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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

Sir Harry Smith's
bungling

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The Colonial Office and Sir Henry Pottinger had carefully mapped a blueprint for British Kaffraria. It was to be a system of indirect rule with traditional leaders maintaining their functions but with deference to the Imperial Crown.

Sir Harry Smith, however, ruined everything. Probably he was the wrong man because he had already ruled Queen Adelaide Province in 1835 and it would be natural to resurrect his own style rather than study of a new one.

This inclination became fact when he sailed for Cape Town in 1847 without the "Letters Patent" -- the legal document upon which British Kaffraria would be founded. Without this document, he was forced to create his own system.

His first action was to redraw the Cape Colony itself, making the Orange River the northern boundary and the Keiskamma its eastern. He thereupon annexed the Trekker land between the Orange and Vaal Rivers, calling it the Orange River Sovereignty.

He next journeyed to King William's Town to proclaim the Crown Colony of British Kaffraria. He did so in terms of imaginary powers of his High Commissionership and thereupon imposed a system of military magistrates, supported by the Imperial army.

This was not what the Colonial Office had intended.

Another catastrophe was the position of the British Kaffrarian port. A Colony needs a port and British Kaffraria had one: the lagoon at the mouth of the Buffalo River. In December 1847 this was named "London" -- to be renamed "East London" in January 1848.

An army, however, was not equipped to collect customs revenue and so, in the absence of such officials, smuggling immediately started up. Merchants from Grahamstown, the Orange River Sovereignty and even Natal began to import through East London duty free.

There was no solution except to make East London part of the Cape Colony. With just one stroke of the pen, therefore, Sir Harry not only deprived British Kaffraria of a port but also of its most immediate source of revenue. The economic consequences would be devastating.

The period of peace lasted only until December 1850. Sir Harry's government humiliated the Chiefs who had gained no compensation for the degrading status to which the High Commissioner was subjecting them. Soon the Mlanjeni War erupted.

The war was a disaster. Not only had the amaXhosa learned from the previous conflict but hostilities overflowed into the trans-Kei and the Orange River Sovereignty. There was no option but to sack the Governor -- and Sir Harry departed in January 1852.

The war cost the British Treasury nearly £3 million. A strong governor was now needed to do what all the others had failed to achieve: to find a system which would end all further wars. The Colonial Office required a man with novel ideas which were not based on pure military force.

The man chosen was Sir George Grey, the first civilian to hold office. He arrived in Cape Town in December 1854 and brought with him his own plans for British Kaffraria.

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