One of the many longterm projects that I have been working on is the decoding and publishing of the Voortrekkers records of the Republic of Natalia.
With the substantial assistance of Emile Picard from the Netherlands, we have managed to decipher Volume One of the S.G.O records in the KwaZulu-Natal Archives. A mammoth task that has consumed many hundreds of hours over the past three years. The original Dutch "long hand" made it extremely difficult to decipher. 70% of the project has been completed so far with only two sets of records still remaining. We are hoping to publish our findings in the next 18 months via a limited edition book, consisting of two-volumes of about 1000 pages each. Only 50 units will be printed in the first edition and will be made available on a pre-order basis.
The records consist of "correspondence & miscellaneous, Sale of farms, land disputes, inspection reports, field cornets, list of registered farms, certificated of farms, title deeds, acten van transport, transfers of town erven, sale of erven and erven at port natal which have been disposed of " from the Republic of Natalia (1837-1845).
They provide valuable insight into the processes used by the Voortrekkers to establish their freestanding Republic of Natalia away from British rule in the Cape. Also noticeably captured in these records is the tension with the Zulu Nation.
This project originated from challenges in searching for primary resources what were not available in published works, that could supplement research on the land issue. After locating the Voortrekker S.G.O records in the Archives, I was frustrated with the difficultly in reading them. The High Dutch and longhand script proved immensely difficult to decipher. I was also astonished to find out that these records were rarely referred to in academic research. This was probably due to the same reasons that I encountered. Reading through some of the records with great difficulty, I became more assured that they may contain fresh insights into the geopolitical situation in early Natal. Utilising primary resources in my research would also greatly contribute in contextualising some of the old misleading narratives. In some cases, I have found that errors creep into the narrative if research is only based on published secondary sources. History books will always contain some trace elements of the author's personal views imbedded in the historical facts. One reason for this is that so much of our country’s history only has source material from the settler or “colonial” perspective. Although these published records are 100% derived from the Boer Trekkers perspective, they provide us with a small piece of the “unaltered” puzzle that can be used to make sense of the land debate. During the past two centuries, much has been written about the Voortrekkers and their arrival in Natal. Less has been written on the land that the Voortrekkers found, claimed and divided amongst themselves. It must be remembered that this was done in a period of exploration where treaties were signed via negotiations. Conquest of the land and people were also the norm amongst both the Voortrekkers and Zulu Chiefdom during the early 1800s.
I just want to thank Emile Picard again for all his hard labour in helping to preserve a portion of South Africa's rich history.
Reinhardt Hartzenberg - 20 April 2020