SA’s first coloniser was a coloured

If President Zuma wants to blame the first Dutch “settler” he must look at Simon van der Stel, says T Kleyn

After President Jacob Zuma’s idiotic statement that all the problems in South Africa started with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, we have been noticing quite a number of Jan van Riebeeck profile pictures, cartoons and T-shirts on sale.

As could be expected, I would personally consider doing anything civilised to annoy Zuma as well.

But I think one should have one last word about this and then we can focus on the future again, instead of doing the ANC thing of dwelling in the past forever.

Van Riebeeck was sent to the Cape to establish a halfway station for the trade ships of the Dutch East India Company. There never was an intention to colonise or settle.

We know that all too well, because he sent out only a few expeditions to trade cattle with the Khoi-groups in the Peninsula and allowed the first free citizens to measure out small farms only after a lengthy correspondence with Amsterdam. Van Riebeeck left the Cape after a decade, never to return.

No, if Zuma wants to blame the first Dutch “settler” we must look at the arrival of the last commander of the Cape who also became the first governor in 1679.

On November 3, 1679, he arrived at a lovely spot nestled in the mountains by a river and decided to establish a “colony” of people there in a new town.

This was a clear indication that the man, Simon van der Stel, who named the new town, Stellenbosch, after himself, intended to stay.

After his retirement he never left the Cape but went to live on his farm, Groot Constantia, despite the fact that his children all returned to the Netherlands.

He lived for another 14 years before dying, respected and known as “Father Simon” by the people of the Cape – black and white alike. Van der Stel was the first colonialist.

We have no reliable portrait of him, only a description which tells us that he was short and stocky with very dark hair, oriental eyes, a small flat nose and a yellowish complexion. In the records of the Dutch East India Company, Van der Stel is described as “mestizo” – non-white. His mother was the daughter of captain Hendrick Lievens and a Batavian slave woman Mai Monica da Costa van Java.

Zuma, your first “European coloniser” wasn’t even a white man. In today’s South Africa he would be regarded as a coloured person.

T Kleyn