The Khoi and San peoples were some of Cape Peninsula’s earliest settlers. During the early years of the Age of Discovery, European ships used the Cape as a way-station to replenish their supplies. Europeans (mostly Dutch and English) often docked near the Cape, and traded iron, copper, and other products for cattle owned by the Khoi. During the mid-1600s, the Dutch East India Company finally decided to colonize the Cape Peninsula to make the replenishment of Asia-bound ships easier. In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck led the earliest Dutch settlers to colonize the Cape Peninsula. This event is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History.
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Cape Peninsula’s Earliest Settlers and the Arrival of the Europeans
For thousands of years, the Khoi and San peoples lived side by side in South Africa’s Cape Peninsula. The Khoi were herders while the San people were hunter-gatherers, so there was conflict between them from time to time. The fate of these people soon changed with the appearance of Bartolomeu Dias’s ships in the waters of Cape of Good Hope in 1488.
By the early 16th century, Portuguese trade ships bound for Asia were constant sights for Cape Peninsula natives. English, Dutch, and the occasional French ships joined them in the latter part of the 16th century. Starting in 1590, Asia-bound English and Dutch trade ships began to use the Cape of Good Hope as a stopover to replenish their food supplies. European servants would then venture on land and trade with the Khoi herders for cattle and vegetables. In exchange, the Khoi people received copper, iron, beads, alcohol, and tobacco. The trade between the Khoi people and the Europeans prospered as the years passed, but it began to falter when the Khoi stopped trading their cattle for low-quality European products.
The Cape as a Dutch Colony
The Dutch government granted the East India Company a trade monopoly in 1602. They had long used the Cape of Good Hope as a way-station to replenish their supplies, but the sheer number of ships that passed through meant that demand for meat and vegetables had also risen. In 1652, the Company decided to send Jan van Riebeeck and 125 men to the Cape to buy cattle and vegetables. However, the directors soon changed their minds and released the men (with some reluctance) so they could farm the land and raise cattle in the peninsula.
It was supposed to be a temporary solution for the directors of the Company but the Cape soon turned into a settlement. In 1657, the Company gave away plots of land along the banks of Liesbeek River to the men who came with Riebeeck. There was a shortage of workers, but the Dutch Boers (“farmers”) were forbidden at the onset by the Company to enslave the Khoi. Slaves from Indonesia, Malaysia, and other parts of Africa were then brought to the Cape colony as an answer to the labor shortage.
The fact that the Khoi were sidelined in the cattle trade and that foreign slaves were working in their homeland became a source of tension between them and the Dutch settlers. The tension sometimes broke out in violence, but this did not stop the Boers from pushing further inland. The Dutch encroachment on the lands on the north and east of the Cape displaced not only the Khoi but also other tribes who lived near the Cape.
Boonzaier, Emile. The Cape Herders: A History of the Khoikhoi of Southern Africa. Cape Town: New Africa Books, 1996.
Gray, Richard, ed. The Cambridge History of Africa. Vol. 4. The Cambridge History of Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521204132.
Hunt, John. Dutch South Africa: Early Settlers at the Cape, 1652-1708. Edited by Heather-Ann Campbell. Leicester: Matador, 2005.
Marks, Shula. The Cambridge History of Africa: From c. 1600 to 1790. Edited by Richard Gray. Vol. IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
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