I would like to submit from the onset that since the First War Of Dispossession 230 years ago, nothing has changed in particular for the Xhosa who were brutally maimed and indigenous Africans in general. It is more interesting to note that the colonial settler descendants have creatively convinced a few descendants of the victims of their fore-fathers to accept crumbs in the form of BEE as a peace settlement. The year of this event, July 1781, marks the 130th since the Dutch officially started to colonise South Africa under the guise of setting up a refreshment station. It is clear that the settlers used these 130 years quiet effectively. History suggests that by 1781 they had already subjugated almost all Khoi and Bushman groups west of the Fish River where their gradual movement was stopped by the powerful Xhosa hegemony. According to Noel Moster (1992), Jan Van Riebeeck was forewarned by the Khoi that a “ powerful people lived far beyond” the Western Cape. These people were the Xhosa whom the Khoi called 'Chobona', derived from the Xhosa salutation 'Sakubona!'.

Now lets paint circumstances and events that led to this war. As already stated above, settlers encountered the Xhosa around the Fish River area. It is said that years before this First War, the Xhosa and settlers used to freely trade even though that was against the wishes of the Dutch East India Company. The trading between the two groups ultimately led some settlers to set up farms on the west side of the river. I imagine this would not have been a problem for the Xhosa given the fact that there was no private property clause in our customary law. Land was administered by the king on behalf of the people, so in essence land belonged to everyone(Communal Land Act). If land was owned by everyone that implied that people could allow their cattle to graze anywhere without any hinderance. It is in this background that occasional skirmishes started between the two groups. This lead some settler called Governor Van Plettenberg to declare the Fish River as boundary in 1778 between the colony and the Xhosa. A fundamental problem with this declaration is that the Xhosa considered the land beyond the Fish River as part of their land and they used to move their cattle freely in that area when there was drought on the east side of the river.

The war of July 1781 was a crescendo of all the minor skirmishes that were taking place since Van Plettenberg decided to declare the boundary. Around this period, the Eastern Cape frontier was policed on behalf the the East India Commpany by a loose settler commando under the leadership of some ruthless Adriaan van Jaarsveld. If you know any van Jaarsveld, he could be coming directly from the loins of this cruel fellow and you must never trust them. At this point it is important to paint a picture of the Xhosa who were living along this group-areas-act-like racist boundary. The most predominant Xhosa group in this area was the Rharhabe section of the Xhosa under their founder Rharhabe who was killed together with his heir Mlawu in a battle with the Thembu in 1782. You would remember that by this time the great schism that divided the Xhosa between the Rharhabe and the Gcaleka had already taken place possibly immediately after the death of King Phalo around 1775. There were other minor Xhosa chiefdoms who were actually much more closer to the Fish River compared to the Rharhabe and were on the line of fire by the settlers. These were AmaGwali, ImiDange, AmaNtinde, AmaMbalu and AmaGqunukhwebe.

After the many skirmishes between the two groups, the settlers raided Xhosa cattles and the Xhosa in turn burnt settler farms. On the day of the battle, it is said that when the settlers were surrounded by the Xhosa, they pretended as if they are surrendering by throwing tobacco to the Xhosa. As we all know, war to the Xhosa was not an end on its own, but rather means to assert their right to their land, but the settlers were schooled other wise. As the Xhosa were picking up the tobacco, Van Jaarsveld ordered his commando to shoot the Xhosa when their were in their defenceless position. We have no estimates of the number of the Xhosa who died, but it is reported that a son of chief died in this particular day.

The moral of this historical lesson is that the settlers offered us tobacco 230 years ago and killed us and in 1994 they offered us BEE that resulting to the genocide and holocaust of the black poor. This time they are being helped by our leaders.

Phumelele Zonela-kaMoti
"A wretched of the earth"