Vilanders in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

When one travels in the Kgalagadi one is bound sooner or later to meet one of the four friendly Vilander brothers. There are four of them employed in the Park, the sons of the late Bertus who worked at Mata Mata. They are Barry, Jaco, Willem and Isak.

They are descendants of the famous Dirk Vilander, president of the Republic of Mier. He was born to a slave woman and her white master in Stellenbosch in 1807. Dirk joined the Carnarvon Basters who in the middle of the nineteenth century had left the Western Cape to settle at Amandelboom, known today as Williston, and Schietfontein, known today as Carnarvon.

In 1865 Vilander led a group of Basters from Carnarvon northwards. Some settled at Upington but the rest continued to Blydeverwacht in what is today southern Namibia where they met Jacobus Afrikaner, son of Jager and brother of Jonker. 

The Afrikaner clan was a Khoi Khoin (Nama) tribe with a chequered history, having fled the Cape colony after the murder of a Boer farmer, Pieter Pienaar. They now ruled over these areas with their horses and rifles. Jager Afrikaner established a fortified stronghold at a place called //Khauxa!nas, the ruins of which are still visible today.

At first Vilander joined forces with Jacobus Afrikaner but was later sent to assert Afrikaner’s authority over the Kalahari Bushmen in the area of Naroegas, somewhat to the southeast of //Khauxa!nas. Vilander chose to stay at Naroegas, free from Afrikaner’s dominance. 

Later Jacobus ordered Vilander back to assist him in a fight with another Nama tribe, the Bondelswarts. Vilander instead sent some wagons to bring Jacobus to him. This led to a fight between Jacobus Afrikaner and Dirk Vilander and their men with Vilander winning.

Vilander then elected to leave Naroegas. He travelled to Heuningvlei north of Kuruman where he and his followers stayed for a year before moving to Mier (Rietfontein) where they finally settled.

At Mier Vilander established a republic for his group of approximately 100 Basters. He was elected ‘Captain of the Emigrant Basters’. He lived in a stone and thatch house and acted as magistrate as well. A traveller, AA Anderson passed through Mier in 1871 and noted that it was quite a tidy village with about 25 houses, some of them built of red brick. Vilander’s territory at this stage stretched into what would later become Bechuanaland.

In 1879 the Korannas, a Nama tribe, rose against the British colonial government. The government asked Vilander for his assistance against the Korannas. In exchange an official promised Vilander that the land rights of his ‘republic’ would be acknowledged. 

After the war Vilander employed a white secretary, Halliburton, to correspond with the British government about the land matter. Unfortunately the promise was never fulfilled. In 1885 a Rhenish missionary, Reverend Heinrich Pabst, arrived at Mier at the request of Vilander. At this time white traders had also arrived at Mier and established trading posts there. One of them was a man by the name of Christoffel le Riche and his wife Martie.

Dirk Vilander passed away in 1888 and his son David took over the reins. Dirk Vilander had always held all his land in informal communal trust. In the year after his death his son David started dividing the land into 64 farms and selling farms to white settlers. 

In total he sold 11 farms of 10 000 morgen each to white settlers. He also sold the mineral rights of his territory to a Port Elizabeth syndicate for 500 pounds per year. One of the farms, Saulstraat, was sold to the trader Christoffel le Riche.

The Mier Basters lived mainly by hunting and the sale of animal skins and ostrich feathers. In 1891 the British government annexed a large part of the Vilander land into Bechuanaland. Many of the Basters left the area for Rehoboth in the neighbouring German South West Africa where the majority of emigrant Basters had already settled. Others joined Hendrik Witbooi, the famous Nama leader. The farms were sold to white farmers or simply abandoned.

In 1899 the Anglo Boer War broke out. On 14 March 1902 a Cape rebel commando arrived at David Vilander’s farm where a shooting took place and David was killed. In 1908 only six of the original 64 farms were still in Baster hands. Today some of the land has been bought back by Basters and other brown people.

Jaco is the camp manager of Nossob Camp; Isak serves at Gharagab and Grootkolk, Willem at Bitterpan and Barry works at the petrol depot at Twee Rivieren. Dirk Vilander is buried at Rietfontein, some 95 kilometers from Twee Rivieren.

Source: Forgotten Frontiersmen, Alf Wannenburgh, Howard Timmins

Barry Vilander, petrol attendant at Twee Rivieren.
Isak Vilander, manager of Gharagab and Grootkolk.
Jaco Vilander, camp manager at Nossob camp.
Willem Vilander, camp manager at Bitterpan, a man known for his ability to catch puff adders and Cape cobras.
Dirk Vilander, president of the Mier republic and ancestor of the Vilanders who now serves in the Park.
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