Trek and Counter-Trek in South Africa

The inward movement of European peoples and the southward migration of Bantu tribes supply the key to South African history and, write Edna and Frank Bradlow, to the problems that confront the country today.

The essence of South African history lies in the relationship between black and white. It is the story of the influx and movement of peoples, of vain attempts to bolster up frontiers by planting a white peasantry upon them, and of equally unsuccessful efforts to lay down lines of cleavage and division.

Above all, it is a story of the unacknowledged and almost subconscious need for contact between black and white, whether in the waging of war or in the search for trade.

Two main movements of population can be observed in South Africa. The first, the European1 influx, started with Van Riebeeck’s arrival in the Cape Peninsula in 1652 and gradually spread to the East and North; the second was the southward movement of native tribes.

Van Riebeeck brought with him the Dutch language and a nucleus of Dutch settlers, with a sprinkling of Germans and Swedes, who established the basic pattern for the future Afrikaner nation in South Africa.

The native tribes were migrants from the North. Since the ninth century Africa south of the equator had been in a state of turbulence, from which wave after wave of migrants had fled southwards. At the end of the eighteenth century, a few of these tribes had reached the area of the Fish River in the Eastern Cape, where they first came into touch with Europeans. Behind them to the North, other migrant tribes had halted, and the process of consolidation into great Bantu nations was taking place.

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