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Firearms in Southern Africa: A survey1

  • Shula Marks (a1) and Anthony Atmore (a2)

The relationships of the peoples of southern Africa after the establishment and expansion of the white settlement in the mid-seventeenth century can be seen in terms of both conflict and interdependence, both resistance and collaboration. The conflict often split over into warfare, not only between black and white, but also within both groups. As time passed, firearms came to be used by ever-widening circles of the combatants, often as much the result of the increased collaboration and interdependence between peoples as of the increased conflict. As Inez Sutton has pointed out, ‘in contrast to most of the rest of [sub-Saharan] Africa, the presence of a settler population ensured that the supply of arms was the most modern rather than the most obsolete’, and on the whole non-whites were acutely aware of changes in the manufacture of firearms in the nineteenth century.

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2 Sutton I., ‘Trade, Firearms and the Rise of the Griqua States C. 1800–1840’, unpublished seminar paper, University of Dar Es Salaam, 1970. We are grateful to Mrs Sutton for allowing us to make use of this paper.

3 See below, pp. 531–3.

4 For the use of this term and an elaboration of the responses of the Khoisan to the Dutch, see S. Marks, ‘Khoisan Resistance to the Dutch in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’, forthcoming.

5 Moodie D., The Record or a series of official papers relating to the condition.… of the native tribes of South Africa (Amsterdam and Cape Town, 1960), Journal 29 05 1659 and 22 06 1659, and Van Riebeeck to Chamber of Seventeen 26 03. 1660.

6 The Record, Journal, 1 05 1659.

7 Ibid. Van Riebeeck to Chamber of Seventeen, 16 Feb. 1660 and 4 May 1660, and to Batavia 7 July 1659.

8 Ibid. Journal 25 Mar. 1673.

9 V.C.8 (Verbatim copies; Cape Archives), 329, 344, Journal 24 Sept. 1677 and 12 Oct. 1677.

10 Jeifreys M. K. (ed.) Kaapse Plakkaatboek I (Cape Town, 1944), 242–3, 24 09. 1677/ 15 10 1677.

11 Leibrandt Manuscript Precis of Cape Archives, L.M. II. Gov. to landdrost, 3 July, 1690.

12 See S. Marks ‘Khoisan Resistance’….

13 C31. Council of Policy, Resolutions, Cape Archives 163–203, Report of J. Cruywagen of Commando against ‘Bosjesman-Hottentotten’, 28 May 1739.

14 van der Merwe P. J.Die Noordwaartse Beweging van die Boere voor die Groot Trek (1770–1842) (The Hague, 1937) cc. I and II.

15 C.O. 107 no. 58898. Lanyon O. to Barry , 28 05 1878, cited in I. Sutton ‘Trade, Firearms and the Rise of the Griqua States’.

16 See Atmore , Chirenje and Mudenge, ‘Firearms in South Central Africa’ below, pp. 545–56.

17 Cory Library (Grahamstown) MSS. 1110, J. Ayliff: ‘Traditions concerning the Shakan Wars’.

18 Jonker was the son of Jager Afrikaner, a Khoi farm servant who had fled with a number of armed followers beyond the confines of the colony after killing his white master. He set up a cattle-raiding band of Khoisan resisters in ‘Bushmanland’, but in 1815 was converted to Christianity and was ultimately pardoned by the British Governor of the Cape. He is said to have acquired some of his guns while in government service against the ‘Bushmen’.

19 Vedder H., South West Africa in Early Times (Cass, 1966), 177, 180–2, 210–11, 260–70.

20 Vedder H., South West Africa, e.g. 252.

21 Ibid. 230–1.

22 Palgrave W. C.: His Mission to Damaraland and Great Namaqualand in 1876 (Cape Town, 1877), 22.

23 Vedder H., South West Africa, 466–7.

24 Die Dagboek van Hendrik Witbooi (Vari Riebeeck Society, 1929), I356, cited by Wellington J. H., South West Africa and its Human Issues (Oxford, 1967), 178.

25 Wellington J. H., South West Afrwa and its Human issues, 206, 210–11.

26 Out of a total population of c. 60,000–80,000, there were only some i 6,000 Herero survivors; the Nama lost between 35 and 50 per cent of their people. Bley H., South West Africa under German Rule (London, 1971), 150–1. This was probably the most catastrophic single war fought against an African people in colonial times, not only because of the casualties of the war itself, but also because of German policy during and immediately after the war.

27 For a penetrating analysis of the ineffectiveness of the Commando system in the late eighteenth century see Marais J. S.,Maynier and the First Boer Republic (Cape Town, 1944).

28 Ibid. 105–8.

29 British Parliamentary Papers, Select Committee on Kaffir Tribes, 316.

30 Ibid. 318.

31 Ibid. 219.

32 Ibid. 75, Fairbairn was talking of the war which broke out in 1850 and lasted until 1853.

33 Cory MSS. 15, 545: Thackwray J. to Ayliff J., 3 12.1849,Port lizabeth Mercury, 15 05 1852,‘Trade in Guns’, Cape Frontier Times, 2 03. 1851. C.O. 48/353: Committee on Frontier Defence, Evid. Bowker T. H., 11 08. 1854. C.O. 48/360: House of Assembly (Cape) Hearings, 855, 36, 41. Evid. R. Godlonton. C.S.D. II: Cape of Good Hope Votes and Proceedings, 1854. Testimony, Wm. Stanton, Jr., 21, no. 11. These citations as well as our conclusions have been drawn from a short unpublished paper and notes, especially prepared by Mr Richard Moyer, who is currently engaged in research on the history of the Mfengu in the nineteenth century, and we wish to thank him.

34 Goodfellow C. F., Great Britain and the South African Confederation (1870–1881) (Cape Town, 1966), 113.

35 See Atmore, Chirenje and Mudenge below, and Goodfellow C. F., Confederation, 45, 153, 155.

36 Various laws restricting the supply of arms and ammunition and providing for the registration of guns had been passed in Natal from 1859 onwards. The last of these was Act no. x of 1906 which made the permission of the Secretary for Native Affairs necessary before Africans could have guns. Chiefs with registered guns were allowed 2 lb. gunpowder and 200 rounds of ammunition, while ordinary Africans were permitted 1―2 lb. and 50 rounds. See Marks S., Reluctant Rebellion (Oxford, 1970), 186.

37 Morris D. R., The Washing of the Spears, 216.

38 Morris D. R., The Washing of the Spears 218, 272, 306–8;

39 Marks S., Reluctant Rebellion, 113.

40 The exceptions are the Ndebele who became less successful from the 1860s and 1870s once the Shona and Tswana acquired firearms. See Atmore, Chirenje and Mudenge below.

41 Below, pp. 557–70 and 545–56 respectively.

42 Wheeler D., ‘Gungunhana’ in Bennett N. R., Leadership in Eastern Africa (Boston, 1968), 184, 191, 195–6, 207–8.

43 We are extremely grateful to Philip Bonner for a short unpublished paper on Firearms in Swaziland, which we have drawn on heavily in this section. All the references cited have been supplied by Mr Bonner.

44 Preller G. S., Dagboek van Louis Trichardt (Bloemfontein, 1917), 359;Miller A., MSS. ‘History of Swaziland’ (Killie Campbell Library, Durban), 11; W. Wood, ‘Statements concerning Dingane’.

45 Bonner P., ‘Firearms in Swaziland’, 23.

46 Ibid. 5. Bonner also shows how Mswati tried to keep firearms a royal monopoly, lest they be used in rebellion against him.

47 Mönig H. O., The Pedi (Pretoria, 1967), 25–7.Smith K. W., ‘The fall of the Bapedi of the North-Eastern Transvaal’, J. Afr. Hist. x, no. 2 (1969), 237–52.

48 Beach D., ‘The Rising in South-Western Mashonaland, 1896–7’, University of London, Ph.D. thesis, 1971.

49 Below, pp. 571–77.

50 An obvious starting point would be such publications as the Royal United Institute Journal for the nature of British armaments, and the Journal of Hut, of Firearms in South Africa, Africana Notes and News and Tylden's G.The Armed Forces of South Africa (Johannesburg, 1954) for the colonial forces.

51 Here the sources are vast.

52 See Bonner P., ‘African Participation in the South African War’, unpublished M.A., London, 1966.

1 The short series of articles which are referred to and follow this introduction, like the West African series which appeared in the J. Afr. Hist. xii, no. 2(1971), were first presented to the African History Seminar at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University, in 1968–9.

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