The Politics of a South African Frontier
418 pages

The Politics of a South African Frontier


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418 pages
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This book publishes Martin Legassick's influential doctoral thesis on the preindustrial South African frontier zone of Transorangia. The impressive formation of the Griqua states in the first half of the nineteenth century outside the borders of the Cape Colony and their relations with Sotho-Tswana polities, frontiersmen, missionaries and the British administration of the Cape take centre stage in the analysis. The Griqua, of mixed settler and indigenous descent, secured hegemony in a frontier of complex partnerships and power struggles. The author's subsequent critique of the "frontier tradition" in South African historiography drew on the insights he had gained in writing this dissertation. It served to initiate the debate about the importance of the precolonial frontier situation in South Africa for the establishment of ideas of race, the development of racial prejudice and, implicitly, the creation of segregationist and apartheid systems. Today, the constructed histories of "Griqua" and other categories of indigeneity have re emerged in South Africa as influential tools of political mobilisation and claims on resources.



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Date de parution 29 décembre 2010
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EAN13 9783905758559
Langue English
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Te Politics of a South African FrontierMartin Chatfield Legassick
Introduction by Robert Ross
Te Politics of a South African Frontier
Te Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana
and the Missionaries, 1780–1840
Basler Afrika Bibliographien 2010This book publishes the dissertation by Martin Legassick, originally submitted to the University of California
at Los Angeles in 1969.
©2010 Te authors
©2010 Basler Afrika Bibliographien
Basler Afrika Bibliographien
Namibia Resource Centre & Southern Africa Library
Klosterberg 23
P O Box 2037
CH-4051 Basel
All rights reserved. Every efort was made to trace the copyright holders of material used in this publication.
Basic Cover Design: Hot Designs, Windhoek, Namibia
Adapted Cover Design: Petra Kerckhof
Cover Illustration: Te cover illustration, a contemporary watercolour painting by Charles Bell, depicts
African travellers on a bullock wagon in the Cape Colony during the early 19th century. Te painting is held
in the collection of the John and Charles Bell Heritage Trust, and housed in the Special Collections section
of the University of Cape Town Libraries. Reproduced with kind permission from the John and Charles Bell
Heritage Trust.
Printed by John Meinert Printing (PTY) Ltd., Windhoek, Namibia
Printed on “triple green” paper: sixty percent sugar cane fbre, chlorine-free, sustainable aforestation
ISBN Switzerland: 978-3-905758-14-6Contents
Preface VIII
Note on this Edition X
Martin Legassick, Te Griqua and South Africa’s historiographical revival:
an appreciation XI
An Introduction by Robert Ross XI
Acknowledgements XXII
Introduction 1
Te Concept of the ‘Frontier Zone’ 3
Te Present Study: Focus, Sources and Methods 10
1 Te Sotho-Tswana Peoples before 1800 15
Te Dispersal of the Kwena and Kgatla Lineage-Clusters 19
Te Rolong, the Tlhaping and the Kora, 1700 – 1800 29
2 Te Evolution of a Frontier Society, 1700 – 1775 36
Te Evolution of a New Society in the Interior, 1700 – 1775 40
Te Northern Frontier Society in the Eighteenth Century 50
3 Te Frontier Zone and Colonial Policy, c. 1770 – 1815 61
Te Frontier Zone in the North, 1700 – 1800: Trade, Warfare, and Acculturation 62
Te Colonial Government, the Northern Frontier and the Missionaries,
1800 – 1815 75
4 Te Development of the Griqua State, 1800 – 1820 84
Te ‘Hartenaar’ Rebellion 99
Te Demise of the Traditional Chiefs at Griquatown 102
Fission Among the Griqua 105
5 Te Frontier Zone in Transorangia, 1800 – 1820 111
Te Extension of the Frontier Society in Transorangia, 1800 – 1820 119
Te Tlhaping ‘Confederation’ and the Frontier Zone, 1790 – 1820 123
V6 Te Griqua and the Colonial Government, 1815 – 1826 139
Te Bergenaar Rebellion 147
7 Dislocation in Transorangia, 1820 – 1826 162
Te Difaqane in Transorangia, 1822 – 1825 162
Te Bergenaars in Transorangia, 1822 – 1826 170
Te Difaqane, the Bergenaars, and the Kora, 1822 – 1826 176
Te Dergenaars, and the Southern Sotho-Tswana, 1824 – 1828 178
8 Te New Balance of Power, 1826 – 1832 189
Te First Years of the Philippolis and Boetsap States:
Te ‘Old’ Chiefs, Missionaries, and Government, 1826 – 1832 191
Andries Waterboer at Griquatown, 1826 – 1832 203
Te Infuence of Mzilikazi on the Transorangia Power Balance, 1829 – 1832 210
9 John Philip, Robert Moffat, and the Griqua, 1819 – 1832 217
Te Evolution of LMS Policy Towards the Griqua, 1819 – 1832 223
10 Griqua Expansionism, I: Andries Waterboer in Transorangia, 1832 – 1836 240
Waterboer and the Southern Sotho-Tswana, 1832 – 1835 244
Waterboer, Cornelius Kok II and Berend Berends, 1832 – 1836:
Regrouping along the Harts and Vaal 251
Waterboer and the Philippolis State, 1830 – 1837 259
Conclusion 264
11 Griqua Expansionism, II: Church and State
at Griquatown and Philippolis, 1836 – 1842 266
Christianity and the Southern Sotho-Tswana:
Te Church in Griqua Expansionism, 1834 – 1838 267
Adam Kok III at Philippolis and Griqua Expansionism, 1837 – 1840 275
Tlhaping Reaction to Griqua Expansionism, 1838 – 1842 281
John Philip in Transorangia in 1842 288
12 Te Decline of Griqua Hegemony 292
John Philip and Robert Mofat, 1837 – 1843 292
VITe Decline of Griquatown and Philippolis 306
Te Rise of Mahura 313
13 Conclusion 318
Political Leadership in the Frontier Zone 318
Trade, Property Rights, and Land Tenure in the Frontier Zone 326
Te Missionaries, the Griqua, and the Sotho-Tswana 331
Lists of Maps and Tables 336
Appendix: Maps and Tables 337
Bibliography 353
Index 372
In 2005, the year that Martin Legassick retired from formal academic life, the University
of the Western Cape (UWC) convened a workshop at what is now the Centre for
Humanities Research. During this event, Gary Minkley, Noor Nieftagodien and Tozama
April spoke appreciatively about the signifcance of Legassick’s work as a scholar, activist
and educator over a period spanning half a century. Te presentations recalled Legassick’s
enormous contributions to historiographic innovation on such matters as the frontier,
liberalism, racial and social formation, and the peculiarities of capitalist development
in South Africa. Te speakers refected on the connections between this scholarship and
Legassick’s political activism during and after exile, and especially on the relationships
between trade unions and politics, and Marxism and the national movement. Tey also
referred to Legassick’s work as an educator and mentor in Britain in the 1970s, in South
Africa at UWC after his return, and in the setting of the South African Democracy
Education Trust project, where he supervised and tracked the work being conducted by young
researchers on the resistance to apartheid. Te addresses by Minkley, Nieftagodien and
April (together with an appreciation by Bill Freund) were published the following year in
the South African Historical Journal, alongside a wide-ranging interview with Legassick
conducted by Ciraj Rassool, his UWC colleague and member of the journal’s editorial
Te interview, with the title ‘History Anchored in Politics’, focused on Martin
Legassick’s development as a historian, his work as a political activist, and their
interconnections. During the interview, Legassick described the origins of what became his doctoral
In 1966-67, I went to Britain to do my [PhD] research, which started on the Tswana.
However, what happened next shows that you have to listen to what primary sources say
and be prepared to rethink what you are doing as a result of what you discover. I went to
look at the London Missionary Society records and these start before the Bamangwato,
which I thought I would get to. I began to see how much the Griqua and the creation
of Griqua society had afected this area and how one couldn’t understand the southern
Tswana, especially the Tlaping and the Rolong, without understanding the role of the
Griqua. It is an omission from the Comarofs’ studyof the missionaries and the Tswana:
they do not take account of the role of the Griqua. My thesis turned into a study of the
1 Te contributions and interview were published as a feature, ‘Martin Legassick, Marxist, Historian and
Activist: A celebration’, in South African Historical Journal, 56, 2006, 1-42.
VIIIGriqua, the Sotho-Tswana and the missionaries and never got as far as the Bamangwato. It
2stopped in about 1840.
Submitted to the University of California at Los Angeles in 1969 under the title ‘Te
Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana and the Missionaries, 1780–1840: the politics of a frontier zone’,
the dissertation immediately became an infuential study and can be regarded as one of
the most widely cited dissertations in Southern African historiography. Forty years later,
it remains, as Robert Ross points out in his introduction in this book, ‘by far the best
account of what is a crucial, and fascinating, episode in Southern African history.’ Not only
does it provide a magisterial history of the Northern Cape frontier, it is also a powerful
3study of the making of race and ethnicity.
However, the dissertation was never published. As Legassick explains in the interview:
I sent the manuscript to Clarendon Press [Oxford University] at Leonard Tompson’s
[Legassick’s supervisor] recommendation and they sent it to a reader. Te reader came
back to them and said that it was insufcient as it did not consult the German sources. I
thought this was absolutely incredible. I suspect the person it was sent to was Isaac
Schapera who didn’t like somebody treading on his territory of the Tswana. He played an
academic gamesmanship thing and one-upped me and said I hadn’t consulted the German
sources. Did they expect me to learn German in order to make the changes? As far as I was
concerned, the manuscript stood on its own. Tim Keegan used it quite extensively in his
book and it has stood the test of time. Because I had shifted my interests back to
development and underdevelopment in South Africa, and the Communist Party and so on, I didn’t
send it to any other press. I felt that I didn’t want to put in the work that was necessary to
4meet the Clarendon Press’s standard.
Publication of the dissertation was superseded by other work and writing Legassick was
doing, and the question of publication ceased to be important.
It was after conducting the interview that Ciraj Rassool approached the Basler Afrika
Bibliographien with the idea to have Legassick’s thesis fnally published. Te B
Bibliographien had shown an interest in branching out its Namibia-related academic
publishing activities. Te publication of this dissertation thus emerged from
cooperation between the Department of History at UWC and the publisher and is, indeed, long
Ciraj Rassool (Cape Town)
2 Ciraj Rassool, ‘History Anchored in Politics: An Interview with Martin Legassick’, South African
Historical Journal, 56, 2006, 22. Legassick’s reference to the Comarofs is to Of Revelation and Revolution, 2
volumes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
3 Martin Legassick, ‘Te Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana and the Missionaries, 1780-1840: the politics of a
frontier zone’, Ph.D Dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles, 1969
4 Ciraj Rassool, ‘History Anchored in Politics’, 28.
IXNote on this Edition
Tis edition makes available in unabbreviated form the original dissertation of 1969,
including the original maps and tables. Omitted here are only the dissertation’s original
abstract and the author’s accompanying vita. Obviously, the thesis had to be retyped, an
arduous tasked accomplished by Lameez Lalkhen, after which both Martin Legassick
and Ciraj Rassool proofread the chapters. Dag Henrichsen could then compile the name
index, a likewise arduous task because the book focuses on numerous male protagonists,
their migrations and politics and is thus saturated with personal, community and
geographical names, many of which are very similar. As much as the index is another attempt
to make accessible the many historical characters and networks brought to light for South
African historiography by Legassick’s thesis, it may display omissions. It is also likely that
the extensive proofreading process has not picked up all typographical errors. Te layout
of the book, including the redrawing of some of the maps and tables, was handled by
Petra Kerckhof.
Ciraj Rassool and the publisher wish to acknowledge the support of the Department
of History and the Centre for Humanities Research at UWC in the preparation of the
dissertation for publication. We thank Robert Ross for writing the introduction and, last
but not least, Martin Legassick for his renewed interest in his dissertation, and for his
XMartin Legassick, Te Griqua and
South Africa’s historiographical revival: an appreciation
An Introduction by Robert Ross
It is not unusual for Ph.D. theses to be published, though rarely, I am glad to say, in
unaltered form. Tey are included in the mass of academic literature which scholars have
to digest, and at best slowly move from being among the most relevant and up-to-date
pieces of work to the status of received wisdom. Eventually most become outdated, and
are mined only by specialists for the information which they contain. Often they are
forgotten by all except for bibliographers and, perhaps, their authors.
Tis makes it all the more remarkable that it is now worthwhile publishing the thesis
which Martin Legassick presented to the University of California, Los Angeles, more
than four decades ago. Tis study remains by far the best account of what is a crucial, and
fascinating, episode in Southern African history. I will attempt to explain what that was.
What Legassick did, at the beginning of the revival in South African historiography
in the late 1960s, was to provide a very detailed account of the formation of the Griqua
polities in the frontier zone north of the Gariep. He showed how a signifcant social
unit coalesced out of the loose kinship groups of Khoekhoe and those of partial
European descent who had found their way to Namaqualand and the middle reaches of the
Gariep valley during the course of the eighteenth century. Tey profted from, and to
some extent contributed to the destruction of those groups of Khoekhoe who had lived
in the islands above the Augrabies falls, but fnally came to settle in more concentrated
numbers around the springs near what was to become the village of Klaarwater, later
Griquatown. In particular, two widely extended and intermarried patrilineages, the Kok
and the Barends families, acquired the political leadership over these groups. Tey did
so in collaboration with the missionaries of the London Missionary Society (LMS), who
indeed persuaded those who had previously been known as Bastards to take on the
appellation of “Griqua”, because of the unfortunate connotations of the former name in
English (though not in Dutch). Between them they provided a degree of legitimacy — a
key concept in Legassick’s analysis — which allowed the development of a widely, if not
totally, accepted social order. Initially this covered a territory to the west of the Vaal River,
XIand to the north of the Gariep. Later it came to include areas further east, in what is now
the southern Free State, centred on the town of Philippolis. While the latter polity came
under the control of the Kok family, the captain of Griquatown and its surrounding areas
was Andries Waterboer, a newcomer who owed his prestige and power to his skilful, and
at times ruthless, political ability and to his association with the LMS.
Te Griqua had to contend with the difculties of making a living in what was and
remains an arid area, unsuited to any sort of farming except for the raising of sheep on
an extensive scale. Even this was only really possible around Philippolis, and only after
1merino sheep had been introduced. Te Griqua never succeeded in establishing irrigated
agricultures as the springs around Griquatown were too weak and the available
technology was insufcient to take water from the Gariep or the Vaal, or indeed, as happened
2later, the Harts river. Te only really reliable and usable source of water in the region was
3the Eye of Kuruman, some 150 kilometres to the north of Griquatown. Moreover, in
general the Tswana of the area were better able to exploit the dry-land environment than
were the Griqua, and further north towards the Molopo the rainfall becomes marginally
better. In these circumstances, the natural strategy for the Griqua was to move north, and
to attempt to impose their hegemony over the south-western Tswana. Tis was a possible
option because of the weakening of Tswana political authority in the 1820s and 1830s
in the wars known, when Legassick was writing his thesis, as the Mfecane. Te
establishment of the Ndebele state under Mzilikazi, which dominated what is now Gauteng, the
north-west Free State and much of North-West Province, meant that the strategy could
for a period not be put into operation. However, Mzilikazi abandoned the area, as much
under pressure from the Griqua as from the Voortrekkers. As a result, in the late 1830s, a
major Griqua push was made to subjugate a variety of Tswana chieftaincies. In the event,
these failed, and from the early 1840s, the Griquatown captaincy went into terminal
decline. Te political subordination of the Northern Cape and the lands both east and
west of the Kalahari, in Botswana and Namibia, to colonial control would have to wait
for more powerful forces, although the Griqua had clearly begun the process.
In 1970, as a neophyte researcher looking for a thesis topic, I visited Martin Legassick,
who was then teaching at the University of Sussex. My memory is that, as he described
his thesis to me, he put most emphasis on this drive to the north, as being the discovery
1 Robert Ross, Adam Kok’s Griquas: a study in the development of stratifcation in South Africa , Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 1976, esp. 66-80.
2 Kevin Shillington, “Irrigation, Agriculture and the State: the Harts Valley in Historical Perspective”, in
William Beinart, Peter Delius and Stanley Trapido (eds) Putting a Plough to the Ground: Accumulation
and Dispossession in Rural South Africa, 1850-1930, Johannesburg, Ravan, 1986, 311-335.
3 Nancy J. Jacobs, Environment, power, and injustice: a South African history, Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press, 2003.
XIIof which he was most proud, and which he saw as the most signifcant aspect of his work.
I think he was right in this, on an empirical level. What he has to say about the way in
which Griqua society coalesced in the decades around 1800 is fascinating in its way, but
is not, I think, particularly surprising. It builds on, and adds detail to, the account given
4by J.S. Marais in the later 1930s. Rather it is in the later chapters of this book that
Legassick shows his true qualities as a researcher, describing and analysing with great subtlety
the interplay of Griqua, Tswana and missionary politics. He shows that conficts within
the LMS, between Dr. John Philip and Robert Mofat as the leaders of what can best
be described as “tendencies”, were in their way as crucial for the political history of the
area as those between more evidently political actors. It may be that this was the area of
Southern Africa in which the power (in a narrow sense of that word) of the missionaries
was the greatest. If so, it was because in that area legitimacy was being created through
the relations to the South, with the Cape Colonial authorities and that legitimacy was
garnered through missionary intervention.
Tis narrative was constructed on a most impressive basis of documentary and other
forms of primary source material, above all collected in the archives of the London
Missionary Society, then held in the buildings of the Society above Westminster underground
station. Like many other researchers, he was inducted into their use by the legendary
archivist, Miss Irene Fletcher. It was in these archives that he came to realise the importance
of the Griqua to the history of the Southern African interior, and indeed to the Tswana,
on which his earliest (Southern African) historical work had been done. Indeed when he
arrived in the LMS archives he was intending to concentrate his thesis on the Ngwato
5in modern Botswana. Te work which Legassick did there, and also in the archives and
journals of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, formed the empirical bedrock of his
thesis, and the surest proof of its lasting importance. Te more theoretical constructions
which he built on them have their foundations solidly resting on his knowledge of, in
particular, the missionary material, and to some extent that of a number of travellers’
accounts. Tis makes his suppositions easily verifable, and further allows subsequent
research to build on what he did.
Tere is a certain irony in this. Legassick’s initial attempts to have the thesis published
stranded, so he relates, on the demands of the Oxford University Press’s reader that he
4 J.S. Marais, Te Cape Coloured People, 1632 – 1937 , London, Longman Green & Co, Ch. 2.
5 Personal communication 5.5.2008.Te qualifcation is necessary because Legassick’s frst published work
was on West Africa, both “Firearms, Horses and Samorian Army Organisation, 1870-1898”, Journal of
African History, 7, 1, 1966, 95-115, and “Te ideology of the Convention People’s Party (Ghana): An
historical perspective”, Proceedings of the Graduate Academy, Berkeley, 1966, 69-81.
XIII6incorporate German sources, which he explicitly comments that he had not done. First,
this is a question of the best being the enemy of the good. Such a demand failed totally to
take account of just how detailed and valuable the work that Legassick had done actually
was. Legassick’s supposition was that the author of the report was well aware of what the
work entailed, and deliberately torpedoed the publication of the thesis as part of classic
academic turf-protection tactics. Secondly, there has been a major efort in recent years
to study the archives of the Berlin missionary society, which was the main institution
which might have been relevant for Legassick’s work. So far, to the best of my knowledge,
nothing has come up to suggest that the very considerable investment of time and efort
which learning German, and the old gothic Schrift in which the documents are written,
would have made any serious diference to what Legassick wrote.
A more serious complaint could have been made against the absence of any use of the
archival or other sources in South Africa. From the mid-1960s up till 1994, Martin
Legassick could not visit the country, for the best of political reasons. How much efect on
his thesis a good stint in the Cape Archives would have had is, however, open to question.
Certainly documents would have turned up which would have added to what was already
a very substantial annotation. Particularly with regard to the 1830s and 1840s, notably
in the Philippolis state, colonial documentation provides important additions to what
Legassick was able to discover outside the country. Te course of the succession to Adam
7Kok II, who died in 1835, is the most evident such case. In the more central parts of the
thesis, in contrast, there is little that would have been gained from extensive work in the
Cape Archives, primarily because the main sources would have remained the missionaries
working in Griquatown and further to the north. What they wrote to the colonial
government, they also wrote to their parent society in London, and they reported fully on
their negotiations with Cape Town. Moreover, at least in the period up to the later 1820s,
much of the correspondence between the frontier missionaries and the Cape governor
was sufciently sensitive for the letters to be sent on to the Colonial Ofce in London,
8and thus to appear in the Records of the Cape Colony.
Legassick also commented in his thesis that his inability to visit South Africa meant
that he was unable to collect such oral traditions as may still have existed on the early
nineteenth century. He was writing at the high point of the hope that the collection of
6 Ciraj Rassool, “History anchored in politics: an interview with Martin Legassick”, South African
Historical Journal, 56, 2006, 28.
7 Ross, Adam Kok’s Griquas, 38-40.
8 G. McC. Teal (ed.), Records of the Cape Colony¸ London, Swan Sonnenschein, 1899-1905. Tis 36
volume collection of archival sources consists of the material which Teal found in the Public Record
Ofce, and is thus a more or less complete record of that correspondence.
XIVoral traditions would provide the basis for the pre-colonial history. In a way which is
currently described as “fundamentalist”, traditions were too often seen as in some sense
9direct, if, obviously, condensed, relations of events which had occurred in the past. Even
though he believed that “at least for the eighteenth century onwards” it would still have
been “possible to gather fresh information”, despite the dangers of what later came to be
10called “feedback”, it is probable that he would have ended wasting a lot of time,
producing a work which was less, rather than more convincing. It is even not inconceivable
that such attempts to collect new, and thus in some sense more “authentic” traditions
would have detracted from what was in fact one of the more methodologically
innovative aspects of his work, namely his use of both oral tradition and testimony collected by
other people, and indeed for other purposes. Tere were, frst, those traditions which had
been collected by ofcials of the Native (subsequently Bantu) Afairs Department, which,
however objectively the investigations were conducted, were concerned to discover the
“true” leaders of Tswana tribes, for the purposes of the administration of segregation and
11apartheid. Secondly, there were those compilations of traditions which were made by
early twentieth century missionaries and others. Te interpretation of these sources
required a careful understanding of the flters and the mind sets of those who published
them, which Legassick does provide, and also, a full appreciation of the origins of the
sources, which were indeed often articles written in Sesotho for a missionary published
12journal, which he does not discuss. Tirdly, and most notably, there was the mass of
testimony provided in the course of the nineteenth century for a variety of government
commissions, notably those concerned with the boundary between the Afrikaner
Repub13lics and the Cape Colony. It is the understanding that the memories, and the ideological
statements which were expressed in the testimony to these commissions, which form the
9 David Newbury “Contradictions at the Heart of the Canon: Jan Vansina and the debate over Oral
historiography in Africa, 1960-1985”, History in Africa, 34, 2007, 213-254.
10 Martin Legassick, “Te Sotho-Tswana before 1800 A.D.” in Leonard Tompson (ed.), African Societies
in Southern Africa , London, Heinemann, 1969, 82 see also David P. Henige “Te problem of feedback
in oral tradition: four examples from the Fante Coastlands”, Journal of African History, 14, 2, 1973,
11 For some account of the collection of this material, see W.D. Hammond-Tooke, Imperfect Interpreters:
South Africa’s anthropologists, 1920-1990, Johannesburg, Witwatersrand University Press, 1997,
12 Elizabeth A. Eldredge, “Land, politics, and censorship : the historiography of nineteenth-century
Lesotho” , History in Africa, 15, 1988, 191-209.
13 Above all Evidence Taken at Bloemhof before the Commission appointed to investigate the claims of the South
African Republic, Captain N. Waterboer, chief of West Griqualand and certain other native chiefs to portions
of the Territory on the Vaal River, now known as the Diamond Fields, Cape Town, 1871, known as the
Bloemhof Blue Book.
XVbasis of much of what Legassick wrote, in a way which now seems fairly commonplace
but which at the time was not.
It would of course be mistaken to believe that what Legassick wrote forty years ago is
still the last word on everything. South African history has moved on; perhaps sideways,
perhaps backwards as well as forwards, but at any rate on. Tis is evident with regard
to his analysis of eighteenth and early nineteenth century Sotho-Tswana history.
Legassick was writing at a time when the archaeological exploration of the Southern African
14interior had hardly begun. In this thesis, he hardly refers to any archaeological reports.
Nevertheless, his careful disentanglement of the Kwena and Kgatla traditions, as recorded
in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, led him to postulate a steady rise of state
formation and state expansion led by these two dynasties. Tis has become part of the
received wisdom of Tswana historiography, and has been, in broad lines, confrmed by the
15archaeology which has been performed in the region over the last decades. On the other
hand, his treatment of the wars in and around the Highveld in the 1820s probably places
too much emphasis on the Shakan revolution as the prime motor for the disturbances,
as might be expected for a thesis written only three years after the publication of John
16Omer-Cooper’s Te Zulu Aftermath . Omer-Cooper’s ideas, which for some time were
part of the received wisdom of South African historiography, came in for considerable
criticism, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, Legassick took the Shakan origin
for the Mfecane for granted, and limited his discussions to what was going on west of
the Drakensberg. His arguments would not sufer from accepting John Wright’s revision
17of the history of regions to the east of the mountains, except that he would then have
had no real explanation for what happened within the area with which he was primarily
14 Te exceptions are Brian Fagan, “Radiocarbon dates for Sub-Saharan Africa, V”, Journal of African
History¸ VIII, 3, 1967, 525, which in fact refers only to matters relating to Zimbabwe and Swaziland, and
R.J. Mason and P.J. van der Merwe, “Radiocarbon dating of Iron Age Sites in the Southern Transvaal”,
South African Journal of Science, LX, 1966, 142, which provides for the frst time dates for iron smelting
at Melville Kopjes, within what is now Johannesburg.
15 Neil Parsons, “Prelude to the Difaqane in the interior of Southern Africa, c.1600–c.1822” in Carolyn
Hamilton (ed.), Te Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive debates in Southern African history , Johannesburg
and Pietermaritzburg, Witwatersrand University Press and University of Natal Press, 1995, 331; Simon
Hall, “Farming Communities of the Second Millenium: Internal frontiers, identity, continuity and
change”, in Carolyn Hamilton, Bernard Mbenga and Robert Ross (eds), Te Cambridge History of South
Africa, Vol I, , Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
16 J.D. Omer-Cooper, Te Zulu Aftermath: A Nineteenth–century revolution in Bantu Africa , London &
Ibadan, Longmans, 1966,
17 John Wright, “Political transformations in the Tukela-Mzimkhulu region in the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries”, in Hamilton (ed.), Te Mfecane Aftermath , 163-182; also “Turbulent Times:
Political transformations in the North and East, 1760s – 1830s”, in Hamilton, Mbenga & Ross,
Cambridge History, I,
XVIWith regard to the Sotho-Tswana area, in contrast, Legassick stressed the importance
of the illegal trade in African captives as slaves into the Cape Colony, and the destructive
efects of Griqua and Korana raiding in the Southern Highveld, both of which were to
be seen as part contributing to the unrest which was known, rightly or wrongly, as the
18Difaqane. Perhaps, if his priorities had been otherwise, Legassick might have built on
these insights along the lines that have since become relatively commonplace. However,
one thing is certain. He would never have suggested that Robert Mofat and John Melvill
19would have precipitated the battle of Dithakong as the pretext for a slave raid. His
understanding of what drove missionaries was too great, even though, I suspect, he had little
sympathy for what they were attempting to achieve.
Indeed, his description of the missionaries is one of the areas of this work which seems
most dated, at least at frst sight. Legassick’s missionaries, notably John Philip and Robert
Mofat are portrayed as resolutely political animals (which they were, probably much
more than they themselves would have admitted). Legassick is primarily interested in
their actions to achieve and to maintain political power for themselves and their protégés
within the arena of Transorangia, and more widely in Southern Africa. Te religious and
the cultural aspects of the processes of mission and conversion do not really receive much
attention. Tere is no foreshadowing of the concerns of the Comarofs, with regard to the
20“colonization of consciousness”, or the subtler and more solidly empirically based work
21of Elizabeth Elbourne on the specifcally religious history of the LMS’s converts. Tis is
a book written before the “cultural turn”.
It is also a book written before the great expansion of Cape Colonial historiography
of recent years. It is indeed sobering to read the early chapters of Legassick’s thesis and to
realize how little he actually had to go on, in order to provide the colonial background
against which the narrative he told had to be set. Te riches of the Cape Archives had yet
to be worked with. Even the path-breaking theses by Richard Elphick and Bill Freund
18 Julian Cobbing,, “Te Mfecane as Alibi: Toughts on Dithakong and Mbolombo”, Journal of African
History, 29.3.1988, 487-519; Elizabeth A. Eldredge, “ Sources of Confict in Southern Africa, c.
18001830: the ‘Mfecane’ considered”, Journal of African History, 33, 1, 1992, 1-35; also Eldredge. “Delagoa
Bay and the Hinterland in the Early Nineteenth Century: Politics, trade, slaves and slave-raiding”, in
Elizabeth A. Eldredge and Fred Morton (eds), Slavery in South Africa: Captive Lbour on the Dutch
Frontier, Boulder, San Francisco and Oxford, Westview Press and Pietermaritzburg, University of Natal Press,
1995, 127-65.
19 As Cobbing did in “Te Mfecane as Alibi”.
20 John .L. Comarof and Jean Comarof, "Te Colonization of Consciousness in South Africa. Economy
and Society, 18(3):267-95; idem, Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Coloniaism, and
Consciousness in South Africa, Chicago: University of Chicago Press., Vol I, 1991,; Vol II, 1997.
21 See above all, Elizabeth Elbourne, Blood Ground: Colonialism, missions and the contest for Christianity in
the Cape Colony and Britain, 1799-1853, McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal, 2002.
XVII22still had to be written. Tus, aside from his own investigation of the multifarious
travellers’ accounts, the most important work on which Legassick relied was by I.D. MacCrone
23and had been published before World War II. It is a situation which has changed
dramatically. Tere are a whole variety of major works on which a researcher into Griqua
history could now base his or her account of the other, that is to say the colonial, side of
the frontier. Since 1969, there have been published both the collective Shaping of South
African Society, to the second edition of which Legassick indeed contributed a chapter on
the northern frontier, and a whole range of monographs, most importantly for his
purpose those by Susan Newton-King on the Eastern Cape Khoikhoi and early Graaf-Reinet
24 25colonial society and by Nigel Penn on the northern Cape. In particular the latter is in
some ways a prequel to Martin Legassick’s thesis.
Tis is not so very surprising. In the course of his thesis Legassick makes (at least) two
major theoretical claims about the nature of South African frontiers. Te frst is that they
should be considered geographically as zones, rather than as lines, and consequently that
26the frontier in any given place was a process, not an event. In this, Legassick built on
27some of the comments of I.D. MacCrone and, in particular, W.K. Hancock. Tese were
buttressed with certain of the comments by Jan Vansina on the kingdom of Kazembe, an
early and still far too rare comparison between South African history and the lands north
28of the Zambezi. It is a realization which has, I believe, become commonplace within the
study of South African history.
22 Richard H. Elphick, “Te Cape Khoi and the frst phase of South African Race Relations”, Ph.D. Yale,
1972, later published as Kraal and Castle: Khoikhoi and the Founding of White South Africa, New Haven
and London, Yale UP, 1977; William M.Freund, “Society and Government in Dutch South Africa: the
Cape and the Batavians, 1803-1806”, Ph.D. Yale, 1972. Hermann Giliomee’s MA thesis “Die
Administrasietydperk van Lord Caledon, 1807-1811”, in Argiefaarboek vir Suid-Afrikaanse Geskiedenis ,1966,
II, which was available to him and would have been of importance, is just about the only obvious work
which Legassick seems to have missed.
23 I.D. MacCrone, Race Attitudes in South Africa: Historical, Experimental and Psychological Studies,
London, Oxford Univeristy Press for the University of the Witwatersrand, 1937.
24 Susan Newton-King, Masters and Servants on the Cape Eastern Frontier, 1760-1803, Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 1999.
25 thNigel Penn, Te Forgotten Frontier: Colonist and Khoisan on the Cape’s Northern Frontier in the 18
Century, Athens and Cape Town, Ohio UP and Double Storey, 2005.
26 Tis was something which the British in the Eastern Cape were unable to comprehend, with signifcant
consequences for the course of confict between the Xhosa and the Cape Colony.
27 MacCrone, Race Attitudes; W.K. Hancock, Survey of British Commonwealth afairs. Vol 2 problems of
economic policy, 1918-1939, pt 1-2, London, Oxford University Press, 1942
28 Vansina, Kingdoms of the Savanna, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1966, 155-6; c.f. Igor
Kopytof (ed.), Te African Frontier: the reproduction of traditional African societies (Bloomington, Indiana
University Press, 1987), particularly Kopytof’s own “Te Internal African Frontier: the making of
African political culture”, which should have cited Legassick, but does not in fact do so.
XVIIILegassick’s second major point was more polemical. It was worked out formally in an
article which was to become one of the most infuential pieces on pre-industrial South
African history, but it took most of its empirical foundation from Legassick’s research
for the thesis, and was implicit within it. Tis was, of course, “Te Frontier Tradition in
29South African historiography”. In it, Legassick began an attack on the prevailing liberal
historiography, at least with regard to the importance of the frontier situation on the
later establishment of racial prejudice and, implicitly, the segregationist and apartheid
systems. Rather, he argued, the frontier was a zone of acculturation, in both directions,
and of various forms of partnership between those of European descent and those who
were not. Of course, the Griqua ftted into both these categories, and were a particularly
salient example of the processes which Legassick was analyzing. Te frontier was violent,
obviously, but the violence was by no means exclusively interracial. Racial stereotyping
30and discrimination were thus implicitly produced, perhaps in the agricultural regions of
the Western Cape, and more decisively with the establishment of the capitalist political
theconomy in the wake of and as a result of the mineral revolution of the late 19 century.
Tis is a line of argument which has become widely accepted, and which, at frst sight
would appear to proclaim the irrelevance of much of what Legassick was engaged in.
Indeed, it was to be several decades before he himself returned to the pre-industrial
pe31riod, in his own work. Nevertheless, the work which Legassick had done has proved an
inspiration for those of us who have attempted to understand the pre-industrial history
of South Africa in its own right, although always with an eye on what followed after the
discovery of diamonds and gold. Tus to take the works mentioned above: Susan
Newton-King commented that her book “can in a sense be read as an extended interrogation
32of the views of…Legassick.” Nigel Penn, too, considered Legassick’s work as the basis of
33the historiography with which he was grappling. In addition there are those who have
written on the history of the Griqua, or more generally of what are now the Northern
29 Martin Legassick, “Te Frontier Tradition in South African historiography”, in Shula Marks and
Anthony Atmore (eds), Economy and Society in Pre-Industrial South Africa, London, Longmans 1980, 44-79.
frst published in Collected Seminar Papers of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London: Te Societies
of Southern Africa in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, II, 1971, 1-33.
30 Te article ends with the question “If the stereotype of the African as enemy cannot be traced to the
eighteenth century, when and why did it in fact come into existence?”
31 Except for a short summary of his thesis in Richard Elphick and Hermann Giliomee (eds), Te Shaping
of South African Society, 1652-1820, Cape Town and London, Longman, 1979, and in the second
edition (which has the same editors but the dates covered extended to 1840). A comparison of the thesis
and the theoretical sections of these two versions, which difer substantially, would form a fascinating
historiographical exercise, unfortunately beyond the scope of this introduction.
32 Newton–King, Masters and Servants, 9.
33 Penn, Forgotten frontier¸ 10-12.

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