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The Cape Colony

The Settlers Movements from the Cape Colony into the Interior up to 1800

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White settlement at the Cape Colony of South Africa as we have discussed earlier was a product of necessity. The white settlement was originally scheduled to be merely a refreshment station for the ships of the Dutch East India Company.

The company’s servants were the early white settlers at the Cape. They were of various nationalities, notably Dutch, Germans and French.

When the Company wanted to encourage farm work on a larger scale, it allowed some of the company’s servants to settle as free citizens and they were given land to farm. The number of these free citizens who were also called burghers later increased considerably.

These various peoples that were settled at the Cape were referred to as white settlers and they were the people that later, for various reasons, gradually moved into the interior of South Africa.

The gradual movements of some of these European settlers into the interior of South Africa up to 1800 were caused by various factors to be discussed below.

The Desire for More Land

The majority of the European settlers were farmers growing vegetables, wheat and wine on very small areas of land at the Cape. As their number increased, there was a desire for more land to enable them to grow their crops and become successful farmers.


However, the land at the Cape apart from being barren, it was not enough to accommodate the ever-increasing number of farmers and this meant that the only alternative is to move into the interior.

For instance, the land at the Cape was practically not enough to afford a loan farm of 6,000 acres in return for annual rent by the increasing number of European settlers.

Hence, the European settlers decided to move into the interior in order to have enough land, either for agriculture or for any other purposes. As Omer – Cooper has rightly pointed out, “The majority of the whites were farmers and this meant that as their population increased they would need more land”.

The Vacant Land in the Interior

The vacant land in the interior was also an impetus and a ready solution to the scarcity of land at the Cape, which in turn aided the gradual movement into the interior by the European settlers.

Unsatisfactory Supply of Cattle by the Company

The company wanted a regular supply of cattle (fresh meat for the passing ships) from the Hottentots, in return for copper, tobacco, knives etc., but the Hottentots were not ready to part with much of their cattle.

This refusal of the Hottentots to part with much of their cattle led to an irregular and insufficient supply of cattle to the company and this situation was unsatisfactory to the company officials.

Jan van Riebeeck, therefore, sent exploring parties to the interior-north and east of Cape Town and elsewhere, to induce the Hottentots to bring more cattle to Table Bay at regular period in order to guarantee enough and regular supply of cattle.

Fertile Land in the Interior

Those who participated in the exploration of the interior brought back the news of fertile lands in the interior. This also encouraged the European settlers to drift into the interior either to become farmers or cattle ranchers.

The European settlers, the majority of who were farmers soon discovered that farming at the Cape was not a lucrative business. The costs of production of vegetables, wheat and wine were very high.


The lands, on which these crops were grown, were not very fertile. There were also weather vagaries (uncertain weather conditions) and there was no abundant market for these agricultural products at the Cape. In contrast, there was a ready market for cattle at the Cape, as meat and animal skins were in high demand.

Preference for Cattle Ranching

Also, cattle could be preserved if the demand or prices for it was low, unlike agricultural products which were subject to perish after some time. Also, to be a successful farmer, a European settler needed enough capital which many of them could ill-afford, whereas cattle ranching provided a very high yielding venture without much capital.

This factor encouraged many of the European settlers to move into the interior with a view to practising cattle ranching. Furthermore, stock farming products were needed at the Cape such as fresh meat, ostrich feather, eggs etc.

According to Leo Marquard, “The increasing demand of the Cape market for meat greatly encouraged cattle farming. Since the land around the Cape Town and Stellenbosch was not suited to ranching on any large scale, the cattle farmers began to move across the Hottentots – Holland Mountains to establish large cattle farms to the east”.

Less Expensive Life at the Interior

Another factor that encouraged the gradual movement of the European settlers into the interior was the idea that life at the interior was less expensive as compared with the expensive life at the Cape.

This idea might have emanated from the exploration into the interior as the people who went on exploration actually took cognizance of the situation in the interior. For example, much food could be got from shooting wild animals (for food or for sale, especially the hides and skins for money) and also there was no need for costly clothes and luxuries of life as the Cape demanded.


Moreover, the European settlers could induce the Hottentots to work as their herdsmen and pay them just little wages. As Anene and Brown remarked, “…… cost of living in the interior was much lower than at the Cape.

The farmer might expect to derive much of his food from hunting and the produce of the cattle …… a small wonder that men began to cross the mountains into the hinterland, first as traders bartering with Hottentots, later as cattle ranchers”.

The Policies of the Dutch East India Company

The policies of the Dutch East India Company including the use of stringent measures also embittered the European settlers who thus decided to leave the Cape and move into the interior. The Company’s monopolistic tendencies were not liked by the European settlers.

For instance, cattle trading with the Hottentots which the settlers engaged in shortly after their settlement on the land and which was allowed by the Company was forbidden a year after the permission was given.

This was because the company wanted the trade for itself, because of the profits there, even though it accused the settlers or colonists of paying too much for the cattle to the Hottentots.

Also, the growing of tobacco which was a crop that could fetch the settlers much money was also stopped by the Company on the pretext that it would lead to trouble with the Africans, particularly the Hottentots.

The Company wanted the settlers to grow wheat and other crops, but it was not prepared to buy them at reasonable prices, at the same time compelling them to sell only to the company. All these policies led to bitterness and the European settlers continued to drift into the interior.

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The Cape Colony and Jan van Riebeeck.
Cr: South Africa Tours, Travel

Taking cognizance of these policies of the company, which led to the European settlers to move into the interior, Arthur Keppel – Jones declared “The earliest colonists (European settlers) had suffered from the company’s monopoly both as a buyer and a seller.


The permission sometimes conceded and occasionally withdrawn, to trade freely with passing ships…..the illegal trade with the Hottentots was greater importance”.

The strictness of the Company’s Officials

Closely related to the policies of the company which made the European settlers move into the interior was the high-handedness of many of the officials of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape.

For instance, when Williem Adriaan van de Stel became the governor at the Cape, he enriched himself at the expense of the company. He used the slaves and implements of the company for his interests so much that he almost became the seller and buyer of the commodities (both stock and agricultural commodities) produced at the Cape.

This practice also provoked the colonists who drew up different complaints and sent them to the directors of the company in Holland. Although the governor WilliemAdriaan van de Stel was recalled and later dismissed from the company in 1707, the inconsistent policies of the company coupled with the high-handedness of many of its officials, including governors made many of the European settlers to move into the interior.

The practice of granting loan farms of 6,000 acres of land to each of the European settlers at the Cape for an annual rent should also be examined as it contributed to their gradual movement into the interior.

In 1717, the Dutch East India Company decided to stop the issue of free land hold to the European settlers, but instead to grant them loan farms of 6,000 acres for an annual rent.

The granting of the loan – farms to the European settlers encouraged them to overgraze and when the pasture was barren or became unproductive, they (settlers) then moved on to new pastures – thus going further into the interior.

The Practice of Loan Farms

The practice of loan farms, no doubt, encouraged the European settlers to move into new lands and acquire such lands even though without capital being paid, and this, in turn, led to their greater dispersal into the interior.

Supporting this view, Anene and Brown remarked, “The Company adopted a policy of allowing settlers to make use of cattle runs of about 6,000 acres in return for a nominal annual rent and many farmers made use of more than one such ranch. With this development, the colony began to expand with extraordinary rapidity ……”.

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

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