Cape Town

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painting of Dutch landing

Van Riebeeck's landing, 1652
painting by Charles Bell (South African Library)

More Information on the Boers in South Africa


Although the Portuguese first reached the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, the first serious traders were the Dutch, or as they came to be known, the Boers, or Afrikaners. Boer means farmer, the occupation of most of the settlers. The Fort de Goede Hope was built in 1652 when merchant Jan Van Riebeeck created the first settlement.

He described in his Journal the difficulties of securing enough food for the settlement in the first few months:

During the past wet days about 8 to 10 persons have again gone sick. We can give them nothing better than a little warm wine, as to date we have not seen a single head of cattle or sheep. Hope however in the coming months the people of Saldanha will come down with their cattle and that we shall then be able to barter a good number from them for the refreshment of our men on land as well as those from the ships which are soon expected. --July 1652

The intention of the company was that the settlers would grow enough food to supply passing ships, so they hoped to barter with the natives and avoid fighting with them. However, because the Khoikhoi did not want to sell enough cattle for the settlement to meet its needs, there began to be conflicts.


trekboers picture

Trekboers (Cape Archives)


As the whites moved inland to find the best farmlands they seriously encroached on Khoikhoi land. The Dutch stole as well as bought cattle from the Khoikhoi. As they moved inland, conflicts grew worse. In 1659, the Khoikhoi fought the Dutch over grazing land south of Able Bay. After losing to the Dutch, the Khoikhoi went into a great decline and their civilization virtually disappeared.

Many of the Dutch became traveling farmers (trekboers), not unlike the Khoikhoi, herding their cattle and sheep and on the move to better grazing land.

This is part of the Bitter Union: The Story of South Africa Exhibit

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