The Long, Long Trek of the Afrikaners

There was not one Great Trek, but at least six large ones.  When they set forth, the Trekkers had no idea of their final destination (some thought they would eventually reach Egypt) or how long it would take them.  It is an absurdity, trying to tell the story of the Trek in a few paragraphs.  It was to the Afrikaners what Paul Revere’s Ride, Custer’s Last Stand, Valle Forge and the Alamo – marvellous feats of heroism all – are to the Americans.

The Trekkers encountered huge hardships and danger in the course of their wanderings.  Wagons had to be dismantled and carried over the difficult mountain passes.  There was constant danger from wild beasts.  There was the frequent threat of attack from hostile tribesmen.  Boer women in particular demonstrated the most elemental fortitude.  They left their homes behind them without doctors, teachers or dominees, this lack later to cause noticeable intellectual and cultural isolation and impoverishment.  Mostly, the only book they carried with them was the Bible.

Initially, they settled in Natal but soon found themselves at odds with the Cape Colony.  Cape merchants feared the possible rivalry of Durban where ships from the US and Holland had already started to put in to trade.  To the anger of the Trekkers, the British Government annexed Natal in 1843.  Many trekked back over the Drakensberg to the highveld of the Orange Free State and Transvaal.