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This page is about South Africa's Great Trek. See Trek (disambiguation) for alternate uses.

In South African history, the Great Trek was an eastward and north-eastward migration of the Afrikaners (also called Boers), descendants primarily of immigrants from western mainland Europe. It began in 1835 as an attempt to escape the recently imposed British rule, its Anglicisation policies and the constant border wars, as well as to ease pressure on an overcrowding frontier where land was becoming scarce.

The semi-nomadic/migrating farmers of the eastern frontier were known as Trekboers. Those who lived in the western Cape and did not trek eastward were known as the Cape Dutch. The isolated pioneers from the eastern Cape frontier who trekked / migrated into the interior en masse in a series of migrations later known as the Great Trek were known as Voortrekkers. A small number of Voortrekkers came from the western Cape as well.

In the 1830s and 1840s an estimated 12,000 Voortrekkers penetrated the future Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal provinces to put themselves beyond the reach of British authority, in order to escape relentless border wars, British colonialism and its Anglicization polices, as well as to ease pressure on an overcrowding frontier where land was becoming scarce. While some historians claim that this series of migrations, later known as the Great Trek, was caused because the Boers did not agree with the British restrictions on slavery, most Trekboers did not own slaves, unlike the Cape Dutch, their more affluent cousins in the western Cape who did not trek eastward and migrate or participate in the Great Trek. The vast majority of Voortrekkers were Trekboers from the eastern Cape who engaged in pastoralism. Nevertheless, the British promulgation of Ordinance 50 in 1828, which guaranteed equal rights before the law to all "free persons of color", was indeed a factor in Boer discontent, as is well documented by numerous contemporary sources; the various republics founded by the Voortrekkers while prohibiting slavery itself would all enshrine inequality by race into their constitutions.

The Great Trek was mainly the result of the "bursting of the dam" of pent up population migration and population pressures, as Trekboer migrations eastward had come to a virtual stop for at least three decades (though some Trekboers did migrate beyond the Orange River prior to the Great Trek). During the Great Trek they fought with the Zulus (after Voortrekker leaders Piet Retief and Gerhard Maritz, along with almost half of their followers, were killed by King Dingane and his warriors after a cultural misunderstanding over a land treaty), who occupied the best land in some of the areas the Boers were attempting to trek into. Although in revenge the forces of Andries Pretorius killed about 3,000 Zulus in the Battle of Blood River in a classic mismatch between guns and spears, Zulu resistance changed the direction of the Trek. The emphasis moved from occupying from the Zulu lands east of the Drakensberg mountains to the west of them and onto the high Transvaal which was occupied by peoples devastated by the Mfecane.

The Boers established independent states in what is now South Africa: the Natalia Republic, the Transvaal Republic (the South African Republic) and the Orange Free State.

Further reading

The Great Trek by John Tiffany (ßer Treck fr:Grand Trek nl:Grote Trek


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