The Xhosa and the advancing farmers encountered each other during the 1770s west of the Fish River. On a visit to the frontier in 1778, the governor of the colony, Joachim van Plettenberg, asked some Gwali chiefs to respect the Fish and Bushman river mountains as the border between the colony and the land of the Xhosa. The Gwali chief had no right to enter into an agreement that bound other Xhosa chiefdoms – and colonial officials failed to understand this. To compound matters, the government in 1780 proclaimed the Fish river along its entire length as the boundary between the colony and the land of the Xhosa. Unable to live with or without the other, the two communities were drawn into a tangled web from which it was impossible to extricate themselves.
In the early stages of the settlement of the Zuurveld, the Xhosa and the burghers lived peaceably together most of the time, or at least that was how the Xhosa later remembered it. In 1819 a Xhosa councillor reminisced about the early days of white-black contact: ‘When our fathers and the fathers of the amabulu [Boers] first settled in the Zuurveld they dwelt together in peace. Their flocks grazed the same hills, and their herdsmen smoked together out of the same pipes.’ The councillor attributed the conflicts that broke out to cattle raiding on the part of the Boers, but obviously conflicts over pasture were almost inevitable once an area became more fully settled.