In 1813 Andries Stockenstrom, a 20-year-old deputy landdrost stationed at the newly founded town of Cradock, faced a major test. Early in that year a Khoikhoi labourer named Booy lodged a complaint about his master. The master was Freek Bezuidenhout, a notorious frontier ruffian who lived with a Baster woman and whose Baster son called him ‘baas’. Booy claimed that his master had withheld his wages and had severely assaulted him.
Bezuidenhout was one of a number of disaffected, relatively poor colonists in the remote area of Bosberg, Bruintjeshoogte and Tarka. A shortage of land was a major source of discontent, and another was the presence on the frontier of Khoikhoi and other ‘coloured’ troops under white officers. As Stockenstrom would later remark, ‘the people were talking that the “black nation was protected and not the Christians”’. Stockenstrom would have a remarkable career as frontier administrator, spanning 25 years. He was an honest, brave and fiercely independent man who shrank from the hypocrisy so abundant in the frontier conflict. He was committed to the principles of the
strict preservation of order, and equal and impartial justice to all. From the start, Stockenstrom saw the issue as involving a clear choice between order and civilisation on the one hand, and anarchy on the other.
When Bezuidenhout ignored the summons, a company of two British officers and twelve Khoikhoi troops arrived at Bezuidenhout’s house. A brief battle ensued and Bezuidenhout was killed. At the funeral a plot was hatched to embark on rebellion. The rebels’ plans were far-fetched. One proposed to make a deal with Ngqika. He could take possession of the Zuurveld in exchange for driving away the Cape Regiment, expelling all officials on the frontier and allowing the rebels to occupy the fertile Kat River Valley in the land of the Xhosa. Burghers who refused to join were threatened with death and having their families and property given over to the Xhosa.
Stockenstrom persuaded the influential burghers not to back the rebellion. In the end, there were only 60 rebels, who surrendered without a shot being fired. After being sentenced, five of the leaders were hanged. Most of the colonists now accepted British rule. In 1816 Stockenstrom observed that ‘the greatest majority of the Boer population was not opposed to equal justice to black and white’. The core problem, he believed, was the inadequacy of the legal and administrative system. Despite the establishment of some new districts, most farms were still a long distance from the towns, making it very difficult for masters to lay complaints before the magistrate.