The History of the Voortekkers at the top of Oliviershoek Pass

 

A stone's throw from the the front veranda of The Phatt Chef Roadside Diner is the border between the Free State and the province of Kwa Zulu Natal. While this is a man made border, it is reinforced by the escarpment wich drops many hundres of meters from the highveld of the Free State to the rolling hills of Natal & Zululand. It was here that Piet Retief, Boer Voortekker leader (Dutch farmer pioneer leader) encamped his followers in October 1837.

 

 

Piet Retief & the Early Voortekkers

Retief's household had departed in two wagons from his farm in the Winterberg District in early February 1837 and joined a party of 30 other wagons. The pioneers crossed the Orange River into independent territory. When several parties on theGreat Trek converged at the Vet River, Retief was elected "Governor of the United Laagers" and head of "The Free Province of New Holland in South East Africa." This coalition was very short-lived, and Retief became the lone leader of the group moving east.

 

On 5 October 1837 Retief established a camp of 54 wagons at Kerkenberg near the Drakensberg ridge. Here can be seen the Retif Klip, a stone that his daughter, Debora, carved his birth date on. He proceeded on horseback the next day, accompanied by Jan Gerritze Bantjes and fourteen men with four wagons, to explore the region between the Drakensberg and Port Natal, now known as kwaZulu Natal. This was Bantjes's second visit to Port Natal, his first having been there in 1834 on the "Kommissitrek". Retief returned to the laarger with a message to the camp on 2 November 1837, announcing to the trekkers that they may now enter Natal. Wagons would have passed over the escarpment on what is now called Retief's Pass, near the Vooertrekker Centenary monument. Scrape marks purported to be wagon wheel ruts, but more likely to be scars left by the stub axels as the wagons were dragged down the mountain side, with their rear wheels removed to control their descents, can still be seen.

 

Due to his favourable impression of the region, Retief started negotiations for land with the Zulu king Dingane kaSenzangakhona (known as Dingane) in November 1837. After Retief led his band over the Drakensberg Mountains, he convinced Voortrekker leaders Gerrit Maritz and Andries Hendrik Potgieter to join him in January 1838.

 

On Retief's second visit to Dingane, the Zulu agreed to Boer settlement in Natal, provided that the Boer delegation recover cattle stolen by the rival Tlokwa nation. This the Boers did, their reputation and rifles cowing the people into handing over some 7,000 head of cattle.

 

At Retief's request, J.G.Bantjes drew up the famous Piet Retief / Dingaan Treaty outlining the areas of Natal to be secured for the Boers to settle and start their new farms and harbour. This was done and the rest is history.

 

Despite warnings, Retief left the Tugela region on 28 January 1838, in the belief that he could negotiate with Dingane for permanent boundaries for the Natal settlement. The deed of cession of the Tugela-Umzimvubu region, although dated 4 February 1838, was signed by Dingane on 6 February 1838, with the two sides recording three witnesses each. Dingane invited Retief's party to witness a special performance by his soldiers, whereupon Dingane ordered his soldiers to capture Retief's party and their coloured servants.

Retief, his son, men, and servants, about 100 people in total, were taken to a nearby ridge, Hlomo amabuto, which means "mustering of the soldiers".  The Zulus killed the entire party by clubbing them and killed Retief last, so as to witness the deaths of his comrades. Their bodies were left on the KwaMatiwane hillside to be eaten by vultures and scavengers, as was Dingane's custom with his enemies. Dingane then directed the attack against the Voortrekker laagers, which plunged the migrant movement into temporary disarray. 534 men, women and children were killed.

 

Following the decisive Voortrekker victory at Blood River, Andries Pretorius and his "victory commando" recovered the remains of the Retief party. They buried them on 21 December 1838.

Also recovered was the undamaged deed of cession from Retief's leather purse, as later verified by a member of the "victory commando", E.F. Potgieter. An exact copy survives, but the original deed disappeared in transit to the Netherlands during the Anglo-Boer War. The site of the Retief grave was more or less forgotten until pointed out in 1896 by J.H. Hattingh, a surviving member of Pretorius's commando. A monument recording the names of the members of Retief's delegation was erected near the grave in 1922.

 

 

The Barefoot Lady / Die Kaalvoet Vrou

 

 

The statue of Susanna Catharina Smit, related to the Voortrkker leader Gert Maritz, can be seen on the edge of the escarpment as she resoloutely walks out of Natal, barefoot, to escape British rule. One of the main reasons for the Great Trek was for the Boers to rid themselves of the "verdommede Engelse" and the trials and tribulations of living under British rule. Here in Natal they were free of the British regimen, but in 1843 Britain annexed the area between the Tugela river and Port St Johns, thus effectivley ending the Voortekkers' hard fought freedom. At a public meeting in Pietermaritzburg, Susanna Smit led a group of dissatisfied settlers who refused to subjicate themselves to British rule and in an emotional and inciting speech declared that dhe would "rather walk barefoot over the Drakensberg than live under British rule again!"

 

Maps & guide books to the site of the statue can be obtained from reception at The Phatt Chef Roadside Diner.