The Politics of a South African Frontier. The Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana and the Missionaries, 1780–1840

  • Language: English
  • 416 pages
  • Maps, tables, index
  • ISSN: 2296 6986
  • ISBN:
  • Print: 978-3-905758-14-6
  • PDF: 978-3-905758-55-9
Martin Chatfield Legassick

The Politics of a South African Frontier. The Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana and the Missionaries, 1780–1840


This book publishes Martin Legassick’s influential doctoral thesis on the preindustrial South African frontier zone of Transorangia. The impressive formation of the Griqua states in the first half of the nineteenth century outside the borders of the Cape Colony and their relations with Sotho-Tswana polities, frontiersmen, missionaries and the British administration of the Cape take centre stage in the analysis. The Griqua, of mixed settler and indigenous descent, secured hegemony in a frontier of complex partnerships and power struggles.

The author’s subsequent critique of the “frontier tradition” in South African historiography drew on the insights he had gained in writing this dissertation. It served to initiate the debate about the importance of the precolonial frontier situation in South Africa for the establishment of ideas of race, the development of racial prejudice and, implicitly, the creation of segregationist and apartheid systems. Today, the constructed histories of “Griqua” and other categories of indigeneity have re emerged in South Africa as influential tools of political mobilisation and claims on resources.

Martin Legassick is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of the Western Cape (Cape Town). He has written on almost all periods of South African history, from precolonial times to the present day. He is coauthor
with Ciraj Rassool of Skeletons in the Cupboard: South African Museums and the Trade in Human Remains, 1907―1917 (2000) and is the author of Subjugation and the Roots of South African Democracy: The Struggle for the Eastern Cape, 1800―1854 (2006) as well as Towards Socialist Democracy (2007), a far-reaching account of the twentieth-century world.

1 The Sotho-Tswana Peoples before 1800

2 The Evolution of a Frontier Society, 1700 – 1775

3 The Frontier Zone and Colonial Policy, c. 1770 – 1815

4 The Development of the Griqua State, 1800 – 1820

5 The Frontier Zone in Transorangia, 1800 – 1820

6 The Griqua and the Colonial Government, 1815 – 1826

7 Dislocation in Transorangia, 1820 – 1826

8 The New Balance of Power, 1826 – 1832

9 John Philip, Robert Moffat, and the Griqua, 1819 – 1832

10 Griqua Expansionism, I: Andries Waterboer in Transorangia, 1832 – 1836

11 Griqua Expansionism, II: Church and State

12 The Decline of Griqua Hegemony

13 Conclusion

Legassick’s study, completed in 1969, is one of the most widely cited South African dissertations. It „remains by far the best account of what is a crucial, and fascinating, episode in Southern African history … constructed on the impressive basis of documentary and other forms of primary source material“.

Robert Ross, Leiden University

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