Dutch Begin to Colonize Southern Africa Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Dutch colonization of southern Africa began with the establishment of a provisioning station for ships of the Dutch East India Company, thus beginning European settlement in the region. The colony would ultimately displace and dominate the indigenous people of the region.

Summary of Event

European explorers first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1487 when Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias sailed into the Indian Ocean. Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama successfully completed his voyage to India in 1498 and established a direct trade route between Europe and India by sea. This brought an increasing number of ships from many nations to the southern tip of Africa. [kw]Dutch Begin to Colonize Southern Africa (Apr., 1652) [kw]Africa, Dutch Begin to Colonize Southern (Apr., 1652) [kw]Southern Africa, Dutch Begin to Colonize (Apr., 1652) [kw]Colonize Southern Africa, Dutch Begin to (Apr., 1652) Economics;Apr., 1652: Dutch Begin to Colonize Southern Africa[1770] Expansion and land acquisition;Apr., 1652: Dutch Begin to Colonize Southern Africa[1770] Colonization;Apr., 1652: Dutch Begin to Colonize Southern Africa[1770] Africa;Apr., 1652: Dutch Begin to Colonize Southern Africa[1770] South Africa;Apr., 1652: Dutch Begin to Colonize Southern Africa[1770] Colonization;Netherlands of South Africa South Africa, Dutch colonization of

During the 1500’, English, Dutch, and French ships stopped at the Cape of Good Hope for food and water on their way to India and on the return voyage. Terrible mortality rates of sailors on long voyages had led Europeans to discover that fresh fruit and meat would improve their health. This made the cape a critical location where they traded with the local Khoikhoi bands who raised cattle and farmed the region.

In 1649, some Dutch sailors who were stranded after losing their ship spent a month at Table Bay near the Cape of Good Hope. Upon their return to Holland, they recommended that the Dutch East India Company Dutch East India Company;South Africa annex the peninsula. In 1652, the company sent Jan van Riebeeck Riebeeck, Jan van and eighty employees to take possession of the territory, which they did in early April. Their purpose was to build a fort and to obtain fruit, meat, and vegetables for Dutch ships. The colony was to be directed by a commander, later governor, and a council of policy, made up of high-ranking company officials. They were subject to the control of the governor-general of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). The governor of the Cape Colony could appoint local members to governing bodies, and even church offices were appointed by the governor. This direct control by company officials reflected their desire to support trade to the Indies rather than the establishment of a large Dutch community.

The company directors gave strict orders to maintain peace with the African peoples and other Europeans at the cape. The Dutch commander was to focus on trade. Good relations between the Khoikhoi Khoikhoi and the Dutch were maintained through barter, as the Africans were willing to trade cattle and food for iron implements and European manufactures they lacked. Tensions among the various Khoikhoi communities were exploited by the Europeans. One member of an outcast group of Khoikhoi was Autshumao Autshumao , named Harry by the English who took him to Java in 1631. There, he learned English, and when returned to his people at the cape, he became an important link in the trading network between his band and the English, then the Dutch. Harry’s niece, Krotoa Krotoa , was taken into the home of Commander van Riebeeck. Krotoa was renamed Eva and was raised as a member of van Riebeeck’s family. She adopted Christianity and became fluent in Dutch, acting as interpreter as well as an unofficial agent for her people’s commerce with the Dutch.

Although van Riebeeck bartered for cattle and grew some vegetables to provision Dutch ships in 1653, the colony was unable to support itself entirely. Staples, such as rice and wheat, had to be imported. The increasing costs associated with the colony led company directors to permit nine employees to be released from their contracts in 1657. Each was given approximately 28.5 acres of land to farm. The company expected to save by reducing salaries and to benefit from the crops they would grow, which would be sold to the company at a fixed cost. These settlers were exempt from taxes for twelve years and permitted to trade directly with the Khoikhoi for cattle as long as they did not compete with the company.

These first “free burghers,” or Boers Boers , whose number had grown to forty by 1662, changed the nature of European settlement in two ways. First, they took land from indigenous peoples and made it unavailable for livestock, on which the local inhabitants depended for their livelihood. Formerly willing to engage in trade with the Europeans, Khoikhoi became alarmed at this encroachment. Doman Doman , a member of the Goringhaiqua Khoikhoi, had been taken to the Dutch East Indies in 1657, where he learned Dutch. He also saw how the Dutch treated the local peoples they dominated. After returning to the Cape Colony, ostensibly as interpreter for the Dutch he rallied the Khoikhoi to attack the farms and crops of Dutch settlers in 1659. Negotiations averted further hostilities but did not permanently resolve the issue of European expansion at the expense of the Khoikhoi. From that moment on, Dutch settlers would continue to expand their control over the land, first around Cape Town, and then throughout all of southern Africa.

The second way in which these Dutch settlers changed the history of South Africa was their need for labor. The first commander of the colony, van Riebeeck, had asked for slave labor as early as 1653. His request was refused. Nevertheless, the growth of the colony and the injunction against enslaving the indigenous peoples made the need for labor increasingly important. The first slaves Slavery;South Africa arrived in 1658 aboard a Dutch ship that had captured a Portuguese slave ship and its cargo. Other slaves were imported from West Africa and Madagascar. Later, slaves came from the East Indies and Southeast Asia, all indiscriminately called Malays. The eventual mixing of Europeans and indigenous populations produced a new group in South Africa that was neither wholly African nor European, and yet would become an important part of South African society.


The Dutch colony expanded slowly at first, but the arrival of French Huguenot Huguenots;South Africa and refugees, Calvinist Protestants who had been expelled from France with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 Nantes, revocation of Edict of (1685) , added more than 150 new colonists to the population. By the early 1700’s there were nearly three thousand men, women, and children, including slaves and company employees. With the leadership of Governor Simon Adriaan van der Stel Stel, Simon Adriaan van der and his son Willem Adriaan van der Stel, Stel, Willem Adriaan van der his successor as governor, farms began to spread outward from the cape. The new settlers extended Dutch settlement and also helped create the image of the Trekboers as pioneers conquering an empty wilderness. For the Khoikhoi, though, European expansion led to the destruction of their way of life. They fought back valiantly but were defeated. The great 1713 smallpox epidemic further decimated the Khoikhoi of the cape area. The various indigenous groups finally lost their clan structure and were thereafter indiscriminately referred to as Hottentots by Europeans.

The destruction of African tribal society was paralleled by the creation of a new society created by European immigrants to Dutch South Africa. French Huguenot refugees were purposefully separated and interspersed among the earlier Dutch settlers to integrate them. The establishment of schools by the company at Stellenbosch in 1686 and Drakenstein in 1691, while educating only a small number of the boys and girls in the colony, did help instill a common background and language among the immigrants. The doctrines of the Calvinist church, shared by most European immigrants, also helped to create a Boer culture that was unique to South Africa. This Afrikaner Afrikaners society, as it came to be called, along with its Dutch-derived local language, Afrikaans, remains an influential part of South African history.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boxer, C. R. The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600-1800. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965. Boxer provides an overview of Dutch expansion worldwide during the seventeenth century. Chapter 9 discusses the Cape Colony.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elphick, Richard, and Hermann Giliomee, eds. The Shaping of South African Society, 1652-1840. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1988. A collection of essays that sometimes overlap but provide a complete history of the people of South Africa, including indigenous groups, imported slaves, and Europeans. Also discusses the interaction of these groups.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giliomee, Hermann. The Afrikaners: Biography of a People. London: C. Hurst, 2003. A comprehensive overview of the Afrikaners, from their initial settlement of the country to their role in twenty-first century South Africa.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Readers Digest. Illustrated History of South Africa: The Real Story. 3d ed. Cape Town: Readers Digest Association, South Africa, 1993. A massive, colorful, and detailed history of the country from prehistoric to present times. Contributors include many specialists on the region’s history. Contains an extensive chronology for the years 1600 through 1800 on pages 40 and 41.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ross, Robert. A Concise History of South Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Ross’s discussion includes the Dutch settlement and the later colonial conquest of the country.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa. 1995. Rev. ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Chapter 2 of this comprehensive history provides an overview of the Dutch colony. Also features information on the Africans who lived in South Africa before European colonization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Welsh, Frank. South Africa: A Narrative History. New York: Kodansha International, 1999. A comprehensive popular history of South Africa, from the Dutch settlement to the end of the twentieth century.
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