An Unstable Frontier The Insecurity Of The Farmers


The frontier confl ict was not only a struggle between white and black farmers over land, labour and cattle. There was a third party: British military offi cers, merchants and speculators out to make money. This painting of the Grahamstown market shows traders buying and selling hides and horns.

It was not only the Xhosa who suffered from lack of security, but the frontier farmers as well. After the war of 1819 the government created Grahamstown and Somerset as new districts, but it did not station a strong police or military force on the frontier. Several large regions, for instance Tarka, were virtually without any defence. The government nevertheless steadily increased the restrictions on the burghers acting against raiders.

Ordinance 9 of 1825 curtailed the right of colonists to fire on persons suspected of being vagrants, deserters or escaped convicts. Commandos were only allowed to pursue and recover stolen cattle if they were still in sight. In 1828 Attorney-General A. Oliphant wrote: ‘In no case should deadly weapons be used until all other means have proved abortive . . . Patience and forbearance . . . surely ought always to be exercised when the
life of a fellow creature is at stake.’

Stockenstrom believed that military force should be used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. At the same time he felt it was of overriding importance to leave the Xhosa in no doubt about the government’s resolve to defend the colony and to punish stock theft. By the end of the 1820s he expressed concern that government policy had swung from great severity to ‘sacrificing the safety of [His Majesty’s] subjects’ and ‘paralysing their efforts to defend their lives and property’.

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