History of Leaders Who Fought Against Colonial Injustices of the Khoi

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.

This sculpture was done by Sarah Richards.

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. 

This sculpture was done by Johan Moolman.

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. 

This sculpture was done by Keith Calder.

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. 

This sculpture was done by Keith Calder.

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. 

This sculpture was done by Barry Jackson.

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. 

This sculpture was done by Barry Jackson.

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.  

Exhibition details

This exhibition is called the Long March to Freedom, and it can be found at Maropeng – Cradle of Humankind. It is the work of the National Heritage Monument of South Africa. 

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.

16 thoughts on “History of Leaders Who Fought Against Colonial Injustices of the Khoi

  1. I know very little about South Africa colonial history, so this was a fascinating read. Autshumato was especially interesting. Did cows continue to remain a scarce resource?

    1. Thanks for reading Rhonda 🙂 Well, cows were quite a rich resource for trading, so I believe that breeders continued to grow the cow population, especially after the Khoena lost their land to colonial authorities.

  2. Its nice to get to know the key figures who helped to erase oppression to ones country. These people deserved to recognize or atleast be the subject of movies to educate younger generations, instead of celebrities who are usually overrated or overinflated egos

    1. That’s so true! I only learned about them when I visited the Cradle of Humankind, and it shouldn’t be that way. This history should be taught in schools.

  3. What an amazing way to learn more about some of the prominent historical figures of South Africa. I like the way they incorporated life-sized sculptures so you can really get a sense of the person you’re reading about. If only more museums were as interactive as this.

  4. I hardly know anything about South Africa. This is such an interesting and informative post! The suffering of humans makes me so sad! I hope we can learn from the past and do better now!

    1. So glad this post highlighted some South African history 🙂 And you’re right – I hope as people we can learn from the past and do better. Thanks for reading!

  5. I agree with Emily. People who actually make a difference should be recognized more than celebrities that don’t do much. The statue pictures are really good.

    1. So glad you enjoyed the piece and found it interesting 🙂 And yea – I’m interested in South African and African history, so I’m always on the lookout for these great museums. Thanks for reading!

  6. This was such an eye-opening post! What an amazing history that the Khoi and San tribes have. These incredible leaders really made an impact in society and I’m glad they shaped our future for the better.

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