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A Handbook of the Boer War

Whose kraal was a hundred miles away


The

Great Trek of 1836-7 was brought about by the emancipation of the slaves and by the refusal or inability of the Government to protect the farmers against the raids of the "Kaffir"[4] tribes on the border. There is no doubt that enslaved Hottentots, Bushmen, and even Malays who had been with the knowledge of the authorities imported from Madagascar and Malacca, were often ill-treated by individual slave-owners; but the Boers resented the charge of wholesale cruelty which was made against them, and the favour and patronage bestowed upon native tribes. Moreover, although the slave-owners were entitled to compensation for the loss of their helots, the fund was administered in London, with the result that a considerable proportion of the already inadequate sum was retained in the hands of agents.

The object of the Great Trek was deliverance from the harsh and hostile jurisdiction of the British Government, and the setting up of a new and independent Boer community in Natal, which was reported to be a promised land flowing with milk and honey. The Boers proposed to shake themselves free from the Egyptian and to occupy Canaan.

The _voortrekkers_, among whom was the boy Paul Kruger, slowly passed away towards the north and crossed the Orange River. Moshesh, the chief of the Basutos, watched curiously from his mountains the trains of wagons strung out on the veld, but refrained from molesting the emigrants. Not so Moselekatse,[5]

a chief who had formerly broken away from Chaka and had set himself up beyond the Vaal, and who subsequently founded the Matabele Kingdom in which he was succeeded by his son Lobengula. He swooped down upon the advanced parties, who defended themselves with success and afterwards chastised him in his own country, in which, hidden from his eyes, lay the gold-bearing reefs of Johannesburg.

Meanwhile the British Government had forged a useless and clumsy weapon for the coercion of its "erring and misguided" subjects. It was held by the lawyers that the trekkers could not at will and by the simple process of migration throw off their allegiance to the Crown of England, and a declaratory Act was passed under which all British subjects south of Latitude 25, whether within or without the colony, could be arrested and punished.

The Boer scouts discovered passes over the Drakensberg which gave them a readier access than they had expected into Natal. It had not recovered from the devastations of Chaka and was thinly inhabited. Settlements were made near the banks of the Tugela, while Piet Retief, after a brief visit to Durban, went on to negotiate with Dingaan at the royal kraal of Umgungundhlovu in Zululand. He was received with some cordiality, but accused of participating in a recent cattle raid. Retief, to show his good faith, offered to catch the robber, a chief named Sikunyela, whose kraal was a hundred miles away. He found Sikunyela, who greatly admired the glistening rings of a pair of handcuffs shown him by the slim Dutchman, and who was even persuaded that they would be a becoming ornament to a native chief. He tried them on, but a more intimate acquaintance with the use of handcuffs induced him to surrender the cattle he had stolen from Dingaan, the King of the Zulus.

Again Retief with a hundred followers waited upon Dingaan at Umgungundhlovu, and after military displays on each side received from him a grant of the same land which Chaka had already given to the British pioneers of Durban. Next day the Boers were received in farewell audience by Dingaan, by whose orders they were treacherously surrounded and led out to the place of execution, a hill of mimosas outside the royal kraal, where they were put to death.


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