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The Dorsland Trekkers Print E-mail

In 1837 Boer leader Piet Retief negotiated a treaty with the Zulu leader Dingane in terms of which, he could settle in the area of South Africa now known as Natal. In early 1838, Dingane reneged on this treaty and murdered Retief and his followers.

The deed of cession was retrieved from Retief’s remains in late 1838. This was the basis for the establishment of a Boer Republic, Natalia. However the Republic was annexed by the British in 1843. At this time, the Boers began moving across the Orange and Vaal Rivers, establishing what would become the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

However in the 1870s Britain again began the process of annexing these states. On 20 May 1874, Gert Alberts and a group of trekkers set off northwards in search of political independence. The trek became known as the ‘Dorsland Trek’ or the ‘Thirstland Trek’, a reflection of the hardship that faced the trekkers. A number of treks followed. The name ‘Thirstland Trek applied to all of them.

The first trek departed from Pretoria and headed into the Kalahari in what was then Bechuanaland (now Botswana). Then headed into what is now the Southern Kalahari area of Namibia across the point which is now Rietfontein. After this leg of the journey, the trekkers who had survived starvation and thirst travelled through the relatively ‘water-rich’ country and headed onwards towards what is now Angola. In northern Namibia, they faced their second major challenge, malaria, which decimated them even further.

Over a period of five years the survivors arrived in the Humpata Highlands of South-western Angola. The Portuguese colonists encouraged the Boers to settle, however friction arose between the two groups as the Portuguese attempted to convert the staunchly Protestant Boers to Catholicism. They also forbade the Boers to use their language in schools.

A number of trekkers returned southwards. On their trek northwards, they had been met with and been assisted by the trader William Worthington Jordan. This trader negotiated a farming and mineral concession with Chief Kambonde for the land stretching downwards from north-eastern Etosha, covering the area on which Otavi, Grootfontein and Tsumeb now lie.

He allowed 46 families to settle in the area. Their intent was to proclaim a republic named Upingtonia, however this never materialised.

It is recorded that, in time, most of the Boers returned to Humpata.

Two further facts are of interest.

A number of trekkers sought an alternative route through central Namibia. These trekkers discovered water at Sesriem and gave it the name Sesriem.

An earlier group of trekkers was accompanied by a man named Tom Bechuana. He met and had a child with a Herero woman by the name of Kaitundu, a relation of the Herero chief Manasse. Their child, Vita Tom, was born during the height of a battle between the Oorlam tribe and the forces of the trader Andersson. Vita Tom went on to become a notable leader of the Himba people.
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