South Africa’s Historic Pioneers

The Voortrekkers are an integral part of South Africa’s history, commemorated in museums and monuments around the country. Literally meaning ‘forward-pullers’, Voortrekkers were pioneers who headed north not knowing what they would encounter, but determined to find suitable places to settle and establish communities. Over the years there has been much speculation as to what motivated the Voortrekkers to tackle uncharted territory, and while the topic is obviously complex, a growing discontent related to British rule and a desire for a better and freer life are thought to be the primary reasons.

The Cape of Good Hope was established as a supply station by the Dutch East India Company for vessels servicing their possessions in the Far East. This settlement remained cut off from the outside world, apart from seafaring traffic, for more than 100 years. As the population grew, some moved away and set up farms, or became nomads, traveling up to 500 miles from the Cape, but still under British rule. These settlers subdued the Hottentot Bushmen they encountered and continued moving north where they met up with Bantu tribes moving south. For a time the Great Fish River served as an informal border with cross-border altercations being commonplace. When the British government outlawed slavery, causing farmers to lose their labour force, some of these border farmers decided to move further north, starting an exodus from the Cape that came to be known as the Great Trek.

While the Great Trek and all the battles that ensued are well documented in South Africa’s museums and history books, it is difficult to imagine the emotions of the people heading into a world largely unknown, apart from the information provided by scouts sent ahead, with the strong likelihood of meeting up with hostile tribes they would have to do battle with for unclaimed territory. History reveals battles won and lost, with the Voortrekkers prevailing, claiming land and subjugating their opponents. Certainly, South Africa has come a long way since the days of the Voortrekkers (1835-1845) and while various groups retain their distinctive cultural identities, we are all South African and part of the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic ‘Rainbow Nation’.

The Ox Wagon in Clarens offers holidaymakers the opportunity to experience some aspects of Voortrekker life, from sleeping in covered ox-wagons to exploring the great outdoors of this spectacular part of South Africa. Enjoy hiking, swimming, volley-ball, paintball, abseiling and more, as well as viewing bushman paintings, indigenous plants and a variety of wildlife. It’s the perfect spot for a family holiday that can also serve as a reminder of an important part of South Africa’s history.