Jan Viljoen

Title Trekker Leader
Other Names
Date of Birth 1815-00-00
Date of Death 1893-00-00
JAN VILJOEN. 1815-1893.
Viljoen was probably the most significant of the Marico Trekkers who moved into valley in 1848, settling on his farm Vergenoeg, near Zeerust. In 1836 he had been a bywoner (free tenant) on his brother's farm near Outshoorn in the Cape. In 1848 he was captured at the battle of Boomplaats during their conflict with the Orange Free State. As he was a marked man, he trekked into the (later) Transvaal.
From 1850 to 1860 he was Field Cornet for the Marico district, and had a close relationship with most of the local African leaders, in particular Setshele of the baKwena who lived beyond the borders of the South African Republic (SAR). In 1860 he became commandant.
In 1885 he wrote that, "When I settled here with my family everything was wild and I held the frontier so that we now have churches and schools in safe surroundings". It was largely due to his efforts that relatively peaceful relations pertained along the western Transvaal border. However, this does not appear to have been a constant position. In 1853, he seized, as a captive, the son of Setshele, which led to a general state of instability in the Marico.    
Part of Viljoen's reason for wanting an undisturbed frontier was because he needed safe access to the trans-Limpopo hunting fields. This required being on good terms with Setshele and his northern ally, Sekgomo of the bamaNgwato. He was indeed an indomitable hunter, hunting for ivory in Shoshong and further north near the Zambezi as early as 1851-1852. Folklore in the Transvaal contends that he saw the Victoria Falls before the explorer David Livingstone, but he never made the claim personally. By 1855 he had entered into an agreement with Mzilikazi of the AmaNdebele granting him access to hunting grounds in Matebeleland. Despite his avowed antipathy to the British, he was on good terms with a number of English "ivory entrepreneurs" such as George Westbeach George "Elephant" Phillips and Courtney Selous.
Viljoen was known to have a short temper and this was revealed on a number of occasions. In 1863-1864 a civil war broke out after M.W Pretorius became joint President of the Orange Free State and the SAR. Many in the SAR saw the move as an incitement that might provoke British intervention, to the detriment of the political future of both republics. Viljoen backed Pretorius and led a party of Marico boers (the so-called Volkslaer-army of the people) which attacked Paul Kruger's force in Potchefstroom in 1864. In 1868 a party of clerics lead by Ds Lion-Cachet attempted to ride into Marico and establish a branch of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) in Zeerust. Viljoen, who belonged to the more conservative Gereformeerde Kerk (so called "Doppers") turned them back at the Marico river but they returned a few days later, whereupon Viljoen assaulted Lion Cachet and his companion with a sjambok, attempted to ride them over with his horse and threw them for a few days into gaol. After these incidents he began to fall out of favour with the SAR's authorities. (See also Zeerust, M.W Pretorius, Mzilikazi

South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

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