Epilogue— The Thirstland Trekkers
From The Great Trek by Oliver Ransford (1968)

The Afrikaners remained gripped by the trekgees even after the successful completion of the Great Trek.

In 1857 that innate restlessness drove ten Afrikaner families with fourteen wagons and 1,400 head of cattle to trek from the Transvaal through the Kalahari desert into the present-day South West Africa. One member of the party was an eighty-two-year-old Voortrekker named Johannes van der Merwe.

The expedition crossed the Kalahari—the thirstland of the Afrikaners—and established itself for the time being at Rietfontein just where the South West African border makes one of its dramatic right-angled bends, and the existence of a perennial stream allowed the growing of crops. When one of the trekkers was asked why he had emigrated he replied (with an unwitting definition of the trekgees) by saying that `a drifting spirit was in our hearts, and we ourselves could not understand it. We just sold our farms and set out north-westwards to find a new home.'

The success of the Rietfontein venture encouraged another and much larger party to join the original thirstland trekkers: 500 men, women and children followed in their tracks with 128 wagons, 7,000 cattle, 500 horses, 1,000 sheep and (a surprising number) 200 dogs. But whereas the smaller caravan had crossed the Kalahari without undue loss the desert was unrelenting to larger numbers. Most of the stock died from thirst, the trekkers themselves were reduced to drinking sheep's blood and the contents of dead cows' stomachs, and it was a very ragged expedition which eventually staggered into Rietfontein.

The trekgees presently again impelled these Afrikaners to seek new land in the Okavango swamps of modern Botswana. Here there was water in plenty but also tsetse fly and mosquitoes. During the next few months about half of the trekkers died from malaria and what remained of the stock perished from nagana.

Under a new leader the community now moved westwards to the Etosha Pan, and from here organised a Comissie Trek to reconnoitre the Kaokoveld lying to the west. Healthy country was discovered at Kaoka Otair and Otjitundua, and here the emigrants lived for several years. But again Pharaoh was on the march: the English appeared to be about to annex the Kaokoveld, and to escape them the trekkers loaded their wagons again, crossed the Kunene river into Angola, sought assistance from the Portuguese authorities, and settled down on the fertile Humpata plateau about 100 miles inland from Mossamedes.

By now the thirstland trekkers had travelled nearly twice as far from their starting place as the Voortrekkers of 1838, but here in the magnificent Humpata country they believed they had found their new Canaan, and here they remained for fifty years as an Afrikaner enclave in Angola. The community was reinforced in 1893 and again in 1905 by new trekkers and eventually numbered 2,000. But there was friction with the Portuguese who pressed Catholicism on these brimstone Calvinists and insisted that their children attend government schools. All this led to fears that the emigrants' Afrikaner heritage would be lost. The trekgees too was still alive, and after 1928 nearly the entire community left Humpata with their wagons, Bibles, riempie furniture and guns. With help from the South African Government they settled in the Outjo district of South West Africa. There their descendants live today in such prosperity that at last the trekgees appears to be dormant.

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