The Dutch East India Company and Attempts to stop the Drift of the White Settlers into the Interior of South Africa

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The Dutch East India Company tried to stop the movement of the European settlers into the interior, but this attempt proved to be an uphill task. Throughout its period of operation at the Cape Colony (1652 – 1795), the Company’s officials endeavoured to stop the drift of European settlers into the interior.

Jan van Riebeeck’s Planted Demarcation

Jan van Riebeeck, following the war of 1659, between the Hottentots and the Company subjects, often called the First Hottentots war, planted a hedge of bitter almonds as a demarcation between the European settlers and the Hottentots and also to stop the movement of the European settlers into the interior.

Besides, the company in 1770 made a law; restricting the settlers from going beyond the Gamtoos River. All these attempts of the company failed. Effort will now be made to examine the difficulties or reasons why the company could not stop the movement of the European settlers into the interior.

Recognition Money

The European settlers were essentially agriculturists. They settled at the Cape to practice agriculture, meaning then that they would need land. The Company initially granted the European settlers freehold farms, but it soon substituted the freehold farms with loan farms; of an average size of about 6,000 acres.

The company later started to get charges on each of the loan farms of 6,000 acres. These charges were called “recognition money” which implied the company’s ownership of the land.

Land Hunger

The population of the European settlers soon grew to greater numbers and the company could no longer guarantee land to all deserving European settlers. Land hunger at the Cape became a problem to the settlers. So, when the company could not conveniently satisfy the land hunger, the settlers started to move into the interior.


Closely related to the shortage of enough land for the European settlers at the Cape, either to practice farming or cattle-rearing was the change from agricultural farming to cattle rearing.

As farming was virtually becoming unprofitable while cattle ranching were gradually taking its place, demand for cattle was far ahead of the demand for agricultural products like vegetables, wine, wheat, barley, etc.

Agricultural products could not be retained for long if prices were low or there was no market for them, whereas cattle could be retained and sold later if there was no market for it initially.

As more and more of the European settler population was taking to farming, more lands and pastures were required to meet their demands in the cattle ranching business.

The Cape Colony regrettably could not meet the demand of the settlers. So, as long as the company could not provide enough land for the settlers at the Cape Colony (which was really very difficult), the company was then incapacitated by this land shortage in stopping the European settlers from drifting into the interior.

Also, as long as there was demand for meat and the supply from the Hottentots could not meet the required quantity of the meat demanded by the company, so the European settlers would continue to move into the interior in spite of the laws made by the company to stop this practice.

In the words of Omer-Cooper and others, “Once considerable numbers of settlers took to cattle farming, therefore, the colony was bound to expand at tremendous speed and in spite of its very small white population and large area, there was always a shortage of land.

The Dutch East India Company disapproved of its expansion, but it needed the meat provided by the cattle farmers, and it lacked the resources and was too inefficient and corrupt to prevent or control it”.

Life at the Cape was very expensive, whereas life at the interior was less expensive. For instance, young men in the interior could conveniently feed their families by taking to farming and hunting.

They could, therefore, supplement their farming with hunting, like killing wild animals for food. They could also induce or force the Hottentots to become their herdsmen. The relative or less expensive life at the interior also contributed to the difficulties of the company at stopping the settlers from moving into the interior.

The large scale corruption within the company equally hindered her activities at curtailing or containing the movement of its subjects into the interior. The large scale corruption was itself a difficulty and a cog in the wheel of progress for the company.

Such corruption aided the weakness of the company and therefore helped to produce a weak and inefficient administration, which did not augur well for the company.

Many of the officials of the Dutch East India Company that were saddled with the responsibility of running the company effectively and loyally, sacked their responsibilities and merely engaged in enriching themselves illegally at the expense of the company.

Williem Adriaan Van der Stel

Such notorious company officials included Williem Adriaan Van der Stel. His tenure of office (1699 – 1707) witnessed an unparalleled degree of malpractice and naked betrayal of confidence in handling official matters. He succeeded, as the governor of the Cape in manipulating the meat and wine trade to achieve his selfish ends.

He bought up numerous plots and gradually held a very substantial part of the land at the Cape Colony. Even, company servants provided him with free labour. The corrupt practices of Williem Adriaan Van der Stel were so conspicuous that he’ incurred the wrath of the free burghers who sent startling charges against him to the company directors.


He was recalled and dismissed in 1707. We should know that many of the officials of the company, being weak, were unable to control the settlers in accepting the rules and regulations of the company. Again, their corrupt practices did not only weaken the administration of the Cape Colony, but also encouraged the European settlers to run away from the Cape Colony.

The Excessive Monopoly of the Company

The excessive monopoly of the company also created difficulty in stopping the settlers from moving into the interior. The free burghers, that is, European settlers could only sell their produce to the company and the passing ships. The farmers were not happy about the trade monopoly enjoyed by the company at the expense of the settlers.

The settlers could not also cultivate or plant tobacco which was lucrative. The company later stopped cattle trading with the Hottentots. Besides, the settlers had to struggle with company officials (i.e. competing with the officials of the company e.g. Adriaan van der Stel) before selling their produce.


This trade monopoly, therefore, encouraged the settlers to move into the interior regardless of the company’s measures to prevent this. Arthur Keppel – Jones stressed this point when he wrote, “…… Above all, cattle-trading with the Hottentots …… was forbidden a year later.

The company wanted this lucrative trade for itself, and accused the colonists (European settlers) of paying eight or ten times “what the cattle were worth”…… that is, what the company was prepared to pay”.

Inadequate Resources of the Company

The Dutch East India Company found it difficult to stop the European settlers from moving into the interior because it had no adequate resources, particularly finance to carry out its orders.

The company in 1770 forbade the settlers from going beyond the Gamtoos River, which was regarded as the boundary.

However, the settler sooner than later went beyond the Gamtoos River and the company was helpless at preventing this drift because it had no means of enforcing its laws to their logical conclusions.

Company’s Guard Posts

The company initially set up guard posts to protect the burghers from the attacks of the blacks, particularly the Bushmen at that material time. The company soon left the safety of the burghers to the burgher commandos (Boer commandos) as the company could no longer maintain the cost of the guards, due to financial constraints.

Thus, the inadequate resources also created difficulties for the company in stopping the drift of European settlers into the interior of South Africa.


It could therefore be seen from the foregoing reasons that it was difficult for the company to stop the movement of the European settlers into the interior because the company could not provide enough land to meet the demands of the settlers.

Also, the company engaged in monopolistic tendencies which embittered the settlers; life was less expensive in the interior than at the Cape Colony; there was also a large scale corruption among the officials, which weakened the grip of the company on the settlers and finally there was lack of enough resources, especially finance with which the company could carry

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Written by Prof. V.O Edo and Dr S.A Ogunode
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