show exhibition

Dates: 29 Jan 2011 - 19 Feb 2011

1Cobus van Bosch (1962 - )

Johans Borman Fine Art Gallery

Address: In-Fin-Art Building, Upper Buitengracht Street, Cape Town.

Description: This series of paintings is part of an ongoing project aimed at the recognition of “forgotten” and lesser-known, but important, historical figures and episodes in the southern African socio-political past.

The images form a series of painted portraits of some of the prominent captains and leaders of the Griqua, the Orlam groups such as the original Afrikaners, and other mixed race and Nama groups of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. It includes the renowned freedom fighter, Hendrik Witbooi, the Griqua leaders; Nicolaas Waterboer, Adam Kok III and AAS le Fleur, as well as the last Afrikaner captain, Jan Jonker Afrikaner.

The arrival of European settlers in the mid 1600’s at the Cape led to the birth and formation of people and groups of mixed racial and cultural origin. The ancestors of these people were a mixture of Europeans, slaves from other parts of the world and the Khoisan and Nguni groups of southern Africa.

During the 18th century many of these people, then known as “bastards” or “Afrikaners”, formed groups and, to escape colonial rule, trekked into the African interior, mainly the Northern Cape and further north, as well as other parts of southern Africa. Amongst the livestock farmers who were the main component of such groups were also adventurers, outcasts of society, fugitive criminals, army and navy deserters and, of course, runaway slaves. The best known of these groups is the Griqua, initially known as “bastards” but who changed their name to the Khoi word Griqua in the early 19th century.

Other groups from the Cape, of whom many had strong Khoi roots, moved to the interior and settled in the Northern Cape and the south of what is now known as Namibia. Also known as Orlams, they played a prominent and often dominant role in these territories for many years.

These groups led a rough pioneering lifestyle, and while the Cape colonial authorities were waging war against the Xhosa in the Eastern Cape, prominent groups such as the Orlam Afrikaners and Griqua governed large territories in South Africa and Namibia. But it was the colonizing of Namibia (by Germany), the discovery of diamonds in Griqua and Nama territories, and land-hungry white farmers from the Cape Colony that led to the suppression and weakening of the Griqua, Orlam and Nama groups. Most of these groups still exist today but are largely stripped of political and economic power.

Based on often rare, monotone photographic documentation from libraries and other archives, these portraits are in the format of large, full-colour close-ups of the faces of Nama, Orlam and Griqua leaders, generally known as “captains”. Their fearless and defiant gazes enforce their statuses as respected and often feared leaders, their weather-beaten faces echoing the rough and “untamed” semi-desert territories over which they ruled for so many years.

Although many of these leaders and their people are today part of the history of Namibia, rather than that of South Africa, many founding leaders and later captains of well known groups such as the Afrikaners, Witboois, Lamberts and the Rehoboth Basters of Namibia were born in South Africa (Cape, Boland and Karoo). These leaders and their followers were practically exiles who moved out of the Cape Colony in search of greater freedom. But in time German colonialism, and later South African rule, caught up with them, and their struggle and war against oppression was in opposition to similar enemies as those of their comrades in South Africa.

The prominent role played by many of the “bastard” tribes in the early modern history of southern Africa always was, and still is, inadequately reflected upon in the official written and visual narratives of our past. These portraits serve not only as works of art in their own right, but also as a contribution to a more representative historical documentation of the southern African past.