Homegrown author looks at Kat River rebellion
local people still remembered the Kat River rebellion.
Their “oral history jaunt” is recorded in her book
(2017) – the story of an extraordinary valley in the Ciskei circa 1829.
There are people living there who still remember stories of Oom Paul (Kruger), and documents such as the Diary of Sarah Ralph in the Fort Beaufort Museum recalling the attack on Fort Beaufort, which Ralph observed from her bedroom window in the Barracks.
In 1819, the governor of the Cape colony, Lord Charles Somerset, made the area between the Kat and Keiskamma Rivers a British Protectorate in exchange for brandy and protection. But the peace was disturbed by Ncqika’s “right-hand” son, Maqoma, who formed his own clan, the amaJingi, and defied the agreement by occupying the area between the Kat and Koonap Rivers.
Commissioner General for the Eastern Province, Andries Stockenström, whose house still stands in Grahamstown, expelled Maqoma for massacring the amaTembu and stealing their cattle.
At this time, the Khoi-Khoi were in danger of extinction as they were completely dispossessed.
An 1848 ordinance permitted them to buy land, but there was none.
Meanwhile, the mission stations were overgrazed and overpopulated and no longer supportive.
Stockenström consulted Field Commander Christian Groepe whose father was a German settler and whose mother was a Khoi-Khoi woman. Children of mixed Khoi-Khoi and European descent were known as “basters”.
Some of the basters lived in European houses, wore European clothes and farmed European crops like wheat, maize and barley to avoid a racial stigma. They were given guns and asked to defend the British Empire during the eighth Frontier War, aka Sandile’s War.
But the Basters of the Kat River settlement rebelled and attacked farms, stole stock, and took weapons.
Rebel women made good spies and would sneak into Somerset’s camp and make the call of a jackal to summon the rebels to pass on information to them.
The Khoi-Khoi were susceptible to TB and leprosy and woman lepers in particular were hated and feared and would be shot by the British even when unarmed.
The settlers on Isaiah Staple’s farm, Cold Valley, formed a lager with other Winterberg families, and when the lager became insecure, travelled through the narrow busy Koonap River valley to reach the safety of Post Retief.
In the end, Somerset laid waste to the Kat River settlement and Maqoma was banished to Robben Island with his wife Katje, where he died. After a hunger strike she also died.
Today, the descendants of Christian Groepe, Hymie Groepe and his people still live in Groepeskloof in the Ciskei. They have lodged a land claim, but 28 years later nothing has come of it.