By the dawn of the nineteenth century, the Napoleonic wars caused control over Cape Colony to shift from the Dutch to the British. Eager to exploit the colony's strategic location, Britain quickly dispatched five thousand settlers to the Cape to bolster their ownership claims. The Boer population viewed these arrivals with some alarm. In addition to being forced to adopt a new language, customs, and legal system, the largely pastoralist Boer population was suspicious of the British settlers' predominantly urban background. The biggest source of tension between the two settler groups was, however, their different approaches to native relations.
The Boers had long held the view that Africans were not only inferior, but were ordained by God to serve South Africa's white population as poorly paid manual laborers. As allegedly inferior competitors for pasture land and cattle stocks, Africans were also subject to repeated Boer seizures of their land and livestock. While the British were tainted by their own racism and belief in social Darwinism, they were uncomfortable with the naked exploitation of the African masses perpetuated by the Boers and worried that it might erupt into racial violence. These fears became particularly apparent when the migrating Boers came into contact with the fierce and expanding Xhosa and Zulu peoples.
British attempts to legislate better treatment for Africans in the 1830s and 1840s infuriated the resident Boer community and unleashed the Great Trek in which some ten thousand Boers gathered their belongings and migrated into the interior of the African veld in search of pasture land. After taking up residence in Natal, the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State, the Boer migrants declared these areas independent republics. While Boer expansion and independence ran contrary to British aims for the development of the colony, official responses repeatedly vacillated between accommodation and demands for immediate annexation of the self-styled republics. In particular, the British demonstrated their conciliatory attitude toward the Boers when the Boers' chronic demand for land and labor provoked the indigenous peoples into further armed insurrections. Fearful that the resultant conflicts might spread and engulf the entire tip of southern Africa, the British repeatedly stepped in militarily to aid their fellow Europeans. For their trouble, the British met with renewed colonial expansion by the Boers, who fled even deeper into the African interior.
While the Boers were moving inland during the Great Trek, the Cape itself was becoming increasingly prosperous, urbanized, and populous. As in other settlement colonies, rising prosperity led to the creation of local self-government and desires for social respectability. This in turn helped give rise to the position termed Cape liberalism, which sought to educate and gradually integrate Africans into colonial society. This provided a stark contrast to the treatment that Africans received in Boer-controlled areas, where they were second-class citizens with no prospect of ever acquiring the right to vote or to hold political power.
Worse still, in Boer-run areas, Africans continued to be treated as a labor force to be exploited and stripped of its land. Clear though these goals were, the relatively low density of the resident African population resulted in chronic labor shortages that were only partly relieved by importing indentured servants from India. This naturally served to further complicate the racial landscape by adding a new ''colored'' group to the mix. . .
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