroughly probe this period because so many crucial things were unfolding across southern Africa such as the development of new centralized powerful kingdoms in the East, the acceleration of land occupation by the trekboers and the first real clashes between the isiXhosa and settlers.
That is far too much to chew on in just one episode I’m sure you’ll agree.
First we need to step back and take a wide-angle view of the region.
By the mid-1700s the eastern Cape frontier was a vaguely defined area east of the Gamtoos river. This is where black South African’s speaking a Bantu language first encountered white settlers as distinct from traders and missionaries. It was also here that policies which have had a profound influence on southern Africa were first formulated and applied.
It was also a cultural frontier between warring states and had many characteristics of frontiers elsewhere across the world at that time. One of course was in north America
Episode 31 – Trade increases between Delagoa Bay and the Tswana and the Dutch Reformed Church makes its mark in the Cape
This is episode 31 and we’ll now take a broader look at what was going on across southern Africa after a few episodes peering closely at the northern Cape. We’ll also take a closer look at how the Cape government was expanding.
Sleeping giants were to awaken by the last quarter of the 18th Century, with the emergence and expansion of a number of increasingly centralized chiefdoms in the region between the northern and central Drakensberg and the Indian Ocean. A similar process was taking place at pretty much the same time among the Tswana-speaking societies on the southeastern fringes of the Kalahari Desert.
There is not much documented evidence from this region which makes the telling of the story slightly more difficult. But as we’ve heard over the course of this series already, the wonders of archaeology have begun to paint a scientific picture – and historians have pieced together some of the emerging states of this time.
We also hear about the growing role of the Dutch Reformed Church. The experience of VOC political institutions particularly the local government, formed part of this heritage. But the strongest unifying institution both emotionally and intellectually, was provided by the Dutch Reformed Church.
The doctrine of this church was primitive Calvinism as embodied in the Heidelberg catechism and the decrees of the synod of Dort. Its emphasis was on the old testament and the doctrine was heavily weighted towards the concept of predestination. This particularly suited the colonial whites struggling to survive in a tough environment and accustomed from birth to treating nonwhites as slaves or serfs, and more often than not, enemies.
A fantastic piece on South African History
Goes in depth on all aspects of the history of the rainbow nation.
Well-Researched and Well-Presented
As usual, Des Latham has produced a well-researched and intriguing history, and even though it’s only a few episodes in, it seems on par with his Anglo-Boer War and Battle of Stalingrad podcasts which were superb. Thanks very much, Des, for continuing your interesting and entertaining storytelling!
Looking forward to these
I just finished the first episode and this is going to be a series where I wait impatiently for the next episode. Des Latham does a great job narrating and the subject matter is, as always, very interesting. Very well done.