The Basters of Little Namaqualand lived in the five Coloured reserves – Concordia, Komaggas, Leliefontein (Lily Fountain), Steinkopf and the Richtersveld – in the magisterial district of Namaqualand, Cape Province, provide nowadays a field in which the Baster way of life in its various modified forms can be observed. These reserves originated as mission ‘areas’ of the London Missionary Society during the first half of the 19th century and received formal recognition by the Government of the Cape Colony in the shape of ‘tickets of occupation’ shortly afterwards. (Leliefontein was taken over by the Methodists at an early stage, and the others by the Rhenish Missionary Society later on.) Most of the territory in which these reserves are situated was claimed by Kupido Witbooi, chief of the Hobesen tribe, but during the first two decades of the 19th century his domain was ‘invaded’ by families of Basters who brought with them guns and a new way of life. Missionaries also arrived at this time and established the stations around which new kinds of communities grew.
Wherever they went these Basters became integrated with the Hottentots with whom they came in contact, although the form in which this integration manifested itself varied. Where their numbers were relatively large, as in Concordia, Komaggas and Steinkopf, they allied themselves with the missionaries, together with them gained political power over the Hottentots, and tended to become a distinct and superior social class. Where their numbers were small they were absorbed into the ranks of the Hottentots, as in Leliefontein and the Richtersveld.
In each of these communities (with the exception of the Richtersveld, which largely retained the KhoiKhoi system) government was in the hands of a Raad (council) consisting of six or more senior men, with the resident missionary as president. The territory of Little Namaland was annexed by the Cape Colony in 1847, after the political leaders had agreed on behalf of their people to become British subjects, but no significant changes in the system of government occurred until the second decade of the 20th century, when the Mission Stations and Communal Reserves Act (No. 29 Of zgo9) was enforced. This Act abolished the old system of government and brought about, inter alia, the official separation of the powers of Church and State. The Raad was superseded by a Management Board of ro members – 6 elected by the members of the community, 2 appointed by the central government, z nominated by the church or mission society concerned, and appointed by the central government, with a superintendent, a paid official, who presided over meetings. Some of these communities were opposed to the new legislation and accepted it under protest, since they regarded the Act as an infringement of the autonomy they had hitherto enjoyed. The original Act, which is still in force, has been amended from time to time, but the essential features have been retained.
The total population (including 1,207 Whites) resident in these reserves in 1967 was 16,520 (Steinkopf 4,674, Concordia 2,829, Komaggas 2,60o, Leliefontein 4,400, Richtersveld 2,017). Although most are engaged in small-stock farming (goats and sheep) and, except in the Richtersveld, in the production of grain, these activities are by no means the most rewarding financially, owing to the low and irregular rainfall and to overstocking. In 1953 there were 135,773 head of small stock in these reserves, and a total of 13,Too bags of grain was produced. As a result of low productivity and the rise in the standard of living, approximately a quarter of the adult population now seek work as migrant labourers on the mines, in the fisheries and in the towns. Investigations in Steinkopf in 1957 revealed that the community benefited by about £47,000 from the earnings of migrant labourers, while little more than 628,ooo came from farming; teachers’ and other Government employees’ salaries and old-age pensions amounted to just over £23,300; while all other sources of income amounted to less than £20,ooo. The gross annual income of the average family (5 – 6 persons) was about £143.
A large proportion of the families in these communities still live in Hottentot-type mat-houses (matjieshuise), although in recent years many European-type dwellings have been built in the main villages. In general a good deal of the Baster way of life has remained, but the members of the new generation, notably those in the higher strata of society, are consciously grafting themselves to the White Afrikaner tradition of the 20th century, and are referred to cynically by conservative sages as ‘die Afrikaner-kinders’ (the Afrikaner children).