Griqualand West

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Boer Republics and Griqua States in Southern Africa, 19th century.
A one penny 1879 revenue stamp of Griqualand West.
Griqualand West (in the center of the map) in South Africa, July 1885.

Griqualand West is an area of central South Africa with an area of 40,000 km² that now forms part of the Northern Cape Province. It was inhabited by the Griqua people - a semi-nomadic, Afrikaans-speaking nation of mixed-race origin, who established several states outside the expanding frontier of the Cape Colony.

In 1873 it was proclaimed as a British colony, with its capital at Kimberley, and in 1880 it was annexed by the Cape Colony. When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910 Griqualand West was part of the Cape Province, but continued to have its own "provincial" sports teams.

Early history[edit]

The Griqua are a mixed people who originated in the intermarriages between Dutch colonists in the Cape and the Khoikhoi already living there. They turned into a semi-nomadic Afrikaans-speaking nation of horsemen who migrated out of the Cape Colony and established short-lived states on the Colony's borderlands, similar to the Cossack states of imperial Russia.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) did not intend the Cape Colony at the Southern tip of Africa to become a political entity. As it expanded and became more successful, its leaders did not worry about frontiers. The frontier of the colony was indeterminate and ebbed and flowed at the whim of individuals. While the VOC undoubtedly benefited from the trading and pastoral endeavors of the trekboers, it did little to control or support them in their quest for land. The high proportion of single Dutch men led to their taking indigenous women as wives and companions, and mixed-race children were born. They grew to be a sizeable population who spoke Dutch and were instrumental in developing the colony.

These children did not attain the social or legal status accorded their fathers, mostly because colonial laws recognised only Christian forms of marriage. This group became known as Basters, or bastards. The colonists, in their paramilitary response to insurgent resistance from Khoi and San people, readily conscripted the Basters into commandos. This ensured the men became skilled in lightly armed, mounted, skirmish tactics. Equipped now with guns and horses, many recruited to war chose to abandon their paternal society and to strike out and live a semi-nomadic existence, beyond the Cape's frontier. The resulting steady stream of disgruntled, Dutch-speaking, trained marksmen leaving the Cape hobbled the Dutch capability to crew their commandos. It also created belligerent, skilled groups of opportunists who harassed the indigenous populations the length of the Orange River. Once free of the colonies, these groups called themselves the Oorlam. In particular, the group led by Klaas Afrikaner became notorious. He attracted enough attention from the Dutch authorities to cause him to be rendered to the colony and banished to Robben Island in 1761.

One of the most influential of these Oorlam groups was the Griqua. In the 19th century, the Griqua controlled several political entities which were governed by Kapteins (Dutch for "Captain", i.e. leader) and their Councils, with their own written constitutions. Chosen by the British, Adam Kok I, the first Kaptein of the Griqua - a slave who had bought his own freedom - led his people north from the interior of the Cape Colony. Probably because of discrimination against his people, they again moved north; this time outside the Cape, near the Orange River, just west of the Orange Free State, and on the southern skirts of the Transvaal.[6] The Griqua had largely adopted the Afrikaans language before their migrations. This area is where most of the tribe settled; some remained nomadic.

Adam Kok I, the first Kaptein of the Griqua, led his people northwards from the Cape Colony, taking over areas previously controlled by San and Tswana people. This area is where most of the Griqua nation settled, though many remained nomadic. By the 19th century, the Griqua controlled several political entities which were governed by Kapteins ("Captains", i.e. leaders) and their Councils, with their own written constitutions.[1]

Adam Kok's successor was Andries Waterboer, until the influx of Europeans accompanying the discovery of diamonds. In 1834, the Cape Colony recognized Waterboer’s rights to his land and people. It signed a treaty with him to ensure payment for the use of the land for mining. Not long after 1843, the competition between the Cape Colony, Orange Free State, and the Transvaal became too much for the Griqua. Led by Adam Kok III, they migrated east to establish Griqualand East. Griqualand East only existed for months before its annexation by the Cape Colony in 1874. In both Griqualands, East and West, the Griqua were demographically outnumbered by the pre-existing Bantu people and sometimes by European settlers, and thus the two Griqualands soon dissolved as distinct entities.

Diamond fields[edit]

Map (1873)

In the years 1870-1871 a large number of diggers moved into Griqualand West and settled on the diamond fields near the junction of the Vaal and Orange rivers. This was land through which the Griqua regularly moved with their herds and it was additionally situated in part on land claimed by both the Griqua chief Nicholas Waterboer and by the Boer Republic of the Orange Free State.

In 1870, Transvaal President Marthinus Wessel Pretorius declared the diamond fields as Boer property and established a temporary government over the diamond fields. The administration of this body was however not satisfactory to the Boers, the diggers, the Griqua or the indigenous Tswana. Tension rapidly grew between these parties until Stafford Parker, a former British sailor, organised his fellow countrymen to drive all of the Transvaal officials out of the area. On 30 July 1870 Stafford Parker declared the Klipdrift Republic (also known as the Digger's Republic and the Republic of Griqualand West) and was also chosen as President. By December of the same year about 10 000 British settlers made their home in the new republic. The republic sat next to the Vaal River, but existed for an extremely short time. During the following year, Boer forces unsuccessfully attempted to regain the territory through negotiation. British Governor Sir Henry Barkly was asked to mediate. Barkly set up the Keate Committee to hear evidence and, in the famous "Keate Award", ruled against the Boer Republics and in favour of Nicholas Waterboer. At this juncture, Waterboer offered to place the territory under the administration of Queen Victoria. The offer was accepted, and on 27 October 1871 the district, together with some adjacent territory to which the Transvaal had laid claim, was proclaimed (under the name of Griqualand West Colony) British territory. It was however eventually incorporated into the Orange Free State.[2][3][4]

Waterboer's claims to the diamond fields were based on the treaty concluded by his father with the British in 1834 and on various arrangements with the Kok chiefs; the Orange Free State based its claim on its purchase of Adam Kok's sovereign rights and on long occupation. The difference between proprietorship and sovereignty was confused or ignored. That Waterboer exercised no authority in the disputed district was admitted. When the British annexation took place, a party in the Orange Free State volksraad wished to go to war with Britain but the wiser counsels of President Brand prevailed. The Orange Free State, however, did not abandon its claims. The matter involved no little irritation between the parties concerned until July 1876. It was then disposed of by Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon, at that time secretary of state for the colonies, who granted to the Free State payment "in full satisfaction of all claims which it considers it may possess to Griqualand West."[citation needed] Lord Carnarvon declined to entertain the proposal made by Mr Brand that the territory should be given up by Great Britain. One thing at least is certain with regard to the diamond fields - they were the means of restoring the credit and prosperity of the Orange Free State.

In the opinion, moreover, of Dr Theal, who has written the history of the Boer Republics and has been a consistent supporter of the Boers, the annexation of Griqualand West was probably in the best interests of the Orange Free State. "There was," he states, "no alternative from British sovereignty other than an independent diamond field republic." At this time, largely owing to the exhausting struggle with the Basutos, the Free State Boers, like their Transvaal Republic neighbours, had drifted into financial straits. A paper currency had been instituted, and the notes, known as "bluebacks", soon dropped to less than half their nominal value. Commerce was largely carried on by barter, and many cases of bankruptcy occurred in the state. But as British annexation in 1877 saved the Transvaal from bankruptcy, so did the influx of British and other immigrants to the diamond fields, in the early 1870s, restore public credit and individual prosperity to the Boers of the Free State. The diamond fields offered a ready market for stock and other agricultural produce. Money flowed into the pockets of the farmers. Public credit was restored. " Bluebacks " recovered par value, and were called in and redeemed by the government. Valuable diamond mines were also discovered within the Orange Free State, of which the one at Jagersfontein is the richest. Capital from Kimberley and London was soon provided with which to work them.

Union with Cape Colony[edit]

Flag of the Cape Colony from 1875-1910

After annexing Griqualand West, the British initially attempted to incorporate it into the Cape Colony. However the Cape Government was concerned about objections from portions of the indigenous and settler communities of Griqualand, and refused to annex the territory. As a result, Griqualand West was declared a separate Crown Colony under direct British rule.[citation needed]

Local control increasingly passed from the Griqua kaptijns into the hands of the growing digger community of the diamond fields. The prospect of complete dis-empowerment in a "Diamond Fields Republic" became a significant concern of the remaining Griqua.[5]

On being presented with a request from Nicholas Waterboer for union with the Cape Colony, there had begun a protracted debate over whether Griqualand West should be joined to the Cape in a confederation, or whether it should be annexed to the Cape Colony in a total union. The former view was supported by Lord Carnarvon and the British Colonial Office in London - as a first step to bringing all of southern Africa into a British-ruled confederation.[6] The latter view was put forward by the Cape Parliament, particularly by its strong-willed Prime Minister John Molteno, who had initially opposed any form of union with the unstable and heavily indebted territory, and now demanded evidence from Britain that the local population would be consulted in the process.[7] Suspicious of British motives, in 1876 he traveled to London as plenipotentiary to make the case that union was the only viable way that the Cape could administer the divided and underdeveloped territory, and that a lop-sided confederation would be neither economically viable, nor politically stable. In short, Griqualand West should either be united with the Cape, or kept totally independent from it. After striking a deal with the Home Government and receiving assurances that local objections had been appeased, he passed the Griqualand West Annexation Act on 27 July 1877.[8]

The act specified that Griqualand West would have the right to elect four representatives to the Cape parliament, two for Kimberley and two for the Barkly West region. This number was doubled in 1882 (Act 39 of 1882). The Cape Government also enforced its non-racial system of Cape Qualified Franchise. This meant that all resident males could qualify for the vote, with the property-ownership qualifications for suffrage applied equally, regardless of race. This was welcomed by the Griqua, but rejected by the recently arrived diggers of the Kimberley diamond fields.[9] In the judiciary, the local Griqua attorney-general reported to the Cape Supreme Court, which got concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court of Griqualand West in the territory.[10]

The implementation of the act was set for 18 October 1880, when Griqualand West was formally united with the Cape Colony, followed soon afterwards by Griqualand East. [11]


Today, Basters are a separate ethnic group of similarly mixed origins living in south-central Namibia; Northern Cape at Campbell and Griquatown; (the historic territory of Griqualand West); the Western Cape (around the small le Fleur Griqua settlement at Kranshoek); and at Kokstad.

The total Griqua population is unknown. The people were submerged by a number of factors. The most important factor were the racist policies of the Apartheid era, during which many of the Griqua people took on the mantle of "Coloured" fearing that their Griqua roots might place them at a lower level with the Africans.

Genetic evidence indicates that the majority of the present Griqua population is descended from European, Khoikhoi and Tswana ancestors, with a small percentage of Bushman ancestry.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jeroen G. Zandberg. 2005. Rehoboth Griqua Atlas. ISBN 90-808768-2-8.
  2. ^ "'The rock on which the future will be built' | South African History Online". Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  3. ^ "Kimberley: Turbulent City - Brian Roberts - Google Books". Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  4. ^ "The Republic of Klipdrift is proclaimed | South African History Online". Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  5. ^ "Griqua | South African History Online". Retrieved 2014-08-02. 
  6. ^ Illustrated History of South Africa. The Reader's Digest Association South Africa (Pty) Ltd, 1992. ISBN 0-947008-90-X. p.182, "Confederation from the Barrel of a Gun"
  7. ^ M. Mbenga: New History of South Africa. Tafelberg, South Africa. 2007.
  8. ^ Roberts, Brian. 1976. Kimberley, turbulent city. Cape Town: David Philip, p. 155.
  9. ^ L Waldman: The Griqua Conundrum: Political and Socio-Cultural Identity in the Northern Cape, South Africa. Oxford. 2007.
  10. ^ Northern Cape High Court Kimberley] by Lizanne van Niekerk, Northern Cape Bar
  11. ^ African Historical Biographies. 
  12. ^ Nigel Penn. 2005. The Forgotten Frontier. ISBN 0-8214-1682-0.

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