360 years since the arrival of the Dutch at the Cape: portraying Krotoa

On 6 April 1652, Jan van Riebeeck, a commander in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) sailed into Table Bay with his fleet of two ships, the Drommedaris and the Reijger and the yacht Goede Hoop. Van Riebeeck was sent to the Cape from Amsterdam to establish a halfway station that could supply passing ships with fresh food and wine. A young Khoikhoi girl named Krotoa, also knows as Eva to the Dutch, who worked in the Van Riebeeck household, became an important figure in South Africa’s history.

To mark 360 years since the arrival of the Dutch at the Cape and to acknowledge the role played by Krotoa, the South African Post Office will issue a miniature sheet with one stamp and a souvenir folder on 6 September.

The Dutch
The VOC, one of the major European trading houses sailing the spice route to the East via the Cape of Good Hope, had no intention of colonising the southern tip of Africa, instead wanting only to establish a secure base camp where passing ships could shelter, and where sailors could stock up on fresh supplies of meat, fruit, and vegetables.

While the new settlement traded out of necessity with the neighbouring Khoikhoi, it was not a friendly relationship, and the company authorities made deliberate attempts to restrict contact. This prevented them from employing Khoikhoi, which resulted in a shortage of labour. To remedy the situation, the company released a small number of Dutch from their contracts and permitted them to establish farms, with which they would supply the VOC settlement from their harvests. They produced supplies of vegetables, wheat and fruit, especially citrus to prevent scurvy, and later also raised livestock.

The small initial group of free burghers, as these farmers were known, steadily increased in number and began to expand their farms further north and east into the territory of the Khoikhoi. Over time, the Khoikhoi, their European overseers, and slaves imported from Madagascar and Indonesia, mixed with the offspring of these unions forming the basis for South Africa’s Coloured population.

Born in about 1642, a decade before the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, Krotoa was the first Khoikhoi woman to appear in the European (particularly the VOC) records of the early settlement at the Cape as an individual personality who interacted socially and culturally with the Dutch settlers.

Krotoa’s brother-in-law is said to have been Oudasoa, a chief of the Cochoquas (also known as the Saldanhars). Jan van Riebeeck, who became the first governor of the Cape colony, employed her in his household.

As a teenager, Krotoa learned Dutch and Portuguese and like her uncle, Autshumao (known as Harry or Herrie by the Dutch) – a Goringhaicona Khoikhoi leader and trader, she worked as an interpreter for the Dutch who wanted to trade goods for cattle. Krotoa’s role as interpreter extended beyond trading, as she was also instrumental in negotiating with the ‘Peninsulars’, whose foreman was Doman, regarding conflicts around land that erupted into formal war in1659.

Since Krotoa travelled frequently between the Dutch colony and the Cochoquas, she came to embody the notion of an in-between figure, but found little happiness in either community. On 3 May 1662, she was baptised into the Christian religion by a visiting parson, Petrus Sibelius, in the church inside the Fort de Goede Hoop.

On 26 April 1664, she married Pieter van Meerhoff, a Danish surgeon. She was the first Khoikhoi to marry according to Christian customs, and this marriage is the first between a European and a Khoi at the Cape. In May 1665, the couple left the Cape for Robben Island where Van Meerhoff became superintendent. He died on 27 February 1668 on an expedition to Madagascar.
On 30 September 1668, Krotoa returned to the mainland, with her children. According to VOC reports, she was suffering from alcoholism and left the Castle in the settlement to be with her family. In February 1669, she was imprisoned at the Castle and then banished to Robben Island for disorderly conduct. She returned to the mainland on many occasions just to find herself once more banished to Robben Island. Three of her children survived infancy. She died on 29 July 1674 at the Cape and was buried on 30 September in the church at the Fort.

Krotoa’s eldest daughter, Pieternella, married Daniel Zaaijman, a friend of Van Riebeeck’s. They lived in Madagascar for a while, but returned to the Cape upon the departure of the VOC from the island. Because of Pieternella’s documented descendants, Krotoa is regarded a significant ancestor for many South Africans across various races.

The stamps
Designed by Lien Botha, the artwork features a drawing of Krotoa and a VOC ship from a painting by Aernhout Smit (1683). These images are superimposed onto a contemporary photograph taken at Milnerton beach with Table Mountain in the background.

The commemorative folder cover also features the face of Krotoa, this time encircled by a wreath of tulips, which alludes to the Company’s Garden and the Dutch connection.

1. Lien Botha’s interpretation of Krotoa was derived from: Sketches representing the Native Tribes, Animals and Scenery of Southern Africa, from drawings made by the late Mr Samuel Daniell, engraved by William Daniell, London, 1820, Courtesy of Western Cape Archives and Records Service – M1052 (photograph) and J 741 DAN (publication).
2. William Fehr Collection, Iziko Museums, Cape Town – ship from Aernout Smit painting of Cape Town, 1683.
3. Carine Zaayman, Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town.