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The History of the Honeybush Small Producers

This is a story about a trek and a tragedy. The trek was longer in distance and time than any other in South Africa; the tragedy was the near annihilation of an entire people. Don Pinnock consulted some old maps and started digging out the almost-forgotten history of the Griquas.

The map is headed 'Earlier Development in the Cape Colony and Adjacent Regions' and is in the Historical Atlas of South Africa by EA Walker, published in 1922. There's a dotted line running from north to south which a key gives as the 'Line of equilibrium between Coloured and Bantu Peoples.' From Honneklip Bay to Burgersdorp is a shaded area: 'The Colony's Northern Frontier, 1798-1824.'

Beyond this is labelled Bushmanland and, to the northeast, Griqualand, separated into West and East by Orange Free State and Basotho-land. On an even earlier map, Griqualand East has the evocative name Nomansland.

Who were these people, the Griquas, I wondered, and where had they gone Answers started to emerge as I headed north on a trek that began in Piketberg and took me and my Nissan Patrol circling thousands of kilometres through deserts and across the Drakensberg, ending near Plettenberg Bay.

To understand who they were, you need to peer beyond conventional history books into the confusion of the expanding frontier. Within that boundary were foreigners with fire power. Beyond was the unknown, consisting of potentially dangerous, hostile tribes who objected to being displaced, dispatched or enslaved.

Between the two were the people of a shaded area which, on Walker's map, stretches from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. There, in the early 18th century, lived Boer farmers, San hunters, Khoekhoen pastoralists, slaves, run-aways and fugitives from colonial justice - all co-operating, squabbling, cohabiting and, from time to time, killing each other. As they pacified land, settlers with greater firepower moved northwards behind them - and in this way the frontier advanced northwards into the African interior by force, trickery, treaty or religion.

Humans being what they are, men and women of all colours and creeds took pleasure where they could along this expanding social edge. They could have no foreknowledge of the harsh racism which would engulf their offspring, who were to become known as Bastaards.

Around 1710 a son was born to a female slave and an unidentified Dutchman, and named Adam Kok. While still in his 20s, he gathered around him a band of men displaced from their lands by Boer inroads or evading conscription into the colonial commandos. Adam married the Goringhaiqua daughter of a Khoi chief (from where the name Griqua would later be derived) and began farming beyond the colonial frontier just north of what is now Piketberg.

Having links to both the colony and Khoi tribes to the north, he and his fellow Bastaards formed a convenient buffer, which the Cape authorities recognised by awarding him a staff of office and the title of Kaptyn. This didn't stop Boers moving up the West Coast, forcing the Bastaards to trek across the Cederberg and Kamiesberg into the Central Karoo, then northwards to the banks of the Orange River.

I followed their trail over Pakhuis Pass near Citrusdal and on to Carnarvon, where I came across old Hendrik Nuwegeld. He was sitting in the late afternoon sun outside his corrugated-iron shack in Schietfontein.
"Are there any Griqua people around here? " I asked him.
He looked defensive: "Over there, there were some," he pointed to the distant hills.
"It's sad they are so few," I responded. "They were a fine people."
He brightened: "Well my pa was a Griqua. Ja, and my ma too." Hendrik was as pure Griqua as it's possible to be, but a lifetime of being of lower status than Coloureds - themselves deemed second-class citizens under apartheid - had made him edgy about his birthright.

I overnighted in the rather cavernous Carnarvon Hotel owned by Nikki Panos. It has a cosy pub with a fine collection of beer cans. My early morning guides into the town were a gaggle of bright children with light brown complexions and high cheekbones, none of whom had heard the term Griqua.

It wasn't a name Adam Kok knew either. His son, Cornelius, met John Phillip of the London Missionary Society (LMS) and was baptised in about 1800. Christianity was probably seen more as a link to Cape recognition of Griqua rights than a path to heaven, but it wasn't long before it had spread to the entire Bastaard nation. The LMS had established a mission beside some springs and named it Klaarwater ('clear water'). Calling people bastards didn't settle well with the men of God. Following the ur-gings of the missionary John Campbell, a large Bastaard assembly at Klaarwater approved the name Griqua and the mission village was renamed Griquatown.

The burden of history
I took a dirt road northwards to Prieska and on towards Griquatown. It wound bumpily across flat, dry country punctuated by low, mudstone outcrops which yield tiger's eye gemstones. With no settlement to explain its presence, a little church appeared beside the road. The building had probably been deserted for 10 years and was now the home of a pair of barn owls.

I mentioned the church to Ivan Beukes, a pastor and farm manager in Griquatown, and he said his family came from there. Did I want to ask his father about it Old man Beukes was in his 80s and said he'd attended the school.

"It was a Griqua school," he said, and launched into a complicated story about the old people dying and the bokke eating up the veld. After a while Ivan took over.

Place your 'X' here, please
"For the old people, being a Griqua was a shameful thing," he said. "The whites wrote histories that said the Griquas were lazy drunkards who sold their farms for a bottle of brandy. But it wasn't true. They were cheated out of them because they couldn't write. They would make their cross on contracts they couldn't read. What they thought was an annual rental from Boer tenants ended up being the full price of their farm. The magistrate would say to them: 'Look, here's your signature. You agreed to the sale.' It was a wicked thing. They lost their farms - and what is a Griqua without land

"My father's generation just gave up. They believed the white propaganda. But for my generation it's different. Griquas have got a little bit more from the new government. There is space to fight for our rights. I tell the young people: 'Be proud to be a Griqua. Your ancestors opened up this land. They were pioneers and they were rich farmers.' My role is to live my Griquaness. There's hope for my people … but there's hard work ahead."

As it is still today, life in mid-19th century Griquatown was not easy. There were cattle raids and skirmishes by Ndebele, Koranna, Bergenaars and San bands, plus commando duty demands. In addition, internal power struggles resulted in a rebellion and a shift by the Kok clan to Campbell (where a headman named Adam Kok still lives). Griquatown was left under the chieftanship of Andries Waterboer.

There the expanding frontier caught up with the Griquas again. Diamonds were discovered near Hopetown and later in Kimberley. Claiming that it was for their protection, Griqualand West was annexed as a British crown colony. Amidst a welter of land claims and counter claims, the Griqua community there began to disintegrate. Amidst all this, Adam Kok's grandson, Adam II, trekked with his people southeast to the mission station of Philippolis

The Griquas trek again
The road towards Philippolis was table-top tar to Campbell, where I nosed around a little church in which the missionary explorer David Livingstone once preached. From there the dirt road was dusty and empty until Douglas appeared on the horizon. It's at the confluence of the Orange and Vaal rivers and the abundance of water is obvious from the many trees and hard-at-work sprinklers in fields of wheat and vegetables. Beyond it was harsh country again.

Philippolis today is one of those villages that makes you think it's time to invest in a retirement cottage. The main street, with the obligatory church at one end, is largely unspoiled by modernism and the smile on peoples' faces seems genuine. I booked in at Oppistoep to be greeted with a dinner invitation from its owner, Carol Delmar, and the aroma of home-baked bread and springbok venison. The next morning I met the local Griqua leader Rooi Jan Rowles. He was dressed in an overall and worked at the magistrates' court.

"We have had to fight to be Griqua and we still do, even under the new government," he explained. "On their identity documents around here people are labelled Coloured, Coloured-Coloured (I mean, what on earth is that ) or Coloured (other). You had to accept these labels or you didn't get benefits like pension or disability grants. People came to accept these descriptions. But we're all Griqua!

"And another thing: these agreements that lost Griquas their farms. I want to find them all. A contract with a thumbprint or a cross on it means the farmer was illiterate and probably cheated. We lost the diamond fields that way. Think about that. De Beers owes us a lot."

For the Griquas under Adam Kok II, Philippolis never quite felt permanent. There were power struggles among various sub-leaders and, in 1835, Kok died and was succeeded by his son, Abraham, who proved to be an unsuitable leader. Two years later his brother, Adam III took over the captaincy, only to find that the Griqua area under his jurisdiction - between the Orange and Modder rivers and from Philippolis to Bethulie, was directly in the path of the Boers advancing from the south.

Constant triangular negotiations between Griquas, Boers and the Colony led to complicated divisions between alienable and non-alienable land where Griquas could sell or merely hire out land. But the end result was the same as at Griquatown. The British claimed sovereignty, then cancelled it and farm after farm ended in Boer hands. In 1861 Adam Kok III ceded his area to the Free State Government for £4 000 following a promise of land rights in an area known as Nomansland across the Drakensberg. The trek to Nomansland began later that year with about 3 000 Griqua and their horses, 300 wagons, 20 000 head of cattle and 200 000 sheep.

Over the pass to Nomansland
I continued on the path of the trek through Bethulie (where Adam Kok is reputed to have exchanged a farm for a top hat) and across the border into Lesotho. The roads were thronging with school children as I made my way to Malealea Lodge. The next day its owner, Mick Jones, joined me on Adam Kok's trail towards Ongeluksnek Pass over the Drakensberg escarpment. The mountains rose higher and higher as we drove east and snaked over passes that clung to the mountainside along the swollen Orange River.

We overnighted at the Mount Moorosi Chalets deep in the Berg and, as the sun turned the basalt massifs golden, I tried to imagine Griquas with their lumbering ox wagons and complaining stock hacking their way along uncharted river courses and high ridges, ever vigilant for Basotho raiders and wild predators. It must have been exhausting and often terrifying - but surely one of the most epic journeys of the 19th century.

From Mount Moorosi the road wound along the Quthung River, heading east over rough-hewn passes and into cultivated valleys. Being Sunday, there were plastic bags on high poles beside many huts - red signalling that recently slaughtered meat was for sale, white for home brew and white and orange for home brew plus bottled beer. Several hours later the huts gave way to rough kraals manned by perky herd boys and their fierce Maluti dogs.

Eventually a deserted border post appeared, its gate wide open. The road deteriorated horribly as I crawled over a high ridge and down towards Letsie Dam. All around was low, stubby Afro-alpine heath and the burrows of ice rats. Higher up, snow clung to the jagged basalt peaks. The Griquas had certainly chosen a wild place for their crossing.

Stock losses to marauding Basotho and Bushmen in this area had been huge and many rich men who left Philippolis were paupers by the time they descended the Berg. They hacked roads which often had to be rebuilt after rain and placed small wheels on the upside of wagons to keep them even on the precipitous slopes.

At different parts of the route, for many years afterwards, the wrecks of wagons could be seen in gorges. Others were simply abandoned for want of oxen to draw them. Days stretched to weeks, and weeks to months. When they finally reached Ongeluksnek (so named because a member of Kok's party accidentally shot himself there) the sight was both spectacular and daunting. Before them, looking east, were lofty spurs and deep valleys - wild-looking country - falling away from the mighty range. More than 1 000 metres below was Nomansland

At Letsie Dam, I was surprised to find a bunch of hardy South Africans who'd come up the pass from Matatiele. It was good news, because descending Ongeluksnek alone had been a daunting prospect. I positioned myself behind a gaggle of Toyotas, Nissans, Isuzus and Land Rovers as they bumped and wound their way down the near-destroyed track in low range.

"This pass hasn't been maintained for 20 years," said Peter Grosskopff, who'd taken on the task of guiding me down. "It's by far the toughest one over the Berg. We had to tow guys over parts of it on the way up. I don't know how the Griquas made it."

Several hours and some nail-biting slides later, a lonely South African border post appeared with a single official behind the counter. "Sometimes I don't get a car through here in six months," he grinned as he happily stamped our passports. "Come again soon…."

By the time the Griquas descended the Berg they had lost around 90 per cent of their stock. Nomansland is sourveld; many beasts refused to eat it and died. The Griquas camped for 10 years at Mount Curry until Kok dragged them down to present-day Kokstad, where they began building a church and proper houses.

Following them, I checked into the elegant Manora Guest House and went hunting for signs of Griquas in a town named after their leader. It took some digging. The Griqua church was locked, Adam Kok's grave was in the police station parking lot, the gate to Mount Curry was also locked and the museum floor was being sanded so everything was stashed away. The museum curator, Audry Steenkamp, came to my aid, tracked down various keys and gave me a guided tour of the town.

Gradually, after many years, the Kokstad Griquas began to prosper. Then a series of events occurred that were to precipitate their downfall. In 1874 a British official, Sir Henry Barkly, rode into town and announced that Nomansland was under Crown supervision. A year, later Adam Kok fell off his wagon and was killed. Then a company of Frontier Mounted Police, under a Captain Blythe, arrived and searched peoples' houses for 'hostile weapons'. His high-handed administration led to a brief armed rebellion which was crushed by Colonial troops. Shortly afterwards, Blythe declared Nomansland to be a British Protectorate. Leaderless and dispirited, people sold their farms or again lost them to trickery or simple annexation. By the early 19th century, Nomansland had passed out of Griqua hands.

There was a brief rally in the early 20th century. A man named Abraham le Fleur, who was related to the Koks, began agitating for Griqua land rights and was jailed for eight years. After his release, he led a trek southwards to a place named Kranshoek near Plettenberg Bay. There I found the last, threadbare redoubt of the great Griqua trek - around 3 000 kilometres from where it had begun in Piketberg. There's a simple monument over Le Fleur's grave amid a straggle of neat, low-cost houses. I met Chief Samuel Jansen at the Griqua National Conference Centre and we talked for a while, then walked to the grave. Clusters of school children wandered past. The chief sighed. "There's no high school here," he said, "and only two small shops. It's far to Plett and there are only a few buses. Youngsters have nothing to do so we have a drink and drug problem."

"How do the young people here feel about their Griqua origins?" I asked.

"Mostly they're not interested," he said. "They're just Coloureds now. And tell me, what is a Coloured "

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