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Piet Retief

Piet Retief

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Pieter Mauritz Retief was a South African Boer
Afrikaner
Afrikaners are an ethnic group in Southern Africa descended from almost equal numbers of Dutch, French and German settlers whose native tongue is Afrikaans: a Germanic language which derives primarily from 17th century Dutch, and a variety of other languages.-Related ethno-linguistic groups:The...

 leader. Settling in 1814 in the frontier region of the Cape Colony
Cape Colony
The Cape Colony, part of modern South Africa, was established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, with the founding of Cape Town. It was subsequently occupied by the British in 1795 when the Netherlands were occupied by revolutionary France, so that the French revolutionaries could not take...

, he assumed command of punitive expeditions
Commando
In English, the term commando means a specific kind of individual soldier or military unit. In contemporary usage, commando usually means elite light infantry and/or special operations forces units, specializing in amphibious landings, parachuting, rappelling and similar techniques, to conduct and...

 in response to raiding parties from the adjacent Xhosa territory. He became a spokesperson for the frontier farmers who voiced their discontent, and wrote the Voortrekkers' declaration at their departure from the colony.

He was as a leading figure during their Great Trek
Great Trek
The Great Trek was an eastward and north-eastward migration away from British control in the Cape Colony during the 1830s and 1840s by Boers . The migrants were descended from settlers from western mainland Europe, most notably from the Netherlands, northwest Germany and French Huguenots...

, and at one stage their elected governor. He proposed Natal as the final destination of their migration and selected a location for its future capital, later named Pietermaritzburg
Pietermaritzburg
Pietermaritzburg is the capital and second largest city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It was founded in 1838, and is currently governed by the Msunduzi Local Municipality. Its "purist" Zulu name is umGungundlovu, and this is the name used for the district municipality...

. Following the massacre of Retief and his delegation by Zulu king Dingane, the short-lived Boer republic Natalia
Natalia Republic
The Natalia Republic was a short-lived Boer republic, established in 1839 by local Afrikaans-speaking Voortrekkers shortly after the Battle of Blood River. The republic was located on the coast of the Indian Ocean beyond the Eastern Cape, and was previously named Natalia by Portuguese sailors. The...

 suffered from ineffective government and succumbed to British annexation.

Early life


Retief was born to Jacobus and Debora Retief in the Wagenmakersvallei, Cape Colony, today the town of Wellington
Wellington, Western Cape
Wellington is a town in the Western Cape Winelands 45 minutes from Cape Town, in South Africa with a population of approximately 58,300. Wellington's economy is centered around agriculture such as wine, table grapes, citrus fruit and a brandy industry. The town is located 75 km north-east of...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. His family were Boer
Boer
Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmer, which came to denote the descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th century, as well as those who left the Cape Colony during the 19th century to settle in the Orange Free State,...

s of French Huguenot
Huguenot
The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the 17th century, people who formerly would have been called Huguenots have instead simply been called French Protestants, a title suggested by their German co-religionists, the...

 ancestry: his great-grandfather was the 1689 Huguenot refugee François Retif, from Mer, Loir-et-Cher
Mer, Loir-et-Cher
Mer is a commune in the Loir-et-Cher department of central France.-External links:*...

 near Blois
Blois
Blois is the capital of Loir-et-Cher department in central France, situated on the banks of the lower river Loire between Orléans and Tours.-History:...

; the progenitor of the name in South Africa. Retief grew up on the ancestral vineyard Welvanpas, where he worked until the age of 27.

After moving to the vicinity of Grahamstown
Grahamstown
Grahamstown is a city in the Eastern Cape Province of the Republic of South Africa and is the seat of the Makana municipality. The population of greater Grahamstown, as of 2003, was 124,758. The population of the surrounding areas, including the actual city was 41,799 of which 77.4% were black,...

, Retief, like other Boers, acquired wealth through livestock, but suffered repeated losses from Xhosa raids in the period. These prompted the 6th Cape Frontier War. (Retief had a history of financial trouble. On more than one occasion, he lost money and other possessions, mainly through gambling and land speculation. He is reported to have gone bankrupt at least twice, while at the colony and on the frontier.) Such losses impelled many frontier farmers to become Voortrekkers
Voortrekkers
The Voortrekkers were emigrants during the 1830s and 1840s who left the Cape Colony moving into the interior of what is now South Africa...

 (literally, "those who move forward") and to migrate to new lands in the north.

Retief wrote their manifesto
Manifesto
A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature. Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds. Manifestos may also be life stance-related.-Etymology:...

, dated 22 January 1837, setting out their long-held grievances against the British government. They believed it had offered them no protection against raids by the native blacks, no redress, and by the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 freed their slaves. The compensation offered to owners hardly amounted to a quarter of the slaves' market value. Retief's manifesto was published in the Grahamstown Journal on 2 February and De Zuid-Afrikaan on 17 February, just as the emigrant Boers started to leave their homesteads.

Great Trek


Retief's household departed in two wagons from his farm in the Winterberg District in early February 1837 and joined a party of 30 other wagons. The pioneers crossed the Orange River
Orange River
The Orange River , Gariep River, Groote River or Senqu River is the longest river in South Africa. It rises in the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho, flowing westwards through South Africa to the Atlantic Ocean...

 into independent territory. When several parties on the Great Trek
Great Trek
The Great Trek was an eastward and north-eastward migration away from British control in the Cape Colony during the 1830s and 1840s by Boers . The migrants were descended from settlers from western mainland Europe, most notably from the Netherlands, northwest Germany and French Huguenots...

 converged at the Vet River, Retief was elected "Governor of the United Laagers" and head of "The Free Province of New Holland in South East Africa." This coalition was very short-lived, and Retief became the lone leader of the group moving east.

On 5 October 1837 Retief established a camp of 54 wagons at Kerkenberg near the Drakensberg
Drakensberg
The Drakensberg is the highest mountain range in Southern Africa, rising to in height. In Zulu, it is referred to as uKhahlamba , and in Sesotho as Maluti...

 ridge. He proceeded on horseback the next day, accompanied by fourteen men with four wagons, to explore the region between the Drakensberg and Port Natal
Durban
Durban is the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city in South Africa. It forms part of the eThekwini metropolitan municipality. Durban is famous for being the busiest port in South Africa. It is also seen as one of the major centres of tourism...

, now known as kwaZulu Natal. He returned a message to the camp on 2 November, announcing to laager that they may enter Natal.

Due to his favourable impression of the region, Retief started negotiations for land with the Zulu king Dingane kaSenzangakhona (known as Dingane) in November 1837. After Retief led his band over the Drakensberg Mountains, he convinced Voortrekker leaders Gerrit Maritz
Gerrit Maritz
Gert Maritz was a Voortrekker pioneer and leader.-See also:*Graaff-Reinet: Gerrit Maritz, Great Trek Leader after whom Pietermaritzburg was partly named was a wagon-maker in the town....

 and Andries Hendrik Potgieter
Andries Hendrik Potgieter
Andries Hendrik Potgieter, known as Hendrik Potgieter was a Voortrekker leader. He served as the first head of state of Potchefstroom from 1840 and 1845 and also as the first head of state of Zoutpansberg from 1845 to 1852.Potgieter was born in the Tarkastad district of the Cape Colony, the second...

 to join him in January 1838.

On Retief's second visit to Dingane, the Zulu agreed to Boer settlement in Natal, provided that the Boer delegation recover cattle stolen by the rival Tlokwa
Batlokoa
The term Batlokwa refers to several Sotho-Tswana communities that reside in Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa, comprising both the followings of Tlokwa chiefs and more particularly members of clans identified as Tlokwa, or to individuals who identify themselves as of Tlokwa descent. Members of...

 nation. This the Boers did, their reputation and rifles cowing the people into handing over some 7,000 head of cattle.

Death


Despite warnings, Retief left the Tugela
Tugela River
The Tugela River is the largest river in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. The river originates in the Drakensberg Mountains, Mont-aux-Sources, and plunges 947 metres down the Tugela Falls...

 region on 28 January 1838, in the belief that he could negotiate with Dingane for permanent boundaries for the Natal settlement. The deed of cession of the Tugela
Tugela River
The Tugela River is the largest river in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. The river originates in the Drakensberg Mountains, Mont-aux-Sources, and plunges 947 metres down the Tugela Falls...

-Umzimvubu region, although dated 4 February 1838, was signed by Dingane on 6 February 1838, with the two sides recording three witnesses each. Dingane invited Retief's party to witness a special performance by his soldiers, whereupon Dingane ordered his soldiers to capture Retief's party and their coloured
Cape Coloureds
The Cape Coloureds form a minority group within South Africa, however they are the predominant population group in the Western Cape. They are generally bilingual, however subsets within the group can be exclusively Afrikaans speakers, whereas others primarily speak English...

 servants.

Retief, his son, men, and servants, about 100 people in total, were taken to kwaMatiwane Hill, a site where Dingane had thousands of other enemies executed. The Zulus killed the entire party by clubbing them and killed Retief last, so as to witness the deaths of his comrades. Their bodies were left on the hillside to be eaten by wild animals, as was Dingane's custom with his enemies. Dingane then directed the attack against the Voortrekker laagers
Weenen massacre
The Weenen Massacre was the massacre of Voortrekkers by the Zulu on 17 February 1838. After the murder of Piet Retief and his delegation, the Zulu chief Dingane sent his impis to exterminate the remaining voortrekkers who were camped at Doringkop, Bloukrans The Weenen Massacre was the massacre of...

, which plunged the migrant movement into temporary disarray.

Following the decisive Voortrekker victory at Blood River
Battle of Blood River
The Battle of Blood River, so called due to the colour of water in the Ncome River turning red with blood, was fought between 470 Voortrekkers led by Andries Pretorius, and an estimated 10,000–15,000 Zulu attackers on the bank of the Ncome River on 16 December 1838, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal,...

, Andries Pretorius
Andries Pretorius
Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius was a leader of the Boers who was instrumental in the creation of the Transvaal Republic, as well as the earlier but short-lived Natalia Republic, in present-day South Africa....

 and his "victory commando" recovered the remains of the Retief party. They buried them on 21 December 1838.

Also recovered was the undamaged deed of cession from Retief's leather purse, as later verified by a member of the "victory commando", E.F. Potgieter. An exact copy survives, but the original deed disappeared in transit to the Netherlands during the Anglo-Boer War. The site of the Retief grave was more or less forgotten until pointed out in 1896 by J.H. Hattingh, a surviving member of Pretorius's commando. A monument recording the names of the members of Retief's delegation was erected near the grave in 1922.

Legacy


The town of Piet Retief was named after him as was (partially) the city of Pietermaritzburg
Pietermaritzburg
Pietermaritzburg is the capital and second largest city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It was founded in 1838, and is currently governed by the Msunduzi Local Municipality. Its "purist" Zulu name is umGungundlovu, and this is the name used for the district municipality...

. (The "Maritz" part being named after Gerrit Maritz
Gerrit Maritz
Gert Maritz was a Voortrekker pioneer and leader.-See also:*Graaff-Reinet: Gerrit Maritz, Great Trek Leader after whom Pietermaritzburg was partly named was a wagon-maker in the town....

, another Voortrekker leader.)

External links


See also

  • Andries Pretorius
    Andries Pretorius
    Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius was a leader of the Boers who was instrumental in the creation of the Transvaal Republic, as well as the earlier but short-lived Natalia Republic, in present-day South Africa....

  • Natalia Republic
    Natalia Republic
    The Natalia Republic was a short-lived Boer republic, established in 1839 by local Afrikaans-speaking Voortrekkers shortly after the Battle of Blood River. The republic was located on the coast of the Indian Ocean beyond the Eastern Cape, and was previously named Natalia by Portuguese sailors. The...