Khoesan Resilience: Surviving Drought in the 19th Century Cape Colony

Benjamin Chatterton, Lund University
Calumet Links, Stellenbosch University
Erik Green, Lund University

In the early 1820’s documentary sources identify a prolonged period of drought along the eastern frontier districts of the Cape Colony. These districts were primarily suited to extensive pastoral farming, for which purpose they had been rapidly settled by those of European descent in the preceding decades. Along with the settlers the region was inhabited by significant numbers of Khoe and San, indigenous peoples who had been absorbed into the colony as agricultural labourers. During this period a series of repressive colonial regulations were in force that acted to disqualify Khoesan land holding, and criminalise vagrancy effectively forcing them onto colonial employment. The few exceptions within the colony resided on mission stations, areas of land managed by missionary institutions where the Khoesan could maintain greater levels of economic independence. The aim of the paper is to analyse the differences in impact of prolonged drought on the Khoesan and the colonists within the region. Using novel tax census datasets along with qualitative sources from the mission stations the paper will explore, not only the initial economic impact of the drought, but how the settlers and Khoesan differed in their coping strategies, as well as the rates of recovery between groups. The drought at the Cape frontier allows for an investigation of how climatic conditions interact with the political and economic positions of those it impacted. The paper contributes to the literature in two important ways. It provides new insights to the resilience and adaption of pastoral farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, of relevance for the literature that study these issues past and present. Second, it will provide an in-depth study of how colonial occupation and colonial regulations affected the agency of a colonised population and thereby add to the literature on indigenous agency and the impact of colonialism on an indigenous population.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 206. Policymaking and rural municipalities