One of the most remarkable figures on the frontier was Coenraad de Buys. Travellers described him in tones of awe. Their accounts mentioned that he was an impressive figure, nearly seven foot tall and with enormous self-confidence. In the early 1780s he lived on a farm near the Bushmans River in the Zuurveld with a Baster-Khoikhoi woman, Maria van der Horst, with whom he had seven children.
He crossed the Fish River and raided cattle from the Xhosa. Langa, a Zuurveld chief, charged that De Buys had seized his wife and used her as a concubine, and two other chiefs said that De Buys had ‘withheld’ their wives and cattle. He went to live in the homestead of Ngqika well beyond the border. Here he married Ngqika’s mother and became his main advisor. He also took a Thembu wife. During the Batavian period he moved to a farm in the Langkloof, where he lived with his Thembu wife and large family of mixed-race children.
He left the farm in 1813, possibly because his Thembu wife upset his neighbours. He then moved north to the central region of the Orange River with his family and a large retinue of servants and allies from the Khoikhoi, Oorlams and Bastaard communities. He organised them into the most successful raiding community in Transorangia, plundering cattle and other goods from the African and, increasingly, European settlers (many of them missionaries) in the area. By 1818 he moved northwards to the present province of Limpopo, now trading with the Sotho-Tswana and perhaps the Portuguese near Mozambique. He left behind an enormous number of descendants of mixed origin, later called the Buys Bastaards, who formed a distinctive community.