The Voortrekkers
The Voortrekkers' dilemma - the highveld or Natal?
The Great Dilemma
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voortrekkersThe dilemma posed to the Voortrekkers was where to go now? Potgieter resolutely promoted the open land, sweet grass and known (and defeated) adversary of the highveld in contrast to the unknown, hilly country of Natal. Many though were disposed to think well of the lush grazing and perennial water of Natal and even though it had a port already occupied by a handful of British traders, these could be persuaded to let the Voortrekkers use the port.

And in any case, it was unlikely that the British would annex the port. Both the arguments surrounding the ultimate destination of the trek and the constitution of the Voortrekkers turned the camp below the Blesberg into a bickering cauldron.

Retief Arrives

In April 1837, Piet Retief and one hundred wagons arrived in the camp. Retief was held in high esteem by the Voortrekkers because, in addition to being appointed as Commandant by the British of his local area in the Eastern Cape, he was the one trekker who had emotionally yet eloquently laid out the Voortrekkers' grievances in a proclamation. Within days, he was elected Commander in Chief of the trek. Under the new dispensation, Maritz became chairman of the Council but Potgieter was deprived of office.

After a favourable report from another reconnaissance party, Maritz was persuaded the Natal was the chosen destination of the Voortrekkers and duly set off with a few wagons.

Kapain is Sacked

Meanwhile Potgieter prepared for a final reckoning with Mzilikazi. With 350 men, he attacked the Matabele military complex at Kapain, driving the Matabele north through several passes where they were successively attacked. Eventually, after nine days of fighting, on the 12th November 1837 the Matabele broke and moved to what is now Southern Zimbabwe to found a new nation.

They lost an estimated 3,000 men to the Voortrekkers' none. Potgieter now proclaimed their area - most of Botswana, the Transvaal and the Orange - now trekker country. Again, as after Mosega, squabbling over the 7,000 cattle booty soon started. Returning, they found the trekker camp empty.

Next . . . The Zulu nation