Imvubu Newsletter

Andries Botha and his descendants

© Victor, S. 2010 Imvubu 19: 2, 4-5.

There is a common misconception that land dispossession among coloured people mostly occurred in the post-1950 period as a result of the Group Areas Act, District Six being a well-known example. Yet the genealogy of Andries Botha, a well-known Kat River resident and alleged 1850 rebel, and his descendants tell quite a different story.

I accidentally stumbled across descendants of Andries Botha while conducting oral interviews in April 2006. Three of his great, great grandchildren, Mrs Annie Butler, Mrs Rose Malgas and Mr Andrew Botha, live in Schornville. The township is situated on the outskirts of King William’s Town and was established in 1959 as a so-called coloured area.[1] With the assistance of the Botha descendants and various Kat River Settlement accounts, I was able to put together a comprehensive, albeit in places fragmentary, genealogy of Andries Botha and his descendants.

Botha was a member of the Gonaqua whose ancestors dwelt in the area between the Fish and the Bashee Rivers. However, in contrast to the amaGqunukhwebe, which was a Xhosa chiefdom of mixed Gona-Xhosa descent, the Gonaqua remained distinctly Khoi.[2] Khoi social life was profoundly affected by colonial expansion and land seizure from the late 17th century onwards. As traditional Khoi social structure broke down, some people settled on farms as servants or became mission station converts.

Little is known about Andries Botha’s early life. At the age of 40 he was working for Robert Hart, the superintendent of Somerset, a government farm near Somerset East. Hart subsequently acquired his own farm, Glen Avon, whence Botha and his family trekked to the newly-established Kat River Settlement in 1829.[3]

The Kat River Settlement was established, in part, as a reaction to the ’emancipation’ of the Khoi in accordance with Ordinance 50 of 1828, which entailed the right to property ownership. The settlement provided the colony with a convenient defensive line against the Xhosa which, by 1850, had become obsolete. Many aspirant Khoi inhabitants flocked to the settlement from farms, mission stations and even as far a field as the Orange River, which took a journey of 18 days.

From the beginning, Andries played a leading role in the Kat River Settlement and was appointed as one of five group leaders by Commissioner-General Andries Stockenstrom. Robert Hart, Andries’ erstwhile employer, commended him to Stockenstrom describing him as an honest man, an excellent soldier and a loyal government employee. According to Kirk,[4] Botha was a man of substance who acted as spokesman for his group, but had little judicial power. Andries and his two eldest sons, Andries and Stoffel, were among the first 20 farmers to receive land in Colevale, subsequently referred to as Buxton or Upper Blinkwater. As Andries’ land was three times the average size of local allotments, he donated a portion of it to the London Missionary Society for the erection of a school.

By June 1833, the settlement consisted of 2 111 people. By 1833, livestock had increased to 7 500 and 2 300 bags of wheat and barley were harvested. With the outbreak of the War of Hintsa (1834-1835), a military corps was raised at the settlement and Botha was appointed Veldcornet. At a salary of £15 a year, he was now a colonial official.

Overcrowded conditions made farming increasingly difficult, but by 1845 the inhabitants of the Kat River Settlement had managed to increase their harvest. The value of their property, livestock and yearly harvest was estimated at £69 000. However, a shortage of land was a serious problem. Problems concerning land allotments in the settlement were compounded by the fact that fewer than 100 individual title deeds had been issued by 1853.[5] As a result, various forms of sub-tenancy developed, which not only made it difficult to distinguish newcomers from the original inhabitants, but also congested the settlement.

Botha and his followers distinguished themselves as soldiers on the side of the British in the War of Hintsa and the War of the Axe (1846-1847). The entire male population of the settlement was conscripted during the War of Hintsa. According to Elizabeth Elbourne, they were ‘first to be summoned and last to be released.'[6] Their involvement, however, had serious consequences. The Kat River Settlement was nearly destroyed. Many houses were burnt down, crops destroyed and the Xhosa drove off significant numbers of their livestock. To offset the settlement’s losses during the War of the Axe, in April 1847 the inhabitants of the Kat River were granted rations to the cost of £21 296 per annum. They were also promised livestock, but this was not forthcoming. The maladministration and high-handedness of two British magistrates appointed at the Kat River, namely Thomas Biddulph and his successor T. H. Bowker,[7] made matters worse.

The most disruptive of Bowker’s actions occurred from 12 June 1850 when the colonial authorities moved through Upper Blinkwater towards Buxton burning huts and clearing the newcomers off the land including the Khoi dependents of Andries Botha. The Xhosa police were heard to exclaim exultantly, “Today we burn Botha out of the Blinkwater as he burnt us out of the Amatola last war”.[8] When Botha remonstrated with Bowker, the latter somewhat arbitrarily removed him from his position as Veldcornet. After Botha complained to the governor, Harry Smith, Bowker was dismissed and a Commission of Enquiry was appointed.

Bowker’s dismissal, however, did little to improve relations between the Kat River people and the colonial government. With the outbreak of the War of Mlanjeni in 1850, inhabitants of the settlement who remained loyal to the British were only prepared to protect their own homes. A group of anti-British rebels formed under the leadership of Hermanus Matroos, leader of a Blinkwater settlement in the Kat River.[9] The numbers of his armed followers increased dramatically from 300 to 900 with the accretion of the Kat River inhabitants in December 1850. When Hermanus attacked Fort Beaufort on 7 January 1851, Andries Botha’s son Stoffel was wounded in the engagement. Although Andries was clearly sympathetic towards the rebels, there is no clear evidence that he played an active role in the rebellion. The rebels later congregated at Fort Armstrong where Mfengu messengers were robbed of their dispatches and had their lives threatened. Botha was subsequently blamed for the latter at his trial as well as being accused of lunching with the rebel leaders, Willem Uithaalder and Chief Maqoma. It is alleged that Andries fought against the British on 22 February 1851 when Somerset re-occupied Fort Armstrong. He was said to have stolen a yellow horse which he offered to his wounded son Stoffel to make his escape. After Somerset ordered Botha to give himself up, he hid for a few days before finally surrendering to the authorities.[10]

The government took its time to charge Botha officially. Several military leaders and officials, whom he had served loyally in the past, vouched for him. By September 1851, Botha was imprisoned and charged with treason. It was the first occasion on which a treason trial was heard in front of the Cape High Court and, in effect, was South Africa’s first political trial.[11] With evidence largely obtained from allegations made by already-convicted rebels, Botha was found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. The Governor, Sir George Cathcart, subsequently commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. In October 1855, Botha, together with 38 rebels, received a royal amnesty. Amnesty was granted on condition that the rebels not be allowed to return to the Kat River Settlement.

For their part in the War of Mlanjeni, 158 plots of land belonging to rebels together with 83 vacant lots were confiscated by the British. The appropriated land led to the final dispersal of the Gonaqua. In August 1854, Stockenstrom questioned the latter decision in the Cape Parliament, but was unable to get it reversed. Nevertheless, he arranged compensation for the confiscated properties. Andries Botha’s request for compensation was the first to be investigated by the Kat River Commission of Enquiry. In June 1862 he received the tidy sum of £339.10.8. From his release in 1855 to 1865, Botha probably lived on the farm Glen Avon, near Somerset East. In 1865 he requested the British authorities to allow him to return to the Kat River. Whether this was on a temporary or permanent basis is unknown, but his request was granted. Little is known about his last years or his burial place.[12]

Here the genealogy of Andries Botha becomes fragmentary and only in 1899 is his grandson, Klaas Botha, listed as a member of the Brownlee Station Committee.[13] It is quite possible that Klaas was not the only descendant to settle at the mission, situated just outside King William’s Town on the present-day road to Stutterheim. Several Bothas, according to the King William’s Town Burial Register, are recorded at Brownlee Station. The latter, like the Kat River Settlement, catered for London Missionary congregants.[14]

Like his grandfather, Klaas assumed the role of leader within his own community. As a member of the resident committee, he represented the so-called coloured inhabitants living on the mission station. Mrs Butler, Mr Botha and Mrs Malgas never met their grandfather or his wife, known to them as ‘Ouma Nonnie’. She was quite possibly Mita Matekesi or Mathilda Botha who, according to the Burial Register, died in November 1920.[15]

Klaas Botha owned a house on a portion of eight acres of land, set aside by the Lieutenant Governor on 21 May 1861 for the Buffalo Station’s mission converts. The Lieutenant Governor was, however, not prepared to authorise title to the land. By 1883, the eight acres of crown land was administered under a certificate of reservation by three trustees representing the government, the municipality and the missionary society. The trustees, however, did not exercise their functions, beyond drawing up certain rules of residence. The land was therefore held under certificate of reservation, but the dwellings belonged to the residents of Brownlee Station. They could, by right, inherit, sell or lease their homes. The missionaries, the Salvation Army and the municipality continued to allot sites and, in time, congestion resulted. The Resident Missionary, with the assistance of a resident committee, administered the location and municipal regulations were in force in the location, but neither party was able to eject ‘undesirables.'[16]

With the lack of control, several medical and/or sanitary reports detailed ‘the drunkenness, immorality and vice present at Brownlee Station.’ As early as August 1880, using the lack of sanitation as the main reason, the municipality argued for the removal of mission residents. The matter of ownership was so complicated that, according to one observer, it was impossible to settle without a prolonged enquiry and negotiations, the payment of compensation and the introduction of special legislation. The residents were made aware of their rights through the intervention of white liberals, such as RW Rose-Innes and WT Brownlee.[17] Their influence did not, however, translate into any concrete improvements to the housing conditions at Brownlee Station.[18]

Klaas and Nonnie had one child who survived to adulthood, namely Stoffel Botha. He married a Miss Vera Wilson and the couple had 11 children. Stoffel inherited his parents’ home, but erected his own house known for its long stoep and garden. Stoffel’s children described their father as a hard working man. He had his own leather business in Bank Street, Old Town, and established himself as a saddle maker. He was also a keen cricketer. The Amathole Museum has a photo of him as a member of the Shamrocks Cricket Club, dated 1922.[19] He was a teetotaler, and very strict with his children. Like his forbearers, Stoffel played a leading role in community affairs. He was elected an executive member of the Coloured Welfare Association (CWA), established in the Brownlee Station schoolroom in April 1934. The CWA was active in local politics for many years, advocating coloured home ownership in the King William’s Town area.

In spite of the uncertainty round land ownership at Brownlee Station in 1939, the Botha family together with all their neighbours, were removed. By means of an abbreviated administrative process, the 1934 Elimination of Slums Act empowered the Municipality to sweep aside years of resistance to relocation. Although the residents were compensated for the loss of homeownership and the new dwellings constituted a less congested environment with improved sanitation, the same rights and privileges were not offered in the resettlement area. Relocation, increased municipal control and limited access to housing characterised the lives of the residents.[20]

The Bothas, like most of the coloured residents of Brownlee Station, went to live in Leightonville where municipal tenancy was provided. The latter was the designated coloured section of Ginsberg, situated on the outskirts of the town. The family moved to Keiskamma Hoek where Stoffel had bought property with his compensation money. He was one of the few compensated residents of Brownlee Station to invest their funds in property. According to his children, Stoffel cycled to the Hoek on a tandem bicycle in order to buy the property. He subsequently drove his cattle on foot from King William’s Town to Keiskamma Hoek. Although some of the Botha children, including the three interviewees, returned to Leightonville, both Stoffel and Vera are buried in Keiskamma Hoek.[21]

Apartheid legislation also had an impact on the Botha family. In 1959 Leightonville was declared ‘black’, and the coloured tenants had to be accommodated elsewhere. Mrs Butler was one of the last residents to leave Leightonville. Under pressure from the Coloured Welfare Association, the Municipality established the township of Schornville, which included home ownership opportunities for coloured people. All three of the interviewees built their homes in the new township.

In August 1968, however, Schornville was declared ‘white’ in terms of the Group Areas Act of 1966. The Municipality petitioned for the retention of Schornville as a coloured township, but to no avail. The Group Areas Board earmarked Breidbach, situated seven kilometres from the town centre, for coloured resettlement. The residents of Schornville claimed that when they moved to Schornville they were assured that it was to be their permanent home and declared that they ‘will not move.’ Their stand made headlines in the daily and Sunday national newspapers and included protest meetings, discussions with the municipality, government representatives and the Minister of Coloured Affairs, Mr Jannie Loots. In 1972, the Minister finally conceded that nobody would be compelled to leave and the residents were allowed to remain in Schornville.[22]

A pattern of repeated land dispossession is evident in the Botha genealogy. Plagued by the uncertainty and lack of coloured land tenure, the descendants of Andries Botha struggled to secure home ownership in the King William’s Town area. The post-1853 Kat River, Brownlee Station and Leightonville examples indicate that privately-owned coloured housing was not desirable because it implied limited social control. Stoffel did, however, manage to purchase land in Keiskamma Hoek.

Involving the creation of divided living spaces, land dispossession has had a lasting effect on the South African landscape. Segregated housing entrenched the imposition of racial boundaries and continues to characterise the present-day lives of most coloured people in King William’s Town. The majority still live in areas previously designated for local coloured housing, which can be attributed to a lack of affordable housing in the town and well-developed place-identities emerging from the historical context. In the process, contemporary boundaries and well-developed place-identities have remained pronounced. Some measure of restitution will hopefully soon be forthcoming. The descendants of Andries Botha are currently claiming for compensation for the loss of housing in Leightonville and Brownlee Station from the Land Claims Commission.

[1] I used the term ‘coloured’ problematically. Today, a substantial proportion of the so-called coloured people reject the identity.

[2] Elbourne, E. 2000. “‘Race’, Warfare, and Religion in Mid-Nineteenth Century Southern Africa: The Khoikhoi Rebellion against the Cape Colony and Its Uses, 1850-58” in Journal of African Cultural Studies, 13: 1, p. 19; Kirk, T. 1973. ‘Progress and Decline in the Kat River Settlement,’ 1829-1854 in The Journal of African History 14: 3, p. 415.

[3] Van Wyk, A. 1988. Die Ou Man in Kettings:Vier Swart Verhale, Saayman & Weber, Cape Town, p. 1.

[4] Kirk, T. 1973. ‘Progress and Decline in the Kat River Settlement, 1829-1854’ in The Journal of African History 14: 3, p. 414.

[5] CO 48/339/4, Cathcart to Newcastle, 14.08.1853 (no. 35) as quoted in Kirk, T. 1973 ‘Progress and Decline… in The Journal of African History 14: 3, p. 417.

[6] Elbourne, E. 2000. “‘Race’, Warfare, and Religion… in Journal of African Cultural Studies, 13: 1, p. 24. During the War of the Axe 90% of the colonial army consisted of Khoi, but were accorded inferior rations, clothes or rations.

[7] Elbourne (p. 25) identifies the magistrate as John Mitford Bowker, but this is clearly incorrect. Mr William Jervois of the Albany Museum kindly checked Ivan Mitford-Barberton’s The Bowkers of Tharfield (1952, Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 174) which states that Thomas Holden Bowker was Magistrate at the Kat River.

[8] Ross, R. 2004. ‘Hermanus Matroos, aka Ngxukumeshe: A Life on the Border’ in Kronos 30, p. 65.

[9] He was known as Ngxukumeshe among the Xhosa and was the son of an escaped slave and a Xhosa woman. According to Elbourne (p. 21), Matroos fought on the side of the British during the War of the Axe. He was defrauded of his war pay and blamed the British authorities for a disagreement over land tenure.

[10] Kirk, T. 1973. ‘Progress and Decline in the Kat River Settlement, 1829-1854’ in The Journal of African History 14: 3, p. 424; Van Wyk, A. 1988. Die Ou Man in Kettings: Vier Swart Verhale, Saayman & Weber, Cape Town, p. 9.

[11] Ross, R. Ethnic Competition and Claims to Land in South Africa: The Kat River Valley, Eastern Cape. Unpublished paper presented to the International Economic History Conference, Buenos Aires, 22 – 26 July 2002, p. 17.

[12] Van Wyk, A. 1988. Die Ou Man in Kettings: Vier Swart Verhale, Saayman & Weber, Cape Town, p. 16.

[13] Webb, D.A. King William’s Town during the South African War, 1899 – 1902: An Urban Social, Economic and Cultural History, Unpublished MA Thesis, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, 1993, p. 213. In addition, Klaas (Niklaas?) Botha a 32-year old groom of King William’s Town, is listed to have married Mita Matekesi, aged 31 years of Keiskamma Hoek, on 16 January 1883 (Marriages at the Anglican Church, Keiskamma Hoek, 1881-1942, Cory Library MS 19 154).

[14] Elbourne, E. 2000. “‘Race’, Warfare, and Religion… in Journal of African Cultural Studies, 13:1, p. 19.

[15] A computerised copy of the King William’s Town Burial Register is available at the Amathole Museum in King William’s Town. Also see reference 14.

[16] Victor, S. 2007. Segregated Housing and Contested Identities: The case of the King William’s Town coloured community, 1895 – 1946, Unpublished MA thesis, Rhodes University, April 2007, p. 47-49.

[17] Rose-Innes, was a King William’s Town lawyer who established a reputation for defending black interests in the Border area. WT Brownlee was grandson of Rev John Brownlee, the founder of the mission and Assistant Chief Magistrate of the Transkeian Territories in 1910.

[18] Victor, S. 2007. Segregated Housing and Contested Identities … p. 49, 53 and 145.

[19] A. Butler, A. Botha & R. Malgas: oral interview, 19 July 2007.

[20] Victor, S. 2007 Segregated Housing and Contested Identities…p. 147-148.

[21] A. Butler, A. Botha & R. Malgas: oral interview, 19 July 2007.

[22] Kei Mercury, 24.04.1969, 01.04.1970, 24.06.1970, 10.09.1971, 20.05.1972 and Daily Dispatch, 18.09.1971.