The Great Trek


South Africa Invasion
Boer vs Zulu

In 1835, more than 10,000 Boers, the Voortrekkers, left Cape Colony with their families and went north and north-east on the Groot Trek.

They were leaving behind their economic problems, the growing danger of conflict with the Xhosa, and, primarily, their discontent with the English colonial authorities who didn't provide them with sufficient protection against marauding tribesmen and had forbidden the slave trade, postulating the equality of whites and non-whites.

Under the leadership of Louis Trichardt and Hans van Rensburg, the Voortrekkers opened up the north of today's Mpumalanga. Other groups, under the command of Andries Pretorius, Gert Maritz and Piet Retief followed. In the area around ThabaNchu in what would become the Orange Free State, a huge Boer camp of 5,000 Voortrekkers eventually gathered.

The Boers then headed for Natal to gain land for settling and grazing. To that end they had to negotiate with Dingane, the king of the Zulus. The negotiations ended with the agreement that large areas in central and south Natal would be ceded to the Boers. However, when the delegates under Piet Retief prepared to leave the King’s corral, they were lured into an ambush by the Zulus and killed. The Zulu warriors then fell upon the Voortrekkers who had made camp at the foot of the Drakensberg to wait for the return of their leaders, killing 500 of them and stealing almost all their cattle.

The Voortrekkers, now worn out through the death of their second leader Gert Maritz, and through internal quarrels, were at the end of their power. Despite this, they elected Andries Pretorius as their new leader, who prepared them for a retaliatory strike against the Zulu king.

On December 16 1838, the Zulus were completely defeated in the famous "Battle of Blood River". This enabled the founding of the first short-lived Boer Republic in Natal, with Pietermaritzburg as its capital. By 1842, British troops occupied Port Natal, today's Durban, and annexed the hinterland as a Crown Colony. The Voortrekkers retreated behind the Drakensberg.