Raiders and Rustlers
The Orange River was a dangerous place! There was no authority or Government in place. It was South Africa's Wild West. Many brigands and outlaws took advantage of this freedom, creating rough-living and murderous bands ...
Jager Afrikaner - the "lion of the Orange River"
Afrikaner was the terror of the Orange River valley for over 20 years. From his base on an island in the Orange River, he and his banditti plundered the Namaquas and Koranas, raided deep into the Colony, and spread death and destruction among the Tswanas. His range spread across 500 km, and his name aroused terror in people's hearts.
Jager was a Khoi, originally from the Tulbach district. he then worked for a white farmer, Piet Pienaar, driving his cattle to the Orange River for pasture. Piet settled near where Calvinia is today. Piet was a harsh man, and mistreated the Khoi men and their wives. He refused to give Jager's people their freedom.
In a confrontation, Jager's brother, Titus, shot Pienaar dead. Jager's men took all Piet's guns and ammunition, and set off to the Orange River - for a life as an outlaw.
His clan fought off all Commandos sent to capture him. He was the leader of a hunted people, who now became hunters themselves, on a campaign of war and destruction.
Soon he set up his base along the Orange River, just north of the Augrabies Falls. His band grew rapidly, and was joined by runaway slaves, fugitives from the law, escaped prisoners, and army deserters. Jager and his brothers - Titus, Klaas, Dawid and Jacobus - could go on plundering raids in different regions simultaneously, as far as 300 km away.
Jager's men had a novel style of battle. They would ride in among the defensive position of the enemy and flush them out into the open where, in an unfamiliar battle situation, they could be cut down easily and quickly.
The Griqua, under Nikolaas Barends, were asked by the colonists to take on Jager Afrikaner. Many battles ensued along the Orange River, without a decisive victory on either side.
Then Jager decided to invade the Colony. In January 1899, he and his men raided into the Calvinia district, killing several people, and carrying off thousands of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and wagons. Gradually, Jager moved his band, with their women, children and cattle, further west, to the Great Namaqualand - where he continued to spread terror among the Namaqua people, and even sacked a missionary settlement at Warmbad. The refugees from Warmbad fled to the Orange River, where they established the mission station now called Pella.
By 1812, the communities along the Orange River lived in a state of fear. The Rev John Campbell found "every village atrembling, lest Afrikaner should pay them a visit".
But Jager, "the old lion" was getting tired of the outlaw life. The missionary Robert Moffat" arrived at Jager's Namaqualand base, and they became friends. Jager attended church services, learnt to read and write, and studied his Bible. He and Moffat had long discussions about theological issues. He even tried to make amends for his misdeeds among the nearby villages. Then Moffat took a huge risk: He took Jager to Cape Town, even though there was a price of R1000 Rixdollars on his head. Posing as one of Moffat's servants, Jager reached Cape Town.
Moffat took him to meet Lord Charles Somerset, the Governor, who was very impressed by Jager's conversion. The old outlaw created a sensation by addressing prayer meetings. Jager returned to his people, bringing a load of gifts in a new wagon.
At Danielskuil, there was a united prayer meeting between the two old adversaries, Jager Afrikaner and Berend Berends.
Jager died in March 1823, respectably in his bed. his last words to his people were: "My former life is stained with blood. Beware of falling into the same evils into which I led you frequently".
For many people, Jager's conversion and saintliness was indeed a miracle.
Jan Bloem Snr
While Jager Afrikaner raided along the western part of the Orange River, in the desert areas, Jan Bloem operated among the Korana near the confluence with the Vaal - with the sleek cattle of the Tswana as his main prize.
Jan Bloem was born in Thuringia, in Germany. He landed in Table Bay in 1780. He was reputed to have murdered his wife, and fled across the Karoo, arriving destitute at the confluence of the Orange and Vaal River. He took refuge with a Korana communty, and when they discovered that he could read and write, he was appointed personal tutor to the chief. Bloem soon lived well. The Chief gave him a site for a kraal, he gathered cattle and sheep.
In 1786, he moved west, and joined the Korana Springbok clan, near Upington. There he married a local woman called Eides, and his son, Jan Bloem Jnr, was born.
Jan Bloem soon joined the delinquent veldkornet called Piet Pienaar. The peaceful Tlhaping people, living on the Kuruman River, welcomed them. Soon after, Bloem, Pienaar and a band of Springbok Korana, as well as Jager Afrikaner, raided thousands of Tswana cattle. The Thlaping suffered such heavy losses in cattle and men that they were reduced to destitution. Fortunately, Cornelis Kok, the son of Adam Kok I, came to their aid. He remained among them for two years, protecting them against Bloem and giving them time to re-establish their herds. This was the foundation of a lasting friendship.
By now, Jan Bloem was a fearsome bandit. The Springboks became the most powerful of all the Korana clans. Bloem became their chief, using the Langberg mountain, south of Kuruman as their base. His HQ was near Postmasburg, at a place called Jan Bloem's Fountain, from where he despatched stolen cattle into the Colony, receiving ammunition in return. (The guest farm, Soetfontein, is located roughly near Bloem's erstwhile base).
His method of warfare was highly successful, even against large tribes. His men combined guns and horses in a "flying fight" style of battle. They would ride to within range, dismount and aim carefully, shoot, and quickly remount and ride away to a safe distance, to reload their rifles.
Bloem's Springbok clan now joined up with other Korana clans, notably the Scorpions, and began raiding further north. And then they met their match - in the form of Chief Makaba, of the Ngwaketse Tribe, in an area now in southern Botswana. Makaba lured Bloem's men int a trap. He fortified two parallel ranges of hills, and built stone walls to narrow the passage between them. Then he engaged Bloem in a skirmish. He pretended to be defeated, and to flee. The Springboks gave chase. At the narrow passage, the Ngwaketse rolled down huge boulders, which crushed the enemy.
Jan Bloem and a few men escaped to Taung, where Bloem died a few days later, after drinking from a poisoned spring. At last this brought some peace to the region!
Jan Bloem, Jnr
Jan Bloem was about 13 years old when his father died at Taung in 1799. He became the nominal chief of the Springbok clan, and for a few years, ran a kraal south-west of Griquatown. Soon he took up his father's wandering and raiding lifestyle. he joined up with some disaffected Griquas and outlaws from the Colony, as well as Koranas, Namaquas and even a number of Bushmen. He established a fearsome band called the Bergenaars. They obtained gunpowder illegal in exchange for plundered cattle. The Bergenaars' stronghold was in the region of the confluence of the Vaal and the Harts Rivers, but they roamed far and wide.
Tension grew between the Bergenaars and Andries Waterboer, the Griqua clergyman in charge of Griquatown. There were several skirmishes between them. In July 1826, the Bergenaars surrounded Griquatown, and set fire to all the houses that fell into their hands. The Griqua defended their town ferociously, against overwhelming odds. But the Bergenaars' ammunition was running out, and withdrew to their positions outside the town. The next day, the Bergenaars executed all their male prisoners, and withdrew with thousands of cattle and sheep. The residents of Griquatown were left destitute.
Soon the Bergenaars split into many factions, and raided in different directions. Jan Bloem was sowing destruction among the Tswana tribes, particularly the BaTlhaping and the BaTlharo. In 1828, the Bergenaars besieged Kuruman, to seize Rev Moffat's stock of ammunition. Moffat appealed to Waterboer for help, but Waterboer was in no position to assist, as they were also expecting to be attacked any day.
After a few days of inconclusive stand-off, the attack eventually came.
But then the town was miraculously saved by a great elephant hunter, called Joseph Arend. He had been a runaway slave in the Sneeuberg, and had established a base for himself near Kuruman. As a successful hunter, he soon acquired a band of followers, and had sent enough ivory to Cape Town to buy his freedom. During the siege of Kuruman in 1828, Arend and his armed men arrived on the scene. They charged the Bergenaars, who fled. This defeat virtually spelled the end of the Bergenaars, who had lost many of their cattle to sickness or Bushmen raids. Many starved to death, and some threw themselves on the mercy of Waterboer at Griquatown.
Jan Bloem and his sons continued to live near the Harts River, continually raiding even among the Ndebeles of the formidable Chief Mizilikazi. He was a man without fear and an excellent shot, and the he remained a thorn in Mzilikazi's flesh. In 1837, he joined the Boers under Andries Potgieter and Gert Maritz in the campaign that finally drove Mzilikazi out of the country and into the present-day Zimbabwe.