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Apr 22

The first modern suffragettes in the world!

MY COMPENDIUM OF FASCINATING HISTORICAL IRRELEVANCIES –3

Robin Lamplough

The Kappie-suffragettes of Natalia- Another South African "First"?

Suffragettes After their military victory over the Zulus at the Income, known to the Trekkers as Blood River, the families who had trekked into Natal felt secure enough to settle.  They decided to establish a town on the Boesmansrand, and named it Pietermaritzburg.

Having composed a set of municipal regulations, they turned their minds to drafting a constitution.  This document placed supreme power in an elected Raad (Council) of 24 members, none of whom were to be younger than 25 or older than 60 years of age.  The candidates were to be elected by open voting, open to all persons who had turned 21.  The gender of the voters was not specified, although in practice the ‘persons’ who voted were all male. Clearly, however, this arrangement was not what some of the women had expected.  This emerged in August 1843, when a delegation of women, led by the wife of Erasmus Smit, the settlement’s first cleric, made a statement to British Commissioner Henry Cloete, sent to Natal to arrange the details arising out of the British annexation of the republic.  This document stated:

  • The Boer women had stood side by side with their men in the battle against the Zulus.
  • As a result, they had received a promise that they would be given a voice in all future matters of state.
  • They had later claimed this privilege, although it had been turned down by the Raad.
  • Nevertheless, they would never accept British authority, preferring rather to walk barefoot over the Drakensberg in order to die in freedom.
Cloete, male chauvinist that he was, reported to the Colonial Secretary at the Cape that the Pietermaritzburg “females had worked themselves into a state of excitement, nay frenzy.”  The poor fellow had no idea that he had met what were probably the first modern suffragettes in the world, more than 60 years before Emmeline Pankhurst achieved notorious fame. [The source of this historical gem will be found in Manfred Nathan’s account of The Voortekkers of South Africa (1937) p. 277]


2 comments

  1. Naureen Craig

    Fascinating! Thank you Robin Lamplough!
    I wonder whether Henry Cloete is squirming – in embarrassment! — in his grave!

  2. ~Ed

    Absolutely delightful! Thank you Robin, this article brought a smile to my face (no doubt it will be of special significance to our female readers!) Definitely another South African first in my opinion!
    This is not so irrelevant as you might think……….

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