Kaffir Wars

1818 to 1852
Kaffirs — versus — Boers and British

Gaika-Ndlambe War — 1818      Grahamstown Massacre and Aftermath — 1834     


The native tribes that inhabited the area first settled by the Dutch at Cape Town were Hottentots, who lived near the coast. At first the Dutch settlement was very small, and served only as a rest-station for the Dutch East India Company. As the colony grew however, the natives began to resent the new residents, and a few minor wars were fought. Eventually however, the Hottentots surrendered much of their land to the settlers, whom they realized they could not drive away by force of arms.

Far more threatening to the settlers were the Kaffir tribes, who lived north of the Cape, and in much greater numbers than the Hottentots. The more the colony grew, the further into contested regions their large farms spread. The Dutch manner of dealing with the Kaffirs was to drive them out of a particularly territory, and then build forts to protect themselves from raids by the natives. They did not make treaties with the Kaffir tribes, but rather drove them out by force of arms, and in some cases, massacred or enslaved them. This was brutal, but was not untypical of the manner in which warring Kaffir tribes often dealt with each other.

Gaika-Ndlambe War : 1818

When the British took over the Cape Colony in the early 19th century however, their model of imperial government considerably different from that of the Dutch. The British tried to make alliances and treaties with the native tribes, as they had done with many of the clans in India, with the intention of eventually getting the natives to acknowledge the British as overlords. Their first effort to involve themselves with the affairs of the natives, ended rather badly however. The British took the side of a Chief named Gaika, who had been friendly to the British, against his enemy Ndlambe. British soldiers were sent to aid Gaika and many villages of Ndlambe were over-run. Unfortunately, Gaika began to massacre his enemies mercilessly, and the British retreated, unwilling to participate in such slaughter. When Ndlambe saw the British desert, his forces quickly overwhelmed Gaika. He then united all of the Kaffir tribes against the British and for the first time, a tribe of Kaffirs over-ran the northernmost towns of the Cape Town province. In Grahamstown, 300 burghers held of a force of over 9000 natives at bay. The British then helped drive the Kaffirs further away from the Cape Town settlements, and tried to establish a 'buffer zone' where neither whites nor Kaffirs would settle.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Amalinde   Ndlambi victory
Fought 1818 between the Gaikas and the forces of Ndlambi, in which the former were utterly routed.

Short Biography
Makana Kaffir witchdoctor who ordered the killing of all of the Kaffir cattle and induced a famine.
Gaika Kaffir chief, who allied himself with the British.
Ndlambi Kaffir chief who led raids into burgher territory, and led the uprising against the British.

Story Links
Book Links
Kafir Wars  in  South Africa  by  Ian D. Colvin
Great Witch Doctor  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall

Grahamstown Massacre and Aftermath : 1834

The Dutch farmers were very unhappy with the manner in which the British managed the natives. In spite of treaties and agreements, native robbers would cross the agreed upon boundaries, steal cattle, and burn the homes of the burghers, and often times these forays went unpunished. Naturally, the Boers themselves were partly to blame, because they also visited depredations on the Kaffirs, but they felt it was their right to protect themselves, and that the Kaffirs had no more right to the land than they did. To make matters worse, the British were intent on freeing slaves, and the Boers had held many slaves to work their large farms for generations. Finally, in 1834 a large force of 12,000 Kaffirs raided the Grahamstown region, scattering cattle, and burning everything in their path. Hundreds of white settlers were killed or made homeless. The Cape Town government, under Harry Smith, drove the Kaffirs out of the Boer's territory, and set up forts to protect them, but later the British government decided not to punish the Kaffirs for this incident, and removed the forts. This infuriated the Boers, and as a result, many of them decided to trek out of British territory into Natal.

Several years after this episode, the Kaffirs in the region did something very strange and suicidal. Due to the predictions of a prophetess, they killed all of their cattle, and over 25,000 Kaffirs died of starvation. After this incident occurred, and several wars between the Kaffirs had decimated their ranks, they were no longer a threat to the white settlers.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Grahamstown   Kaffirs victory
Several days before Christmas 10,000 Kaffirs descended on the region surrounding Grahamstown, burned houses and massacred settlers. At least 40 were killed and several thousand made homeless.
Battle of Amatola Mountain   British victory
Fought 1846, between the Kaffirs under Sandilli, and the British and Cape troops under Colonels Campbell and Somerset. Sandilli was totally defeated, but, rallying his forces, he made a successful attack on the British baggage train, the loss of which forced them to retire.
Battle of Burns Hill   Kaffirs victory
Fought 1847, between the Kaffirs under Sandilli, and a small British force sent to arrest that chief. The British were greatly outnumbered, and were defeated and forced to retreat.
Battle of Berea (Franco-Dutch ) drawn battle victory
Fought December 20, 1852, between the British under General Cathcart, about 2,500 strong, and the Basutos, many thousands in number, under Moshesh. The British, after hard fighting, succeeded in holding their ground, but were obliged on the following day to retreat to the entrenched camp on the Caledon, having suffered a loss of 37 killed and 15 wounded.

Short Biography
Harry Smith Notable British military commander who served in the Peninsular War and afterward India and South Africa.
Hintza Kaffir Chief who was involved with the raid on Grahamstown
Mongquase Prophetess who predicted the coming age of plenty if the Kaffirs killed their cattle.
Sandilli Kaffir Chief who warred with the British.

Story Links
Book Links
More Kafir Wars  in  South Africa  by  Ian D. Colvin
War of the Axe  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall

Image Links

Barreto fights the Kafirs
 in South Africa