The Great Trek

Piet Retief

Piet Retief
Voortrekker Monument May 2006, IMG 3003.jpg
Statue at the Voortrekker Monument
Pieter Mauritz Retief

12 November 1780
Died 6 February 1838 (aged 57)
KwaMatiwane, near Hlomo amabuto, uMgungundlovu
Cause of death Clubbed to death by Zulus
Resting place KwaMatiwane, uMgungundlovu
28°25′37″S 31°16′12″E
Residence House Retief, Mooimeisjesfontein (1814–36), Post Retief (–1837)
Nationality Boer, South African
Spouse(s) Magdalena Johanna Greyling (née De Wet) (1782–1855)
Children Debora Jacoba (1815–1901)
Jacobus Francois (1816– )
Magdalena Margaretha (1820–84)
Pieter Cornelis (1823–38)
Parent(s) Jacobus Retief (1754–1821)
Debora Joubert (c.1749–1814)

Pieter Mauritz Retief (12 November 1780 – 6 February 1838) was a Voortrekker leader. Settling in 1814 in the frontier region of the Cape Colony, he assumed command of punitive expeditions in response to raiding parties from the adjacent Xhosa territory. He became a spokesperson for the frontier farmers who voiced their discontent, and wrote the Voortrekkers' declaration at their departure from the colony.

He was a leading figure during their Great Trek, and at one stage their elected governor. He proposed Natal as the final destination of their migration and selected a location for its future capital, later named Pietermaritzburg in his honour. The massacre of Retief and his delegation by the Zulu King Dingane and the extermination of several Voortrekker laagercamps in the area of the present town of Weenen led to the Battle of Blood River on the Ncome River. The short-lived Boer republic Natalia suffered from ineffective government and succumbed to British annexation.

Early life

Retief was born to Jacobus and Debora Retief in the Wagenmakersvallei, Cape Colony, today the town of Wellington, South Africa. His family were Boers of French Huguenot ancestry: his great-grandfather was the 1689 Huguenot refugee François Retif, from Mer, Loir-et-Cher near Blois; the progenitor of the name in South Africa ,Retief grew up on the ancestral vineyard Welvanpas, where he worked until the age of 27.

After moving to the vicinity of Grahamstown, Retief, like other Boers, acquired wealth through livestock, but suffered repeated losses from Xhosa raids in the period. These prompted the 6th Cape Frontier War. (Retief had a history of financial trouble. On more than one occasion, he lost money and other possessions, mainly through land speculation. He is reported to have gone bankrupt at least twice, while at the colony and on the frontier.)Such losses impelled many frontier farmers to become Voortrekkers (literally, "forward movers") and to migrate to new lands in the north.

Retief wrote their (Dutch speaking settlers/ Boer) manifesto, dated 22 January 1837, setting out their long-held grievances against the British government . They believed it had offered them no protection against armed raids by the native bantus, no redress against Foreign Government Policies (British), and financially broke them through the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 which freed their slaves; with compensation offered to owners, which hardly amounted to a quarter of the slaves' market value. Retief's manifesto was published in the Grahamstown Journal on 2 February and De Zuid-Afrikaan on 17 February, just as the emigrant Boers started to leave their homesteads.

Great Trek

Retief's household 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 the Great 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. 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" reconnaissance mission . 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.

Due to his favourable impression of the region, Retief started negotiations for land with the Zulu king Dingane kaSenzangakhona (known as Dingane/ Dingaan) 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 700 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 to be ratified at the Zulu King's kraal.


Despite warnings, Retief left the Tugela region on 25 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 son, and 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 and in total 534 men, women and children were killed.

Following the 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, written by Jan Gerritze Bantjes, Retief's secretary, as later verified by a member of the "victory commando", E.F. Potgieter. Two exact copies survive, (either of which could be the original) but legend states 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.

Andries Pretorius

Andries Pretorius
Andries Pretorius.jpg

Prime Minister of Natalia Republic
In office
Personal details
Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius

27 November 1798
Graaff-Reinet, Cape Colony
Died 23 July 1853 (aged 54)
Magaliesberg, South African Republic
Resting place Heroes' Acre, Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa
Children Marthinus Wessel Pretorius
Military service
Allegiance  South African Republic
Flag of Natalia Republic.svgNatalia Republic
Voortrekker flag.svgVoortrekkers
Years of service 1838–1852
Rank Commandant-General
Commands Transvaal and Orange River Commandos
Battles/wars Battle of Blood River
Battle of Boomplaats

Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius (27 November 1798 – 23 July 1853) was a leader of the Boers who was instrumental in the creation of the South African Republic, as well as the earlier but short-lived Natalia Republic, in present-day South Africa. The large city of Pretoria, executive capital of South Africa, is named after him.

Early life and background

Pretorius was educated at home and although a school education wasn't a priority on the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony, he was literate enough to read the Bible and write his thoughts down on paper. Pretorius had five children, the eldest of which, Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, later became the first President of the South African Republic.

Pretorius descended from the line of the earliest Dutch settlers in the Cape Colony. He belonged to the fifth generation of the progenitor, Johannes Pretorius  son of Reverend Wessel Schulte of the Netherlands. Schulte in his time as a theology student at the University of Leiden changed his name to the Latin form and therefore became Wesselius Praetorius (later Pretorius).

Although the details of Andries Pretorius' early life are scant, he most likely grew up on his father's farm named Driekoppen, about 40 kilometres north-east of Graaff-Reinet.


In September 1836, after the up company of Gerrit Maritz left Graaff-Reinet to go northwards, those that stayed behind including Pretorius began to strongly consider leaving the Cape Colony. He left his home in October 1837 on a scouting expedition to visit the Trekkers. Eventually, Pretorius would leave the Cape Colony permanently. He abandoned his trek toward the Modderrivier and made haste to the Klein-Tugela river in Natal when he was summoned to lead the Voortrekkers who were there leaderless; Gerrit Maritz died of illness and Andries Potgieter left Natal moving deeper inland. At the command of the Zulu king Dingane, Piet Retief was murdered in February 1838 along with his men. They were invited under false pretenses, during a negotiations visit, along with 70 men with boys among them and with 30 servants to enter the Zulu kraal Mgungundlovu unarmed.

Pretorius arrived at the desperate Trekkers' main camp on 22 November 1838. Pretorius' diligence and thorough action immediately instilled confidence and he was appointed chief commander of the punitive commando against Dingane.

Statue of Pretorius in Pretoria

Pretorius led 470 men with 64 wagons into Dingane's territory and on the dawn of 16 December 1838, next to the Ncome river, they would achieve victory over an attacking army of 10,000 to 15,000 Zulu warriors. The Voortrekkers fought with muzzle-loading rifles and made use of two small cannons. The Zulus sustained losses of an estimated 3,000 warriors in what became known as the Battle of Blood River. The Boers sustained no casualties. Three men were injured, including Andries Pretorius who was injured on his hand by an Assegai.

The Boers believe that God granted them victory and thus promised that they and their descendants would commemorate the day of the battle as a day of rest. Boers memorialized it as "Dingane's Day" until 1910. It was renamed "Day of the Vow", later "Day of the Covenant", and made a public holiday by the first South African government. After the end of apartheid in 1994, the new government kept the day as a public holiday as an act of conciliation to Boers, but renamed it "Day of Reconciliation".

In January 1840, Pretorius with a commando of 400 burghers, helped Mpande in his revolt against his half-brother Dingane. Mpande and Pretorius defeated Dingane's army at the Battle of Maqongqo, which forced Dingane and those loyal to him into exile, after which Dingane was soon murdered. Immediately thereafter, Pretorius announced that Boer territory in Natal had been greatly enlarged due to the terms agreed with Mpande for Boer assistance. He was also the leader of the Natal Boers in their opposition to the British. In 1842, Pretorius besieged the small British garrison at Durban, but retreated to Pietermaritzburg on the arrival of reinforcements under Colonel Josias Cloete.Afterward, he exerted his influence with the Boers to reach a peaceful solution with the British, who annexed Natalia.

Remaining in Natal as a British subject, in 1847 Pretorius was chosen by the Boer farmers to present their grievances to the governor of Cape Colony. They were concerned about the continuous migration of natives who were assigned locations to the detriment of Boer land claims. Pretorius went to Grahamstown to seek an audience with the governor, Sir Henry Pottinger, but he refused to see Pretorius or receive any communication from him. Pretorius returned to Natal determined to abandon his farm and move beyond the British dominions.

With a considerable following, he was preparing to cross the Drakensberg when Sir Harry Smith, newly appointed governor of the Cape, reached the emigrants' camp on the Tugela River in January 1848. Smith promised the farmers protection from the natives and persuaded many of the party to remain. Pretorius departed, and, on the proclamation of British sovereignty up to the Vaal River, fixed his residence in the Magaliesberg, north of that river. He was chosen by the burghers living on both banks of the Vaal as their commandant-general. At the request of the Boers at Winburg, Pretorius crossed the Vaal in July and led the anti-British party in their "war of freedom", occupying Bloemfontein on 20 July. In August, he was defeated at Boomplaats by Smith and retreated to the north of the Vaal. He became leader of one of the largest of the parties into which the Transvaal Boers were divided, and commandant-general of Potchefstroom and Rustenburg, his principal rival being Commandant-General of Zoutpansberg A. H. Potgieter.

In 1851, Boer malcontents in the Orange River Sovereignty and the Basotho chief Moshoeshoe I asked Pretorius to come to their aid. He announced his intention of crossing the Vaal to "restore order" in the Sovereignty. His goal was to obtain an acknowledgment of the independence of the Transvaal Boers from the British. Having decided on a policy of abandonment, the British cabinet entertained his proposal. The government withdrew its reward of 2000 pounds, which had been offered for his capture after the Boomplaats battle. Pretorius met the British commissioners near the Sand River. On 17 January 1852 they concluded the convention by which the independence of the Transvaal Boers was recognized by Britain.

Pretorius recrossed the Vaal River, and on 16 March he reconciled with Potgieter at Rustenburg. The followers of both leaders approved the convention, although the Potgieter party was not represented. In the same year, Pretorius paid a visit to Durban with the object of opening up trade between Natal and the new republic. In 1852, he also attempted to close the road to the interior through Bechuanaland and sent a commando to the western border against Sechele.

Pretorius died at his home at Magaliesberg in July 1853. He is described by Theal as "the ablest leader and most perfect representative of the Emigrant Farmers." In 1855, a new district and a new town were formed out of the Potchefstroom and Rustenburg districts by his son, Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, who named them Pretoria in honour of the late commandant-general.Marthinus Wessel Pretorius was the first president of the Transvaal Republic.

Gerrit Maritz

Gerhardus Martinus Maritz
Gerhardus Martinus Maritz

1 March 1797
Died 23 September 1838 (aged 41)
Sooilaer (Maritzdam), Klein-Tugela river
Resting place Reburied near Blaauwkranz monument
28°51′02″S 29°50′34″E
Residence Caledon St 8 (1824-30),
Noorderkant St 1 (1830-36), Graaff-Reinet
Nationality European
Other names Gert; Gerhardus Martinus
Occupation Ward master, provisional Field cornet, wagon builder
Known for Voortrekker leader
Spouse(s) Angenitha Maria Olivier
Children Salamo Stephanus
Cornelis Johannes Francois
Debora Susanna Sophia
Gerhardus Jacobus
Johannes Stephanus
Maria Magdalena
Parent(s) Salamo Maritz (c.1769-1828), Maria Elisabeth Oosthuijsen(1777-1846)

Gerhardus Marthinus (Gert or Gerrit) Maritz (1 March 1797 – 23 September 1838), b1c8d2, was a Voortrekker pioneer and leader, wagon builder.

Gerrit Maritz was the son of Salamo Stefanus Maritz and Maria Elizabeth Oosthuizen. He married Agnita Maria Olivier and later Anna Carolina Agatha van Rooyen and from them he fathered six children.

The Great Trek (Afrikaans: Die Groot Trek; Dutch: De Grote Trek) was an eastward migration of Dutch-speaking settlers who travelled by wagon trains from the Cape Colony into the interior of modern South Africa from 1836 onwards, seeking to live beyond the Cape’s British colonial administration. The Great Trek resulted from the culmination of tensions between rural descendants of the Cape's original European settlers, known collectively as Boers, and the British Empire. It was also reflective of an increasingly common trend among individual Boer communities to pursue an isolationist and semi-nomadic lifestyle away from the developing administrative complexities in Cape Town. Boers who took part in the Great Trek identified themselves as voortrekkers, meaning "pioneers", "pathfinders" (literally "fore-trekkers") in Dutch and Afrikaans.

The Great Trek led directly to the founding of several autonomous Boer republics, namely the South African Republic (also known simply as the Transvaal), the Orange Free State, and the Natalia Republic. It was also responsible for the displacement of the Northern Ndebele people, and was one of several decisive factors influencing the decline and collapse of the Zulu Empire.

The Cape of Good Hope was first settled by Europeans under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company (also known by its Dutch initials VOC), which established a victualling station there in 1652 to provide its outward bound fleets with fresh provisions and a harbour of refuge during the long sea journey from Europe to Asia.In a few short decades, the Cape had become home to a large population of "vrijlieden", also denoted as "vrijburgers" (free citizens), former Company employees who remained in Dutch territories overseas after completing their contracts. Since the primary purpose of the Cape settlement at the time was to stock provisions for passing Dutch ships, the VOC offered grants of farmland to its employees under the condition they would cultivate grain for the Company warehouses, and released them from their contracts to save on their wages. Vrijburgers were granted tax-exempt status for 12 years and loaned all the necessary seeds and farming implements they requested. They were married Dutch citizens, considered "of good character" by the Company, and had to commit to spending at least 20 years on the African continent.Reflecting the multi-national character of the VOC’s workforce, some German soldiers and sailors were also considered for vrijburger status as well,and in 1688 the Dutch government sponsored the resettlement of over a hundred French Huguenot refugees at the Cape.As a result, by 1691 over a quarter of the colony's European population was not ethnically Dutch. Nevertheless, there was a degree of cultural assimilation through intermarriage, and the almost universal adoption of the Dutch language.Cleavages were likelier to occur along social and economic lines; broadly speaking, the Cape colonists were delineated into Boers, poor farmers who settled directly on the frontier, and the more affluent, predominantly urbanised Cape Dutch.

Following the Flanders Campaign and the Batavian Revolution in Amsterdam, France assisted in the establishment of a pro-French client state, the Batavian Republic, on Dutch soil. This opened the Cape to French warships.To protect her own prosperous maritime shipping routes, Great Britain occupied the fledgling colony by force until 1803. From 1806 to 1814, the Cape was governed as a British military dependency, whose sole importance to the Royal Navy was its strategic relation to Indian maritime traffic. The British formally assumed permanent administrative control around 1815, as a result of the Treaty of Paris.

At the onset of the British rule, the Cape Colony encompassed 100,000 square miles (260,000 km2) and was populated by about 26,720 people of European descent, a relative majority of whom were of Dutch origin.Just over a quarter were of German ancestry and about one-sixth were descended from French Huguenots, although most had ceased speaking French since about 1750. There were also 30,000 African and Asian slaves owned by the settlers, and about 17,000 indigenous Khoisan. Relations between the settlers – especially the Boers – and the new administration quickly soured. The British authorities were adamantly opposed to the Boers’ ownership of slaves and what was perceived as their unduly harsh treatment of the indigenous peoples.

The British government insisted that the Cape finance its own affairs through self-taxation, an approach which was alien to both the Boers and the Dutch merchants in Cape Town. In 1815, the controversial arrest of a white farmer for allegedly assaulting one of his servants resulted in the abortive Slachter's Nek Rebellion. The British retaliated by hanging at least five Boers for insurrection In 1828, the Cape governor declared that all native inhabitants but slaves were to have the rights of "citizens", in respect of security and property ownership, on parity with the settlers. This had the effect of further alienating the colony's white population. Boer resentment of successive British administrators continued to grow throughout the late 1820s and early 1830s, especially with the official imposition of the English language. This replaced Dutch with English as the language used in the Cape’s judicial and political systems, putting the Boers at a disadvantage, as most spoke little or no English.

Great Britain's alienation of the Boers was particularly amplified by the decision to abolish slavery in all its colonies in 1834. All 35,000 slaves registered with the Cape governor were to be freed and given rights on par with other citizens, although in most cases their masters could retain them as apprentices until 1838.Many Boers, especially those involved with grain and wine production, were dependent on slave labour; for example, 94% of all white farmers in the vicinity of Stellenbosch owned slaves at the time, and the size of their slave holdings correlated greatly to their production output. Compensation was offered by the British government, but payment had to be received in London, and few Boers possessed the funds to make the trip.

Bridling at what they considered an unwarranted intrusion into their way of life, some in the Boer community began to consider selling their farms and venturing deep into South Africa’s unmapped interior to preempt further disputes and live completely independent from British rule.Others, especially trekboers, a class of Boers who pursued semi-nomadic pastoral activities, were frustrated by the apparent unwillingness or inability of the British government to extend the borders of the Cape Colony eastward and provide them with access to more prime pasture and economic opportunities. They resolved to trek beyond the colony's borders on their own.


Although it did nothing to impede the Great Trek, Great Britain viewed the movement with pronounced trepidation.The British government initially suggested that conflict in the far interior of Southern Africa between the migrating Boers and the Bantu peoples they encountered would require an expensive military intervention.However, authorities at the Cape also judged that the human and material cost of pursuing the settlers and attempting to re-impose an unpopular system of governance on those who had deliberately spurned it was not worth the immediate risk. Some officials were concerned for the tribes the Boers were certain to encounter, and whether they would be enslaved or otherwise reduced to a state of penury.

The Great Trek was not universally popular among the settlers either. Around 12,000 of them took part in the migration, about a fifth of the colony’s Dutch-speaking white population at the time. The Dutch Reformed Church, to which most of the Boers belonged, explicitly refused to endorse the Great Trek Despite their hostility towards the British, there were Boers who chose to remain in the Cape of their own accord.

For its part, the distinct Cape Dutch community had accepted British rule; many of its members even considered themselves loyal British subjects with a special affection for English culture. The Cape Dutch were also much more heavily urbanised and therefore less likely to be susceptible to the same rural grievances and considerations as those held by the Boers.

In January 1832, Dr. Andrew Smith (an Englishman) and William Berg (a Boer farmer) scouted Natal as a potential settlement. On their return to the Cape, Smith waxed very enthusiastic, and the impact of discussions Berg had with the Boers proved crucial. Berg portrayed Natal as a land of exceptional farming quality, well watered, and nearly devoid of inhabitants.

In June 1834, the Boer leaders of Uitenhage and Grahamstown discussed a Kommissietrek or "Commission Trek" to visit Natal and to assess its potential as a new homeland for the Cape Boers who were disenchanted with British rule at the Cape. Petrus Lafras Uys was chosen as trek leader. In early August 1834, Jan Gerritze set off with some travellers headed for Grahamstown 220 km away, a three-week journey from Graaff-Reinet. Sometime around late August 1834 Jan Bantjes arrived in Grahamstown, contacted Uys and made his introductions.

In June 1834 at Graaff-Reinet, Jan Gerritze Bantjes heard about the exploratory trek to Port Natal and, encouraged by his father Bernard Louis Bantjes, sent word to Uys of his interest in partaking in this great adventure. Bantjes wanted to help re-establish Dutch independence over the Boers and to get away from British law at the Cape. Bantjes was already well known in the area as an educated young man fluent both in spoken and written Dutch and in English. Because of these skills, Uys invited Bantjes to join him. Bantjes’s writing skills would prove invaluable in recording events as the journey unfolded.

On 8 September 1834, the Kommissietrek of 20 men and one woman, including a retinue of coloured servants, set off from Grahamstown for Natal with 14 wagons. Moving through the Eastern Cape, they were welcomed by the Xhosa who were in dispute with the neighbouring Zulu King Dingane ka Senzangakhona, and they passed unharmed into Natal. They travelled more or less the same route that Smith and Berg had taken two years earlier.

The trek avoided the coastal route, keeping to the flatter inland terrain. The kommissietrek approached Port Natal from East Griqualand and Ixopo, crossing the upper regions of the Mtamvuna and Umkomazi rivers. Travel was slow due to the rugged terrain, and since it was the summer, the rainy season had swollen many of the rivers to their maximum. Progress required days of scouting to locate the most suitable tracks to negotiate. Eventually, after weeks of incredible toil, the small party arrived at Port Natal, crossing the Congela River and weaving their way through the coastal forest into the bay area. They had travelled a distance of about 650 km from Grahamstown. This trip would have taken about 5 to 6 months with their slow moving wagons. The Drakensberg route via Kerkenberg into Natal had not yet been discovered.

They arrived at the sweltering hot bay of Port Natal in February 1835, exhausted after their long journey. There, the trek was soon welcomed with open arms by the few British hunters and ivory traders there such as James Collis, including the semi-invalid Reverend Allen Francis Gardiner, an ex-commander of the Royal Navy ship Clinker, who had decided to start a mission station there. After congenial exchanges between the Boers and British sides, the party settled in and invited Dick King to become their guide.

The Boers set up their laager camp in the area of the present-day Greyville Racecourse in Durban, chosen because it had suitable grazing for the oxen and horses and was far from the foraging hippos in the bay. Several small streams running off the Berea ridge provided fresh water for the trekkers. Alexander Biggar was also at the bay as a professional elephant-hunter and helped the trekkers with important information regarding conditions at Port Natal. Bantjes made notes suggested by Uys, which later formed the basis of his more comprehensive report on the positive aspects of Natal. Bantjes also made rough maps of the bay (this journal is now missing) showing the potential for a harbour which could supply the Boers in their new homeland.

At Port Natal, Uys sent Dick King, who could speak Zulu, to uMgungundlovu to investigate with King Dingaan the possibility of granting them land to settle When Dick King returned to Port Natal some weeks later, he reported that King Dingaan insisted they visit him in person. Johannes Uys, brother of Piet Uys and a number of comrades with a few wagons, travelled toward King Dingaan’s capital at uMgungundlovu, and making a laager of wagons at the mouth of the Mvoti River, they proceeded on horseback, but were halted by a flooded Tugela River and forced to return to the laager.

The Kommissietrek left Port Natal for Grahamstown with a good stash of ivory in early June 1835, following more or less the same route back to the Cape, and arrived at Grahamstown in October 1835. On Piet Uys’s recommendation, Bantjes set to work on the first draft of the Natalialand Report. Meetings and talks took place in the main church to much approval, and the first sparks of Trek Fever began to take hold. From all the information accumulated at Port Natal, Bantjes drew up the final report on "Natalia or Natal Land" that acted as the catalyst which inspired the Boers at the Cape to set in motion the Great Trek.

The first wave of Voortrekkers lasted from 1835 to 1840, during which an estimated 6,000 people (roughly 20% of the Cape Colony's total population or 10% of the white population in the 1830s) trekked.

Hendrik Potgieter at Delagoa Bay, ca. 1851/52

The first two parties of Voortrekkers left in September 1835, led by Louis Tregardt and Hans van Rensburg. These two parties crossed the Vaal river at Robert's Drift in January 1836, but in April 1836 the two parties split up, just seventy miles from the Zoutpansberg mountains, following differences between Tregardt and van Rensburg.

A party led by Hendrik Potgieter trekked out of the Tarka area in either late 1835 or early 1836, and in September 1836 a party led by Gerrit Maritz began their trek from Graaff-Reinet. There was no clear consensus amongst the trekkers on where they were going to settle, but they all had the goal of settling near an outlet to the sea.

In late July 1836 van Rensburg's entire party of 49, except two children (who were saved by a Zulu warrior), were massacred at Inhambane by an impi of Manukosi.Those of Tregardt's party that settled around Soutpansberg moved on to settle Delagoa Bay, with most of the party perishing, including Tregardt, from fever

Conflict with the Matebele

Despite pre-existing peace agreements with local black chiefs, in August 1836 a Ndebele (Matebele) patrol attacked the Liebenberg family part of Potgieter's party, killing six men, two women and six children. It is thought that their primary aim was to plunder the Voortrekker's cattle. On 20 October 1836, Potgieter's party was attacked by an army of 4,600 Ndebele warriors at the Battle of Vegkop. Thirty-five armed trekkers repulsed the Ndebele assault on their laager with the loss of two men and almost all the trekkers' cattle. Potgieter, Uys and Maritz mounted two punitive commando raids. The first resulted in the sacking of the Ndebele settlement at Mosega, the death of 400 Ndebele, and the taking of 7,000 cattle. The second commando resulted in forcing Mzilikazi and his followers to flee to what is now modern day Zimbabwe.

By spring (September/October) 1837, five to six large Voortrekker settlements had been established between the Vaal and Orange Rivers with a total population of around 2,000 trekkers.

In October 1837 Retief met with ZuluKing Dingane to negotiate a treaty for land to settle in what is now Kwa-Zulu Natal. King Dingane, feeling suspicious and insecure because of previous Voortrekker influxes from across the Drakensberg, had Retief and seventy of his followers killed.

Various interpretations of what transpired exist, as only the missionary Francis Owen's written eye-witness account survived. Retief's written request for land contained veiled threats by referring to the Voortrekker's defeat of indigenous groups encountered along their journey. The Voortrekker demand for a written contract guaranteeing private property ownership was incompatible with the contemporaneous Zulu oral culture which prescribed that a chief could only temporarily dispense land as it was communally owned

Most versions agree that the following happened: King Dingane's authority extended over some of the land in which the Boers wanted to settle. As prerequisite to granting the Voortrekker request, he demanded that the Voortrekkers return some cattle stolen by Sekonyela, a rival chief. After the Boers retrieved the cattle, King Dingane invited Retief to his residence at uMgungundlovu to finalise the treaty, having either planned the massacre in advance, or deciding to do so after Retief and his men arrived.

King Dingane's reputed instruction to his warriors, "Bulalani abathakathi!" (Zulu for "kill the wizards") showed that he may have considered the Boers to wield evil supernatural powers. After killing Retief's delegation, a Zulu army of 7,000 impis were sent out and immediately attacked Voortrekker encampments in the Drakensberg foothills at what later was called Blaauwkrans and Weenen, leading to the Weenen massacre in which 282 Voortrekkers, of whom 185 children were killed. In contrast to earlier conflicts with the Xhosa on the eastern Cape frontier, the Zulu killed the women and children along with the men, wiping out half of the Natal contingent of Voortrekkers.

The Voortrekkers retaliated with a 347-strong punitive raid against the Zulu (later known as the Flight Commando), supported by new arrivals from the Orange Free State. They were roundly defeated by about 7,000 warriors at Ithaleni, southwest of uMgungundlovu. The well-known reluctance of Afrikaner leaders to submit to one another's leadership, which later hindered sustained success in the Anglo-Boer Wars, was largely to blame.

In November 1838 Andries Pretorius arrived with a commando of 60 armed trekkers and two cannon to assist in the defence. A few days later on the 16 December 1838, a force of 468 trekkers, 3 Britons, and 60 black allies fought against 10,000 to 12,000 Zulu impis at the Battle of Blood River. Pretorius's stunning victory over the Zulu army led to a civil war within the Zulu nation as King Dingane's half-brother, Mpande kaSenzangakhona, aligned with the Voortrekkers to overthrow the king and impose himself. Mpande sent 10,000 impis to assist the trekkers in follow-up expeditions against Dingane.

After the defeat of the Zulu forces and the recovery of the treaty between Dingane and Retief from Retief's body, the Voortrekkers proclaimed the Natalia Republic. After Dingane's death, Mpande was proclaimed king, and the Zulu nation allied with the short-lived Natalia Republic until its annexation by the British Empire in 1843.

The Voortrekkers' guns offered them an obvious technological advantage over the Zulu's traditional weaponry of short stabbing spears, fighting sticks, and cattle-hide shields. The Boers attributed their victory to a vow they made to God before the battle: if victorious, they and future generations would commemorate the day as a Sabbath. Thereafter, 16 December was celebrated by Boers as a public holiday, first called "Dingane's Day", later changed to the Day of the Vow. The name was changed to the Day of Reconciliation by the post-apartheid South African government, in order to foster reconciliation between all South Africans

Centenary celebrations

Centenary celebrations
Afrikaans horsemen celebrating the centenary of the Great Trek in 1938.
A group of Afrikaans women at the centenary celebrations in 1938 dressed in Voortrekker clothing most notabliy the white doek on their heads.

The celebration of the Great Trek in the 1930s play a major role in the growth of Afrikaans nationalism. It is thought that the experiences of the Second Boer War and the following period, between 1906 and 1934, of a lack of public discussion about the war within the Afrikaans community helped set the scene for a large increase in interest in Afrikaans national identity. The celebration of the centenary of the Great Trek along with a new generation of Afrikaners interested in learning about the Afrikaans experiences of the Boer War catalyzed a surge of Afrikaans nationalism.

The centenary celebrations began with a re-enactment of the trek beginning on 8 August 1938 with nine ox wagons at the statue of Jan van Riebeeck in Cape Town and ended at the newly completed Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria and attended by over 100,000 people. A second re-enactment trek starting at the same time and place ended at the scene of the Battle of Blood River.

Monuments to the Great Trek such as this one in Clanwilliam were erected in small towns across the country during the centenary celebrations.

The commemoration sparked mass enthusiasm amongst Afrikaners as the re-enactment trek passed through the small towns and cities of South Africa. Both participants and spectators participated by dressing in Voortrekker clothing, renaming streets, holding ceremonies, erecting monuments, and laying wreaths at the graves of Afrikaner heroes. Cooking meals over an open fire in the same way the Voortrekkers did became fashionable amongst urbanites, giving birth to the South African tradition of braaing. An Afrikaans language epic was made to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Great Trek, Die Bou van 'n Nasie (1938). The film told the Afrikaans version of the history of South Africa from 1652 to 1910 with a focus on the Great Trek.

A number of Afrikaans organisations such as the Afrikaner Broederbond and Afrikaanse Taal en Kultuurvereniging continued to promote the centenary's goals of furthering the Afrikaner cause and entrenching a greater sense of unity and solidarity within the community well into the 20th century.

The Great Trek was used by Afrikaner nationalists as a core symbol of a common Afrikaans history. It was done in a way that promoted the idea of an Afrikaans nation and in a narrative that promoted the ideals of the National Party. In 1938, celebrations of the centenary of the Battle of Blood River and the Great Trek mobilized behind an Afrikaans nationalist theses. The narrative of Afrikaner nationalism was a significant reason for the National Party's victory in the 1948 elections. This in turn allowed the party to implement its stated program of apartheid. A year later the Voortrekker Monument was completed and opened in Pretoria by the newly elected South African Prime Minister and National Party member Daniel Malan in 1949.

A few years later, "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika", a poem written by Cornelis Jacobus Langenhoven referring to the Great Trek, was chosen to be the words of the pre-1994 South African national anthem. The post-1997 national anthem of South Africa incorporates a section of "Die Stem van Suid-Afrika" but it was decided to omit the section in "reference to the Great Trek (‘met die kreun van ossewa’), since this was the experience of only one section of our community."When apartheid in South Africa ended and the country transitioned to majority rule, President F. W. de Klerk invoked the measures as a new Great Trek.