The Dutch East India Company (VOC) founded the Cape Colony in 1652 as a way-station on the route to the Indies. After the colonists almost starved in 1654, the VOC released some colonists from their contracts, and granted them lands to farm. These ‘free burghers’ rapidly extended the boundaries of settlement, leading to the first of several wars with the native Khoikhoi pastoralists (1659–60). The other main catalyst for intensified occupation was competition – and sometimes war – with colonial rivals France and England. The Colony was elevated to a Governorate under Simon van der Stel (1691), but its tyrannical administrative practice drove the free burghers ever further afield, to escape its control. Contact with these ‘Trekboeren’ caused devastating smallpox epidemics amongst the Khoikhoi, who were largely reduced to indentured labour. New magistracies were established at Stellenbosch, Swellendam and Graaf Reinet, with the latter two briefly declaring themselves independent republics during the Napoleonic wars.
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