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These Oppressions won't cease: An Anthology of the Political Thought of the Cape Khoesan, 1777–1879

The Khoesan were the first people in Africa to undergo the full rigours of European colonisation. By the early nineteenth century, they had largely been brought under colonial rule, dispossessed of their land and stock, and forced to work as labourers for farmers of European descent.

Author
Robert Ross
Date
06 December 2017
Links
Wits University Press

Nevertheless, a portion of them were able to regain a degree of freedom and maintain their independence by taking refuge in the mission stations of the Western and Eastern Cape, most notably in the Kat River valley. For much of the nineteenth century, these Khoesan people kept up a steady commentary on, and intervention in, the course of politics in the Cape Colony.

Through petitions, speeches at meetings, letters to the newspapers and correspondence between themselves, the Cape Khoesan articulated a continuous critique of the oppressions of colonialism, always stressing the need for equality before the law, as well as their opposition to attempts to limit their freedom of movement through vagrancy legislation and related measures. This was accompanied by a well-grounded distrust, in particular, of the British settlers of the Eastern Cape and a concomitant hope, rarely realised, in the benevolence of the British government in London. Comprising 98 of these texts, These Oppressions Won’t Cease – an utterance expressed by Willem Uithaalder, commander of Khoe rebel forces in the war of 1850-3 –contains the essential documents of Khoesan political thought in the nineteenth century.

These texts of the Khoesan provide a history of resistance to colonial oppression which has largely faded from view. Robert Ross, the eminent historian of precolonial South Africa, brings back their voices from the annals of the archive, voices which were formative in the establishment of black nationalism in South Africa, but which have long been silenced.