Seer Niklaas van Rensburg
Saddled with the burden of apartheid and colonial-slanted textbooks, South Africans have tended to take their identities from their political leanings. But so-called “mixed marriages” are as old as South Africa itself. And more people are finding family tree research the key to understanding their own heritages.
The first written records of births, deaths and marriages, incomplete though they are, came with Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, when he set out to establish a way station at the Cape of Good Hope with the aid of Robben Island.
Perhaps the most representative of the mix of South African ancestry lines dating from those early days is the marriage of Krotoa of the Goringhaicona, a Khoi interpreter who worked for Van Riebeeck and married a colleague of his, Danish explorer Pieter Meerhof.
Burdened with the double obligation of fitting into European society and being loyal to her own people, Krotoa’s life was made even harder when Meerhof was seconded to Robben Island as superintendent.
Left as one of only two women on the island when her husband was killed on a slaving expedition, and shunned by both societies, Krotoa succumbed to depression and an early death at only 32. But she left behind at least eight children, one of whom was the progenitor of the Zaaiman family in South Africa.
Some of them went on to become key figures from all spectrums – including white premiers Paul Kruger, Jan Smuts and FW de Klerk.
Then came the slaves: in 1658 the first two boatloads – one from Angola and one from west Africa – arrived, and some of these went on to marry Dutch citizens of the Cape or bear children by them after intermarriage became outlawed.
One couple, Anna and Evert, who were purchased by the Dutch from African slave lords in Benin in 1658, produced a daughter who went on to have a son by prosperous Dutchman Bastiaan Colyn. Her son, Johannes, married a descendant of the wealthy Cloete family and purchased De Hoop op Constantia, still one of the finest estates in the Cape.
After west Africa was declared out of bounds, the Dutch East India Company began bringing in slaves from the east – either from their base in Djakarta or China, Sri Lanka or India, often with Arabs as middlemen. The first boatloads arrived in 1681, and by 1730 they had extended their operations to include the Mascarenes, Mozambique and Zanzibar, with Portuguese colonists as middlemen.
With only 19 European women and 100 white free burghers at the Cape in 1677, most 13th generation South Africans with colonial ancestry have at least one slave ancestor from these parts. Though European female numbers increased 30 years later, slave women were often favoured for their beauty, and many became the ancestral mothers (or stammoeders) of generations of families in South Africa.
Before the first official slave consignments had been sanctioned, Angela of Bengal (or Maaij Ansela) was bought by Jan van Riebeeck, the founder of the Dutch colony, was resold and freed by her master. She then married Arnoldus Willemsz Bason, and became the stammoeder of the Basson family in South Africa.
Through marriages of her children, Maaij (or Mooi, beautiful) Ansela is also the stammoeder of the Bergh and Van As families. One of her descendants was Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, who married Anna Retief, niece of slain trekboer Piet.
In 1692, four of the 34 Cape Town free burghers had ex-slave wives, but according to “Cape Town, Making of a City”, compiled by Nigel Worden et al, this mestizo culture was gradually discouraged by the ruling Dutch, although this did not discourage illicit affairs – and illegitimate children borne out of such unions.
One well-researched case is that of Isabella of Angola, who had children by a Dutchman thought to be Cornelis Claassen.
One of Isabella’s children is believed to be Armosyn van de Kaap, who became matron of the Slave Lodge and went on to have a daughter by a European. Armosyn’s daughter later married German soldier Hermann Combrink, the stamvader of that prolific family in South Africa.
Often the only ticket for freedom for slave women – or their children – was through marriage to a white man. In terms of a 1685 decree, male halfslag Company slaves of European ancestry were permitted to buy their freedom at 25, females at 22, provided they had been confirmed in the Dutch Reformed Church and could speak Dutch. Because of this, many Muslims officially converted religions, providing yet another marriage barrier.
Other Easterners taken as slaves were Muslim political leaders who objected to Dutch domination in the East Indies, perhaps the most well-known being Shaykh Yusuf, whose kramat near Faure is today an important pilgrimage destination for South African Muslims.
It is still not known whether Yusuf’s remains lie in the tomb or were transported back to Macassar, as the Dutch government reported, but some of his descendants did remain. One of his grandsons married Marie Jordaan, whose origins were in France.
In 1688, a new influence brought with it another European aspect to the cultural kaleidoscope: the first French Huguenot Protestants escaping Catholic persecution in France were brought out by the Dutch.
Settling the area now known as Franschhoek, many of the Huguenots owned slaves to cultivate the winelands, and half-caste children, born mainly out of wedlock, were among the unfortunates who produced children who failed to pass the apartheid government’s pencil test over two centuries later.
By the early 1700s Dutch farmers had started moving inland. Though they were not officially allowed to be enslaved, Xhosa and Khoi were employed by the Dutch under conditions often equivalent to slavery, and inter-breeding among all three continued, often in the capacity of mistress or cuckold.
In 1795, the British occupied the Cape for the first time, and after losing it to the Dutch again in 1803, seized it as their own in 1806. With the British occupation came the impoverished 1820 settlers, who were sent to help wrest land from the Xhosa in the Eastern Cape and the Zulu in KwaZulu-Natal.
One of the better-known of these settlers to cross the racial divide was Henry Fynn, who befriended Zulu King Shaka and fathered children by many Zulu wives.
Other English names which crop up regularly in the history of the Wild Coast, traditionally the home of the Pondo, are King and Cane, explorers who lived among the local tribes.
Shipwreck survivors through the centuries have also produced many a blue-eyed black child in the area. In his book “The Caliban Shore”, Stephen Taylor describes the meeting of survivors from The Grosvenor with an escaped Cape slave who had made his home on the Eastern frontier, an indication of other possible influences in tribal ancestry.
Inter-tribal marriage was another influence, as Shaka absorbed smaller tribes in his quest for dominance.
With British rule came the banning of slave importation in 1807, but boatloads of “prize negroes”, slaves secured by the government from illegal slave ships, were still introduced into the colony as cheap labour. A number of British settlers married Madagascans and Mauritians imported in this way.
In 1834, slavery was officially abolished, and mission stations dotted around the Cape absorbed many of those left jobless by the system.
Another much-contested scheme to compensate for the loss of slave labour saw a wave of St Helena servants imported, which continued to the end of the 19th century. A large portion of Cape Town’s Cape Flats today is the product of intermarriages, and many can remember their St Helena ancestors being broken by the system which crushed their progress with forced removals in the 1960s.
For brief spells between frontier wars, there was relative peace among the many nations of the land, but it was not long before the Boer Dutch farmers grew unhappy with their lot under British rule without slaves, and headed north.
By the time of the South African (or Anglo-Boer) War in 1899, after the diamond rush and the discovery of gold, Boers had married Brits, who had followed the original settlers in droves, both had married across the colour line, and slaves had married Khoi and Bantu.
Though marriage across the colour line was outlawed, it was little deterrent to those with soul aspirations. Perhaps the most well-known and most ironic product of such unions was ANC stalwart and pragmatic long-time adviser and friend of Nelson Mandela throughout his exile on Robben Island, Walter Sisulu, born in 1912 in Qutubeni, Transkei.
Though he had little to do with him, Sisulu’s white father, Albert Dickinson, a Port Elizabeth government worker, went on to have another child by his mother, Alice. They never officially married, and Walter took on his mother’s surname, adding Max Ulyate as his middle names. Though it has not been explored, the name Ulyate was a surname of a prominent family of 1820 settlers.
It only takes a trip or two out of Cape Town to be reminded just how much craziness the system bred. Simonstown, a naval base and popular tourist spot, and Stellenbosch, the home of the Afrikaans language, are just two of the many spots named after Dutch governor Simon van Der Stel, who set about seizing land from the Khoi on his arrival in 1679.
Though Van der Stel is widely accepted as being the greedy progenitor of apartheid whose sprawling, slave-worked estates were the elite homes of generations of Afrikaners, a little-known fact is that Van der Stel, born in Mauritius, was Eurasian – and probably just a generation away from slavery.
His father Adrian van der Stel was Dutch and his mother, Maria Leviens, was the daughter of Monica of the Coromondel, a former enslaved woman from India who became known as Monica da Costa.
Evidence shows that he and his sister covered up their mother’s origin in order to be given white status when they emigrated to Holland. The only proven picture of Van der Stel disappeared in 1934, but another which is thought to be his portrait shows an arguably Eastern demeanour.
When, on September 4, 1939, Jan Smuts exulted in – only narrowly – winning the parliamentary vote to reject prime minister JBM Hertzog’s neutrality motion and take South Africa into World War II on Britain’s side, he sealed his place in world affairs and his affection in the heart of a man who was once his enemy on the Boer War battlefield.
General Smuts’s motion that the Union refuse to adopt a policy of neutrality in the war was carried by 13 votes – 80 to 67. But, if the grounds for an election were overwhelming, that’s not how it worked out and Churchill was grateful.
He had got to know Smuts well and liked him. The feeling was mutual, and Smuts revelled in the scope his friendship provided for playing a role in the international scene, where he was widely admired for his talents and energy.
But if dark clouds hovered over Europe – and even the world – in 1939, calling for the resolve that Smuts and Churchill shared, the former Boer War commando was weaker at home than he realised.
And he could be said to have been weaker on two fronts: an insufficiency of political imagination that prevented him from seeing that a post-white man’s world was not inimical to the principles he professed, and an insufficiency of political foresight, which led to his defeat by his own people in less than a decade.
A day after Smuts’s victory, the prime minister resigned, the contents of his statement, reported on September 6, 1939, containing an ominously accurate prediction.
While Hertzog was wrong in his view of Nazi doings in Europe having “not even a subordinate” relevance to South Africa, he predicted with pinpoint accuracy one of the chief consequences of Smuts’s determination to join Churchill in fighting Hitler.
“Fortunately,” Hertzog said, “this step by General Smuts will also have the effect of promoting the unity of the Afrikaans-speaking people, for which such a fervent desire has existed for many years, to such an extent that we can confidently anticipate its early realisation. The people will later be given an opportunity of deciding on the political form which this unanimity should take, but I would like to state here that even at this stage the leader of the Nationalist Party has assured us of the full support of his party in this struggle for the maintenance of our freedom.”
Smuts had a war to fight before having to face the antipathy of Afrikaner nationalists in 1948, but when he did, his defeat – as Richard Steyn records in his immensely readable Churchill & Smuts, The Friendship – shocked the old man, according to his son, Jannie, “more gravely than any event I have witnessed”.
What started out as an unlikely friendship grew to become one of the closest and most enduring either man had.
Steyn shares the amusing insight of Churchill’s long-time physician, Lord Moran, who “thought his patient’s inability to pick the right people (as firm friends) was because he wasn’t sufficiently interested in anyone but himself”.
Churchill, he records, referred to his “busy, selfish life”. Smuts, likewise, had “few intimate friends”. Yet, these two “egocentric, self-driven, hard-working singular characters” were drawn to each other for more than half a century.
A touching token of this bond is provided in the book in the picture of Churchill’s writing desk at his country home, Chartwell, typically featuring nearly a dozen framed photographs, of himself and his family, along with a miniature bust or two. One among the portraits stands out. It is a photograph of Jan Smuts.
They first encountered each other in the last months of the 19th century, outside Ladysmith in Natal, in the opening phase of the Boer War.
Smuts, not yet a commando leader, but a government lawyer in the Transvaal republic, was paying a visit to the war zone when Churchill, officially a war correspondent for a London newspaper, but as willing to muck in with warring, had been captured by the Boers.
Though neither wrote about the encounter in his Boer War memoirs, the memory lingered for both, Smuts recalling his opponent as a “scrubby, squat figure of a man, unshaved”, who was “furious, venomous, just like a viper”, and Churchill – at Smuts’s death – remembering first meeting his friend when “I was wet, draggle-tailed” and subjected to questioning about his military rather than journalistic exploits “a difficult moment”.
They next met in the political context of the post-war unification of South Africa, where each had a role in abetting the fatal compromise that postponed the vital question of black rights in the Union to another day.
If neither man, as Steyn writes, was a jingoistic racialist, they shared a view of European supremacy and British imperialism as its vehicle as a force for good for all people, a perspective which, for “many modern historians, with the benefit of hindsight”, rendered the two “as prime symbols of an anachronistic empire”.
It was an empire – and, coupled with the notion of imperial good, a high-minded internationalism – that they worked jointly and energetically to serve through both world wars, and in the formation of the UN.
Their mutual commitment to this view of world affairs resonates in an ironic way in the post-colonial world, where, as Steyn writes “Nelson Mandela’s ‘new’ South Africa was the ultimate beneficiary of the international system that Smuts had helped create and Churchill in particular had fought so hard to preserve”.
Yet, posterity seems reluctant to acknowledge this.
Steyn examines the conundrum – if that’s what it is – of history’s very different treatment of each man, noting that while the Churchillian legacy is monumental, “Jan Smuts’s reputation has not been as enduring”.
If his impact on history could not be compared with Churchill’s, he was “also among the most remarkable men of the 20th century”.
“For those who don’t know him,” Steyn goes on, “Smuts was a man of exceptional talents and achievements – a Cambridge-educated lawyer, guerrilla fighter, soldier, philosopher, scientist and political leader, a member of Britain’s War Cabinet in two world wars and the only person to be present at the ceremonies at the end of both those wars. He played a leading role in the founding of the League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I, and helped draft the cCharter of the UN Organisation after World War II.”
But as South Africa drifted into global ignominy as a result of apartheid, Smuts’s achievements were overshadowed, and his political pragmatism painted as failure.
Steyn’s book closes with the poignant coda which seems at once to set the two men apart, yet welds them too: “Winston Churchill will always be celebrated as one of history’s towering figures, the saviour of his nation and upholder of Western democratic values. And Jan Smuts – as the photograph on the desk at Chartwell reminds us – was his most enduring, trusted friend.”
Churchill & Smuts, The Friendship is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.
It is Heritage Month and the ideal time to pay respects to those ‘lost graves’
Dundee and surrounds is dotted with military graves. Some are well kept and marked and attract many overseas visitors.
Other graves are less conspicuous. Like the one behind the Wesleyan Church on McKenzie Street. This was originally known as the Betania Cemetery as the property formed part of the then Swedish Mission in Dundee.
The Wesleyan Church took over the buildings and property in the 1970s. What is interesting about this little cemetery is that both British and Boers are buried here: 15 British soldiers and four Boers.
According to records at the Talana Museum, most of the British soldiers all died of wounds suffered at the battle of Talana. They were admitted to the Betania Hospital (now Melusi Mission) but later died. Among them are two British officers: Captain PHB Connor of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and 2nd Lieutenant CJ Genge of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
Captain Connor was mortally wounded after the crossing the wall which bounds the terrace on Talana (hill).
Also buried there is Trooper R Cunningham of Bethune’s Mounted Infantry who died in May 1900 during the British advance through Northern Natal.
Inscriptions included on the marble crosses include: erected by a sorrowing mother in loving memory of Captain and Adjutant Frederick Bourne Connor who fell at the battle of Talana, Oct 20th, 1899, aged 37. Thy will be done.
The following is engraved on the cement obelisk: In memory of those lying here being some of the men killed in action during the battle of Talana 20th October 1899. And others who died in the Swedish Hospital Mission Dundee during the Boer occupation and of wounds received in said battle. Erected by public subscription in Dundee.
Sadly, there is no information at Talana Museum regarding the four Boers although it is thought they too were wounded in the battle, were hospitalised and later died. Pastor Bill Niemack of the Wesleyan Church says some of the crosses were recently vandalised.
Repairs were carried out but it is unclear what funds are available to renovate military graves.
These are the harrowing photographs of Britain’s concentrations camps during the Second Boer War show the disease-ridden tents where more than 48,000 innocent people lost their lives.
Most of the victims were women and children who were herded into the camps where disease and hunger ran rampant.
The British concentration camps took the lives of almost ten per cent of the Boer population at the time although – unlike the Nazi camps during the Second World War – there were no executions of innocent people.
Instead, what ended up killing thousands, was malnutrition and disease. The Second Boer War was fought from 1899 to 1902 by Britain and her Empire against the Boers in South Africa.
The Boers comprised of the combined forces of the South African Republic and the Republic of the Orange Free State.
When the Boers refused to surrender to the Anglos in 1900, the British rounded-up thousands of Afrikaners (Boers) and forcibly took thousands of women and children from their farms and placed them in concentration camps.
A large group of children gathered for a Cocoa Party at the Nylstroom Camp, circa 1901. Between June 1901 and May 1902, 115,000 people were brought into the concentration camps
Native South Africans raising railway lines, singing as they lift each one. The exact date of the picture is unclear, but it is thought to have been taken around 1901. The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought by Britain and her Empire against the Boers. The Boers comprised of the combined forces of the South African Republic and the Republic of the Orange Free State
Boer men and women seated at the Nylstroom Camp for an open-air service, circa 1901. A total of 544 lives were lost at the camp.
Women and children sitting outside a grass-roofed hut at the native Klerksdorp Camp in 1901. When the Boers refused to surrender to the Anglos in 1900, the British rounded-up thousands of Afrikaners (Boers) and forcibly took thousands of women and children from their farms and placed them in concentration camps
Refugees at Merebank Station, near Durban, at around 1901. People’s entire belongings are seen piled up in bags on the side of the railway line as scores of refugees flee the war
The Barberton Camp in a picture taken in 1901. There were a total of 45 tented camps built for Boer internees and 64 camps for black Africans. Generally, they were poorly administered from the outset and thousands of people died due to the unspeakably terrible conditions
Civilians’ farms were burnt or ravaged by the British under their ‘Scorched Earth’ policy. Crops were destroyed and herds of livestock wiped out in a bid to undermine Boer survival.
Between June 1901 and May 1902, 115,000 people were brought into the concentration camps. There were a total of 45 tented camps built for Boer internees and 64 camps for black Africans.
The camps were poorly administered from the outset and thousands of people died due to the terrible conditions.
The internees received hardly any rations or medical support and were expected to grow their own crops.
The inadequate shelter, poor diet, bad hygiene and overcrowding led to malnutrition and endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery to which the children were particularly vulnerable.
A boiling water tank and oven at the Johannesburg Camp. Children watch on as four men work on the giant contraption. One man, on the left, can be seen filling what looks like a pot or a kettle with water from a tap while another man carefully places something inside the water tank using a long pole. A third man, right, is seen poking another pole into the oven. Those contained in the camps were expected to grow their own crops
A tent camp in Johannesburg in a picture taken in around 1901. Dozens of rows of tents can be seen stretching back for hundreds of yards. Common in the camps were inadequate shelter, poor diet, bad hygiene and overcrowding led to malnutrition and endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery to which the children were particularly vulnerable
Women and children pictured outside a tent in the Bloemfontein Camp in around 1901. Around 28,000 women and children and at least 20,000 black people died in the camps – the death toll represented almost 10 per cent of the Boer population
A family in the Johannesburg Camp. A turning point in the death rate in the Boers camp came about by November 1901, after Emily Hobhouse of the Fawcett Ladies Commision revealed the terrible conditions in the camps to the British public. The civil authority took over the running of the camps from Kitchener and the British command and by February 1902 the annual death-rate in the concentration camps for white inmates dropped to 6.9 percent and eventually to two percent, which was a lower rate than pertained in many British cities at the time
A refugee camp for native South Africans near Krugersdorp in a picture taken around 1901. Civilians’ farms were burnt or ravaged by the British under their ‘Scorched Earth’ policy. Crops were destroyed and herds of livestock wiped out in a bid to undermine Boer survival
Four women, wearing very basic clothing and headscarves fashioned from rags, sitting outside a grass-roofed hut at the Klerksdorp Camp
Around 28,000 women and children and at least 20,000 black people died in the camps – the death toll represented almost 10 per cent of the Boer population.
A turning point in the death rate in the Boers camp came about by November 1901, after Emily Hobhouse of the Fawcett Ladies Commision revealed the conditions in the camps to the British public.
The civil authority took over the running of the camps from Kitchener and the British command and by February 1902 the annual death-rate in the concentration camps for white inmates dropped to 6.9 percent and eventually to two percent, which was a lower rate than pertained in many British cities at the time.
This Ensign or Flag represents the 12 tribes of Dispersed True Israel. The dark blue background of the
Flag represents the borderless and endless Universal domain of The Almighty Sovereign Creator
Power YHWH (Yahweh) . The 12 Stars (3) on each red bar are for the 12 original tribes. The red bars
represent the 4 Brigades of the dominant tribes of Yahudah, Dan, Ephraim and Reuben, Num. 2:1-31.
Each Brigade is pointing to the common center. The center of the Flag is in the shape of a (+) and is
the ancient Hebrew sign for a mark, a signature of agreement between Yahweh and His people.
It does not represent a Christian “cross” or a (T) “taw”. True Israel is a “set-apart” people eternall
marked by the Almighty Sovereign Creator of all that exists, a chosen people under Covenant/Contract,
John (Yochannan) William