South Africa’s long walk to freedom began as soon as colonialism descended on the country’s shores. The Khoi and San tribes that lived in Southern Africa played their part in defending their communities against the injustices of colonialism.
Here’s a brief history of some of the prominent Khoi and other leaders who fought against oppressive colonial authorities.
Nommoä (Doman) Goringhaiqua (1618 – 1663)
Nommoä was a member of the Goringhaiqua clan. The Khoi clan was one of many that existed in the Cape of Good Hope in the mid-1600s.
He was the leader of the first Khoi-Dutch war, and an interpreter to then Cape governor Jan Van Riebeeck. In 1657, the Dutch East India Company sent him to Batavia (modern-day Jakarta in Indonesia) where he trained as an interpreter.
He saw Muslim leaders in the area challenging the authority of the Dutch East India Company. Witnessing this inspired him to promote Khoi interests over those of the Dutch in trade negotiations when he returned to the Cape in 1658.
He led the first Khoi-Dutch War of Resistance (1659 – 1660), which ended in a stalemate. Unfortunately, he was unable to unite the Khoi against the colonialists. In 1660, the Goringhaiqua concluded a so-called peace treaty. They ended up dispossessed of most of their land around the Cape as a result of the treaty.
Nommoä died in poverty after losing the high status he once enjoyed by being fluent in Dutch. According to historians, he laid the foundation of the Afrikaans language. The language is one of South Africa’s official languages. Other prominent Dutch interpreters – Autshumato, Krotoa, and Chief Xhore have also received this credit.
Autshumato (1625 – 1663)
Autshumato was an interpreter, negotiator, tradesman, and leader of the Goringhaikonas. This Khoi clan lived in modern-day Cape Town. He was one of the first people to encounter Jan Van Riebeeck in 1652.
He abandoned cattle grazing for trade and became an interpreter and negotiator. In this role, he facilitated barter transactions.
He had difficult experiences with European settlers, who imprisoned him on Robben Island twice for cattle theft. Cattle were a scarce resource that made the Dutch dependent on the Khoi. Autshumato was Robben island’s first ever prisoner. He escaped from prison by boat in 1659 and was re-appointed as an interpreter at the Cape trading fort.
Over the years, he learned excellent negotiation skills and amassed wealth through cattle. He never regained his original influence as an interpreter. As a result, other Khoi interpreters took over his significant role.
Chief David Stuurman (1773 – 1830)
Chief David Stuurman is known as the hero of the Khoena (Khoi) resistance that took place between 1795 and 1806.
The chief was born on a farm in the Gamtoos Valley, which is close to the modern day Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape. In his youth, he was mistreated by farm owners on whose land he lived. In that time, the Khoena no longer had an independent existence, and their children were either apprenticed by the time they were teenagers or conscripted into the colonial militia. The aim of this was to make the Khoena controlled wage labourers and subjects of colonial authority.
His older brother, Klaas Stuurman, was granted land by the Batavian governor, and in 1804, the chief moved on it with a number of men, women, and children. His land soon became a refuge for runaway Khoena farmworkers and slaves, and those running away from being conscripted into the colonial militia.
He made history by being the first person to escape from Robben Island prison twice. He was soon caught and banished to South Wales in Australia in 1823, where he died in 1830 without him or his family making contact with each other. His remains still lie abroad today.
Klaas Stuurman (1760 – 1803)
Klaas Stuurman was Chief David Stuurman’s older brother, and together, they led the Khoena resistance. He was outspoken, fearless and had oratory talents and skills with a gun. This led him to become a key military force in the region.
He built up the Gamtoos Nation through an alliance with the amaXhosa Gqunukhwebe under Chief Chunga. When their demands for justice, land, and respect failed, he led a second alliance with amaXhosa Chief Ndlambe to continue the fight.
Stuurman lost his life during a buffalo hunting expedition.
Dr Johannes Van Der Kemp (1747 – 1811)
Dr Johannes Van Der Kemp was a Dutch missionary born in the Netherlands. He came to South Africa in 1799 with the London Missionary Society, and worked among the Khoena and amaXhosa.
He broke European missionary tradition by separating his teachings of the Christian faith from the notions of so-called European civilization.
After spending a short period with the amaXhosa, he turned his attention to the Khoena and integrated himself into the community. He championed their cause, taking a stand against their social oppression, economic exploitation, and land dispossession.
He was ostracized by the Dutch for taking sides with the Khoena, and further ostracized when he married Sara Janse, a non-white freed slave woman who was 45 years younger than him.
Louis Van Mauritius (1778 – 1808)
Louis Van Mauritius was born in Mauritius (hence his surname), and arrived in the Cape in 1781 when he was sold to a family on the waterfront as a toddler. He grew up in the brutal world of slavery, and had some freedom when he was rented out to his free wife for extra income.
He was inspired by the freedom struggles of France, Ireland and Haiti to lead over 300 slaves and Khoena servants in a march in Cape Town to demand their freedom.
He disguised himself as a Spanish sea captain and was able to convince farmers to release their slaves into the hands of the military party, which didn’t exist.
He died by hanging when the colonial authorities pursued and captured him and other anti-slavery marchers.
The exhibition is comprised of life-sized sculptors of South Africa’s freedom fighters. When visiting Maropeng between 9 am and 5 pm on weekdays and weekends, you’ll be able to see the exhibition before walking into the museum.
* images taken by me, and information sourced at the exhibition.