The Voortrekkers (Afrikaans and Dutch for pioneers, literally "fore-movers", "those who moved first", "fore-trekkers") were Afrikaner emigrants during the 1830s and 1840s who left the Cape Colony (British at the time, but founded by the Dutch) moving into the interior of what is now South Africa in what is known as the Great Trek. The Great Trek consisted of a number of mass movements under a number of different leaders including:-
- Louis Tregardt (10 AUG 1783 - 25 OCT 1838),
- Johannes (Janse) Van Rensburg (12 AUG 1779 - JUL 1836),
- Hendrik Potgieter (19 DEC 1792 - 16 DEC 1852),
- Sarel Cilliers (7 SEP 1801 - 4 OCT 1871),
- Pieter Uys (1797 - 11 APR 1838),
- Gerrit Maritz (1 MAR 1797 - 23 SEP 1838),
- Piet Retief (12 NOV 1780 - 6 FEB 1838) and
- Andries Pretorius (27 NOV 1798 - 23 JUL 1853).
The Voortrekkers mainly came from the farming community of the Eastern Cape although some (such as Piet Retief) originally came from the Western Cape farming community while others (such as Gerrit Maritz) were successful tradesmen in the frontier towns. Some of them were wealthy men though most were not as they were from the poorer communities of the frontier. It was recorded[where?][by whom?] that the 33 Voortrekker families at the Battle of Vegkop lost 100 horses, between 4,000 and 7,000 cattle, and between 40,000 and 50,000 sheep.
The Voortrekkers were mainly of Trekboer (migrating farmer) descent living in the eastern frontiers of the Cape. Hence, their ancestors had long established a semi-nomadic existence of trekking into expanding frontiers.
The reasons for the mass emigration from the Cape Colony have been much discussed over the years. Afrikaner historiography has emphasized the hardships endured by the frontier farmers which they blamed on British policies of pacifying the Xhosa tribes. Other historians[who?] have emphasized the harshness of the life in the Eastern Cape (which suffered one of its regular periods of drought in the early 1830s) compared to the attractions of the fertile country of Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Growing land shortages have also been cited as a contributing factor. The true reasons were obviously very complex and certainly consisted of both "push" factors (including the general dissatisfaction of life under British rule) and "pull" factors (including the desire for a better life in better country.)
Reasons for the Great Trek were many.
- The revocation of Lord Glenelg of the Province of Queen Adelaide and restoring it to the Xhosa.
- The continued chronic insecurity on the frontier.
- Being (wrongly) blamed by the (British) Government for provoking an unjust war.
- The Colony was no place for Christian people to live.
- Land was becoming scarce and expensive owing to natural increase in the Afrikaans-speaking population and the advent of 5,000 British settlers during 1820.
- Persistent drought.
- The advance of the English tongue, especially in official circles, at the expense of the taal (Language).
- The emancipation of the slaves ordained by the British in 1833.
- The inadequate compensation for the freed slaves by the British.
- The emancipation of the slaves took effect during harvest season.
- Chronic mortification at the way the Boers' actions were so freely critised by the missionaries.
- The official recognition of the equality between coloured men and whites. 
- The Commisie Treks returned filled with enthusiasm for the countries (Natal and Zoutpansberg) they had visited. In both places, they said, was land for the taking, land where their countrymen could set up independent states. 
- During the ten years following 1818, Natal south of the Tugela and most of the great plateau had been emptied of people by a cataclysmic disaster which black Africans still speak of with awe as the Mfecane - the crushing. 
Battle of Blood River
Voortrekkers migrated into Natal in 1837 and negotiated a land treaty (February 1838) with the Zulu King Dingane. Upon reconsideration, Dingane doublecrossed the Voortrekkers, killing their leader Piet Retief (6 February 1838) along with half of the Voortrekker settlers who had followed them to Natal.
Other Voortrekkers migrated north to the Waterberg area, where some of them settled and began ranching operations, which activities enhanced the pressure placed on indigenous wildlife by pre-existing tribesmen, whose Bantu predecessors had previously initiated such grazing in the Waterberg region. These Voortrekkers arriving in the Waterberg area believed they had reached the Nile River area of Egypt - based upon their understanding of the local topography.
Andries Pretorius filled the Voortrekker leadership vacuum, hoping to punish Dingane and retrieve stolen livestock, would restore the land Dingane had granted to Retief. When Dingane sent an impi (armed force) of around 15,000 to 21,000 Zulu warriors to attack the local contingent of Voortrekkers in response, the Voortrekkers defended themselves at a battle at Ncome River (called the Battle of Blood River) on 16 December 1838, where the vastly outnumbered Voortrekker contingent defeated the Zulu warriors. This date later became known as the Day of the Vow, as the Voortrekkers made a vow to God that they would honor the date if he were to deliver them from what they viewed as almost insurmountable odds. The victory of the besieged Voortrekkers at Ncome River was considered[by whom?] a turning point.
The Voortrekkers set up the Natalia Republic in 1839, but Britain annexed this area in 1843, whereupon most of the local Boers trekked further north, joining other Voortrekkers who had established themselves in that region.
Struggle against the Ndebele
Armed conflict, first with the Ndebele people under Mzilikazi in the area which was to become the Transvaal, then against the Zulus under Dingane, went the Voortrekkers' way, mostly because of their tactics, their horsemanship and the effectiveness of their muzzle-loading guns. This success led to the establishment of a number of small Boer republics, which slowly coalesced into the Orange Free State and the South African Republic. These two states would survive until their annexation in 1900 by United Kingdom during the Second Boer War.
The Voortrekkers are commemorated by the Voortrekker Monument located on Monument Hill overlooking Pretoria, the erstwhile capital of the South African Republic and the current and historic administrative capital of the Republic of South Africa. Pretoria was named after the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius.
The Voortrekkers had a distinctive flag, used mainly by the Voortrekkers who followed Andries Hendrik Potgieter, which is why it was also known as the Potgieter Flag. This flag was used as the flag of the Zoutpansberg Republic until this republic was incorporated into the Transvaal Republic also known as the South African Republic. A version of this flag was used at Potchefstroom, one of the first independent Boer towns and republics established by local Voortrekkers.
- Voortrekker Monument
- Great Trek
- Weenen massacre
- Battle of Blood River
- Boer republics
- Transvaal civil war, 1854 conflict
- First Boer War, 1880 conflict
- Bandeirantes (pioneers of the Brazilian mainland)
- Brian M. Du Toit. The Boers in East Africa: Ethnicity and Identity. Page 1.
- Ransford, Oliver. The Great Trek. John Murray. Great Britain. 1972. Pages 21 and 22.
- Ransford, Oliver. The Great Trek. John Murray. Great Britain. 1972. Page23.
- Ransford, Oliver. The Great Trek. John Murray. Great Britain. 1972. Page 26.
- Taylor, 2003
- Lumina, 2006
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (September 2009)|
- William Taylor, Gerald Hinde and David Holt-Biddle, The Waterberg, Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa (2003) ISBN 1-86872-822-6
- Lumina Tech, C.Michael Hogan, Mark L. Cooke and Helen Murray, The Waterberg Biosphere, Lumina Technologies, May 22, 2006.