Baviaanskloof, in the heart of the Kouga Mountains, has always been immersed in mystery and good stories. Here, in 1799, the Khoi Chief, Klaas Stuurman, offered refuge to “drosters”, escaped slaves and other fugitives and took up the cause of those forced into “apprenticeship”, badly treated and poorly paid. In time, a group of Khoi and men of mixed ancestry, loosely formed themselves into “The Gamtoos Nation”. They raised an “army” and caused havoc invading and robbing farms. Within three years they were sending raiding parties as far afield as Plettenberg Bay. Then, in August, 1802, in an effort to regain Khoi independence, Stuurman led 700 men, including 300 horsemen and 150 with firearms, against Uniondale field cornet, Tjaart van der Walt. During a skirmish between the Baviaans and Kouga Rivers on August 8, a stray bullet hit Van der Walt and killed him. He was buried where he fell. In an effort to establish peace, Governor Francis Dundas granted land to Stuurman and his men. A brief truce followed during which the renegades even returned some stolen cattle, states Liesl Hattingh in Baviaanskloof – A World Apart. However, in 1809, after Klaas Stuurman was killed in a hunting accident, Uitenhage Magistrate, Jacob Cuyler, rescinded the land grant and unrest flared up again. In 1949 Tjaart van der Walt’s remains were exhumed and reinterred at the Goode Hoop Church. Van der Walt, who was born in the Sutherland, played an important role in Baviaanskloof area. His death was a heavy loss because everyone had hoped his steadfast character, high sense of duty, tact, courage and ability, would bring peace to the area.
After Klaas Stuurman’s death and the rescinding of the land grant, Chief David Stuurman took up the cause of resistance in Baviaanskloof area. Like his father, he offered sanctuary to rebels and runaways, says Prof Nigel Worden in an article in the Cape Times in October, 2008. The Xhosas also became his allies. He was arrested twice (in 1809 and in 1819) and sent to Robben Island prison. Both times he escaped and returned to the area to play a pivotal role in the Frontier Wars. The authorities arrested him again in 1823 and decided to banish him. He was the first black South African banished to New South Wales in Australia.
Two other struggles ran parallel to the Khoi struggle for freedom. One was the drive to abolish slavery and the other was the struggle for press freedom and freedom of expression. Thomas Pringle, a major role player in both, led an unsuccessful campaign for the release and repatriation of David Stuurman. The London Mission Society later bought the Stuurman lands and established the Hankey Mission Station there.
© Rose’s Roundup, June 2012 (No 221)
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