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The Cape Colony

Effects of the Contacts of the European Settlers on the Africans of South Africa, 1652 and 1800

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The Dutch landed at the Cape of South Africa in 1652 under the sponsorship of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch, having observed that the Cape was suitable for human habitation, soon encouraged immigration.

So, what the Dutch initially thought to be merely a refueling station soon developed into a colony.

The British and other nationals from France, Germany etc. soon settled at the Cape because of its strategic location and other benefits that they could get from the Cape. These Europeans (the Dutch and many other nationals) soon started to drift into the interior of South Africa for various reasons.

Resistance by the Africans

The drift of these European settlers into the interior soon brought them into close contact with the Africans of South Africa, first with the groups (Bushmen and Hottentots) and later with Bantu groups. The contacts of the European settlers with the Africans were met with vigorous resistance by the latter.

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Dutch Cape Colony. Wikimedia photo

However, the contacts had very far-reaching effects on the Africans of South Africa, particularly during the period under consideration and even far beyond 1800. Some of the effects are even very much noticeable in the present time.

The Hottentots and the Bushmen were the first group of Africans to come into contact with the European settlers. The Khoisan groups were very much concerned about their ancestral lands. The Khoisan groups were indeed mindful of their hunting territories.

For example, the Bushmen would not allow any Hottentots to cross into their hunting territories without expressed permission despite the fact that the Hottentots had many things in common with them.

So, when the European settlers came into contact with the Africans, incessant wars were fought when the former wanted to farm or graze on the land of the latter.

The Khoisan groups resisted the encroachment of the European settlers on their lands, while the Hottentots submitted after some time; the Bushmen were persistent in warfare with the European settlers.

When the Khoisan groups were finally conquered, the Bantu groups too went to war with the European settlers who were desirous of acquiring their lands.


Throughout the period under consideration, warfare was noticeable between the white settlers and the various African groups. The Kaffir wars (the first kaffir war occurred in 1779) could bear testimony to this assertion. There were three kaffir wars during the period under consideration in 1779; 1789 and 1799 respectively.

According to Leo Marquard, “…. …by 1700, cattle farmers (European settlers) began to trek into the interior which later brought them into contact with the African tribes followed by wars of conquest…

One can, therefore, argue that one of the resultant effects of the contacts between European settlers and the natives was the chain of wars and the eventual conquest of the Africans, particularly the Khoisan groups and the enthronement of white domination over them.

The contacts also brought loss of lives, economic ruin and general insecurity particularly to the peoples of South Africa. Cattle played a major role in the socio-economic life of the Africans. The incessant and innumerable cattle raids brought economic ruin to the Africans.

The Bushmen, who put on very stiff and dogged resistance, were killed in cold blood by the European settlers whenever they had the opportunity. As L.M. Thompson said, “……in particular, conflicts between Boers and Africans caused instability on the colonial frontier”.

African Loss of Traditional and Legitimate lands

The contacts between the European settlers and the Africans robbed the latter of the possession of their traditional and legitimate lands.

Land constituted one of the major causes of the wars that were fought between the European settlers and Africans during the period under review.

Both the white settlers and the Africans needed enough land for the cultivation of agricultural products as well as land for grazing.

As noted earlier, one of the causes for the gradual movement of the European settlers into the interior of South Africa up to 1800 was the determination to acquire sufficient land for cultivation and grazing.

When the Dutch East India Company could no longer satisfy their insatiable desire for more land at the Cape (even at the expense of the Africans), the European settlers started to drift into the interior. As a result of their technological superiority, the white settlers were able to conquer Africans and get much of their ancestral land.

As Anene and Brown rightly pointed out, “The territorial expansion inevitably took place at the expense of the indigenous people …… it ended with the Hottentots being forced to recognize that their land had gone forever”.

This view was supported by Arthur Keppel-Jones when he wrote, “The Hottentots had bartered away too many of their animals, their race itself was largely destroyed by smallpox and after this, the migrant farmers moved in to occupy their land”.

Disintegration of Culture

The contacts between the European settlers and the Africans led to a drastic disintegration of the culture of many of the people.

There is no doubting the fact that the contacts led to the displacement of the socio-cultural life of the Africans, particularly the Khoisan groups. As many historians correctly pointed out, the Khoisan groups had no force with which to generate a united front that could have sustained their cultural identity.

It has been argued that if they had evolved the concept of monarchy like the Bantu groups, they would have been able to withstand the attack of the European settlers on their culture.

The inherent weaknesses in the social and political organization of the Khoisan groups consequently resulted in their being conquered and assimilated by the European settlers.

Anene and Brown brought out this fact clearly when they wrote, “The impact of an exchange economy and the attraction of European material goods provoked a drastic disintegration of Hottentotsculture “….. the Hottentots parted with their lands with hardly a struggle and either entered the service of the settlers as farm labourers or retired farther into the interior”.

On the disintegration of the culture of the peoples, L.M. Thompson had this to say, “The Africans were gradually conquered ….. their culture began to be transformed by the impact of traders, missionaries and government officials”.

Master-Servant Relationship

The contacts also affected the status of the Africans of South Africa. With the conquest of the Africans and with the introduction of slaves in 1716, the relationship between the Africans and the European settlers soon developed into a master-servant relationship.

With the conquest of the Africans and the introduction of slave labour, and as majority of the black people were slaves and almost all European settlers were masters, the European settlers came to regard themselves as belonging to the master race, while the Africans were regarded as their servants.

The belief of these European settlers about master-servant relationships was reinforced by the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. The Apartheid policy, which became muchly more noticeable in the 20th century, had its root laid during the period under consideration.

Speaking on the relationship between the Africans and the European settlers, Arthur Keppel – Jones commented, “But the historical importance of their relations with the white invaders does not lie in this unimportant survival (of the Hottentots).

It lies rather in the precedents that were set for the white man’s relations with the Bantu and in their effects on the people living today who are partly, but not purely descended from the Hottentots”.

Commenting further, Keppel – Jones said, “During the 18th-century contact with slaves, Hottentots and Bushmen developed in the minds of the Europeans a set of attitudes and prejudices concerning race and colour”.


In conclusion, we can, therefore, deduce from the above that contacts between European settlers and the Africans had very remarkable effects on the Africans.

The contacts brought frequent wars and the subjugation of the Africans to white domination; Christianizing of Africans in South Africa, loss of land by the Africans general insecurity, loss of lives, economic ruin, drastic disintegration of the culture of the natives and change in the status of the Africans, which in practical terms make Africans hewers of wood, and drawers of water under the Apartheid policy of the South African government.

Read More

  • Afrikaners in South Africa: Overview and History – ThoughtCo
  • Great Trek 1835-1846 | South African History Online
  • The Dutch East India Company and Attempts to stop the Drift of the White Settlers into the Interior of South Africa – Tadexprof
Written by Prof. V.O Edo and Dr S.A Ogunode