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German Settlers to the Eastern Cape

The settler schemes:
Evaluating success!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Dr E.L.G. Schnell -- For Men Must Work -- said in 1952 that the military settlement was a failure but the agricultural scheme was a success, Indeed, it's because of this conclusion that we celebrate only the arrival of the agricultural settlers and not the legionnaires.

This is somewhat insulting to the soldiers and to their descendants. It's also very, very wrong. If the legionnaire scheme had NOT been a success, then the agricultural settlement would itself have been a calamity because the farmers depended on the soldiers to help rescue their settlements.

Dr Schnell based his conclusion on the simple but erroneous belief that only 50% of the soldiers remained but he was wrong in this because some 63% of the soldiers were on their plots when the contracts expired. In any case, why should 50% be judged as failure?

The truth is that all South African universities today use 50% to represent success. Our high schools, on the other hand, are prepared to go as low as 40% -- or are our universities and schools themselves guilty of setting too low a standard?

Putting that aside, both the military settlers and the agriculturist were treated despicably. Promises were made and promises were broken, whereas in settlements of this nature it is critical that promises be acted upon faithfully.

Both groups were lied to about conditions in British Kaffraria. Both were also made to wait interminably before their promised land was surveyed and made available. Since both groups were meant to make a living by means of agriculture, this was a criminal oversight.

The military settlement was dependent upon wives to create stability. The Colonial Office knew this but chose to ignore it. Indeed, Sir George Grey was deliberately lied to in this regard. Nearly all the soldiers would be married, he was told, but in reality only some 10% had wives.

There was also confusion about the nature of the military settlement. Colonel Wooldridge believed that they were essentially soldiers who could be ordered to create a sustainable agricultural village whereas Baron von Stutterheim claimed that they were settlers who had once been soldiers.

Because the Baron was in charge, his philosophy triumphed. The soldier-settlers could therefore no longer be commanded to work even though they were still being paid as soldiers. This pay, on the other hand, gave them the ability to survive without their needing to be productive.

Once their pay ran out, therefore, the majority would leave the villages because they had nothing whatever to tie them there. Only those settlers with wives or those who had set up successful businesses -- men like Heinrich Meise and Conrad Selzer -- would remain.

The agriculturists, on the other hand, had no financial means to rescue them. They were in fact much poorer than Sir George Grey had supposed. If they had been allotted their land immediately, on the other hand, they could still have survived.

The sad truth, however, is that they were not given their land at once and therefore had no means with which to sustain themselves. Because there was also no other employment in the villages, many had to move far afield in search of work.

For this reason, Elise Bode -- 17-year-old daughter of Wilhelm and Elise Bode of Panmure -- wandered as far afield as Cape Town in search of employment. Her luck was in, for she also found a husband in Eli Pearce after whom East London's Pearce Street would eventually be named.

The soldiers, on the other hand, had more advantages because they had salaries to sustain them. Furthermore, because the majority were not encumbered with a family, they were able to move more freely just as soon as their three year military settler contract had expired.

The agriculturists were families and simply could not move on. While the soldiers had been given free voyages to British Kaffraria and most were then given their five or ten acres of agricultural land at no cost, the agriculturists had not only to pay their voyages but also to buy their land.

They were therefore deeply in debt almost immediately, and were further burdened by having to pay for their rations upon arrival. (The soldiers had subsidised canteens.) The agriculturists could therefore simply not escape but had to suffer the consequences of the broken promises.

In other countries, homogenous settlements of this nature would have left a cultural mark on the area. Even this became impossible in South Africa for, within 100 years of their arrival, the National Party's social engineering -- called Grand Apartheid -- saw the Germans forced of their land.

Today, the so-called "East Cape accent" is all that is left of this cultural heritage -- except, of course, for the thousands of people in the Border region of the Eastern Cape who still bear German names.

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