The Muizenberg Khoi

There were of course no ‘Muizenberg Khoi’, since they had gone by the time Muizenberg was named. But they were certainly here in their time, and Zandvlei would have been a favoured camp site for its flat shores, good grazing and abundant drinkable water. The Khoi were herders and pastoralists, they owned great herds of cattle and sheep. Van Riebeeck records clans having herds of 6000 – 7000 cattle, which the Dutch lusted after and tried to buy by barter. After the initial few years the Khoi grew tired of getting barter goods in return and ceased to trade, forcing the Dutch to start raising their own livestock.

The Dutch recorded the names of the great Khoi clans, and the clan that generally grazed their cattle in our area was the Goringhaiqua. Between Table Bay and Malmesbury the Gorachoqua held the grazing rights, and to their north the Cochoqua ran their cattle up to Saldanha. The Goringhaiqua were also known by the Dutch as the Kaapmans, as they moved their cattle to Cape Point, presumably over what is now Ou Kaapse Weg. Access to Cape Point by any other route was difficult if not impossible. On reaching a new grazing area the Khoi would set up camp using their matjies huts to live in. These were remarkably spacious and comfortable, dry, provided good shelter from the wind and were easily packed up and transported. There is a good image in Het Posthuys. A herd of 6000 cattle would rapidly deplete the scanty fynbos grazing, and require the Khoi to move on in search of yet another grazing site. The Goringhaiqua would have trekked towards Hermanus, crossing the mountains by the Gantouw Pass, in the same area as Sir Lowry’s Pass. The original path through the mountains was made by eland (gantouw) which the Khoi also used.

Along the Muizenberg shore line the Goringhaikona or Strandlopers scratched a living. These were Goringhaiqua who had lost their cattle to raids or confiscation or disease, and were now poor. Cattle defined the wealth of a Khoi man and his family. Without cattle he left the clan, whether by coercion or choice I do not know. Henceforth he and a few colleagues would scavenge the coastline for food. They constructed fish-traps in the St James area, now all built over I believe by tidal pools. In the Battle of Muizenberg reserve, high up between Main Road and Boyes Drive, there is a little fortification built by the Dutch in 1795 where a small gun battery was mounted. The ground here is a midden comprised of millions of seashells. They are of all the types found in the tidal zone; limpets, alikreukels, mussels, perlemoen, and the number shows that the midden was used for hundreds of years. I questioned an archaeologist once; why did the strandlopers carry their harvest away from the sea and high up before they ate? They answer was safety. The world then was a dangerous place for a small band of poor strandlopers. Ferocious beasts did roam the land, other bands of Khoi might not be well-disposed to them, it was best to sleep somewhere high and out of sight where a watcher could see what or who was approaching, and the midden is perfectly placed for that. Which is why the Dutch chose it as an observation post and gun battery.

The Khoi way of life, in the Cape at least, came to an end in the 1680’s when the Dutch started expanding their farms and fencing off the good grazing for their own livestock. The disruption of the grazing routes grew widespread, and eventually it became impossible for the Goringhaiqua to complete an annual migration. At every turn a Dutch farmer had taken the best grazing and refused them access. Grazing lands further afield were already occupied by other Khoi clans who would not share the grazing they had. It was the bad luck of the Khoi that they valued the grazing, not the land, and they had no permanent settlements that the Dutch might regard as Khoi territory. When their grazing was taken away the Khoi were left with nothing, a position unchanged to today.

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