Johannes Henricus Brand was the president of the Orange Free State, one of two Boer republics formed after the Boers left the Cape Colony in the Great Trek. He was considered a model leader by the Afrikaners.

Early life

Brand was born in Cape Town on 6 December 1823. He was the son of Christoffel J Brand, a journalist and a parliamentarian who was a member of the Cape elite, and from 1854 the first Speaker of the Cape Parliament.  Brand Snr studied at Leiden University and wrote his doctoral thesis on the rights of colonists.

The younger Brand was educated at the South African College, the precursor to the University of Cape Town. He continued his tertiary studies in the Netherlands, also at Leiden University, where he studied law, and completed the degree of D.C.L. in 1845. He was called to the English Bar from the Inner Temple in 1849, and practised as an advocate in the Supreme Court of the Cape of Good Hope from that year until 1863.

He married Johanna Sibella Zastrom in 1851 and they had 11 children.

In 1854 he was elected the MP for Clanwilliam and went to parliament, where he sat for 10 years. In 1858 he was appointed professor of law at the South African College.

President of the Orange Free State

Brand was asked to become president of the Orange Free State in 1863 after the death of Marthinus Pretorius, and he officially took power on 2 February 1864 to become the fourth president of the colony. He was subsequently re-elected, serving four successive terms from 1869, 1874, 1879 and 1884.

The whites of the OFS were made up of Afrikaners and English merchants, and the elite were mainly prosperous wool farmers. Bloemfontein was the centre of the republic, which had become independent in 1854.

Brand was confronted by three main issues during his presidency:

Firstly, the conflict between the Free State, Lesotho and the Cape Colony, which was resolved after the imposition of the Treaty of Bosigo on the Basotho in 1866, leaving the way clear for whites to control the fertile Caledon River valley, a large tract of fertile territory. When the British annexed Lesotho, the fertile land remained in the possession of the OFS.

Secondly, the discovery of diamonds sparked a territorial dispute between the British, the OFS and the Griquas.

Third, after gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand, the OFS was faced with decisions regarding the railways crossing its territory, and the tariffs that would be levied.

When Brand assumed the presidency, the region was mired in an economic slump. To deal with the crisis in the treasury, Brand printed paper money to the value of £30,000, with another £100,000 printed in 1866. But the currency underwent devaluation and was not accepted as legal tender in the Cape Colony. The economy revived after diamonds were discovered in the Free State, and the notes were eventually withdrawn.

The Basotho war

Brand prioritised solving the ‘Basotho problem’, and urged British High Commissioner Sir Philip Wodehouse to beacon off land in the northern end of the Sotho-Free State frontier, which had not been officially demarcated. Wodehouse established the Warden line as the border, arousing the anger of the Sotho.

Brand issued an ultimatum, giving Moshoeshoe until 30 November 1864 to remove the Sotho from what the whites considered OFS land, and showing his seriousness by stationing a border force in the area.

The Sotho reluctantly agreed to move, but Moshoeshoe could not control all his subjects, and his nephew Lesaoana deliberately overstepped Wodehouse’s beacons, conducting raids into both the Free State and Natal.

Natal demanded compensation, while Brand declared full-scale war in 1865.  The Free Staters got the better of the Sotho, and Moshoeshoe’s son Molapo capitulated to the Boers. The Boers laid waste to wheat and maize fields that were a source of wealth for the Basuto.

In April 1866 Moshoeshoe finally agreed to the terms imposed by Brand in the Treaty of Thaba Bosiu, and the Sotho gave the Boers two-thirds of their arable land and 3,000 cattle. But, according to TRH Davenport, they ‘kept their horses, their sheep and their independence against the day when the crops would ripen and the war could be resumed’.

Brand tried to settle farmers along the border of the ‘occupied territory’, established under the Occupation Law of 1866, but the instability of the region dissuaded many whites from settling. When the desperate Sotho tried to move back into the area, the Free Staters resolved to effectively vanquish the Sotho and deny them the power to mount further resistance. They wanted to dispossess the Sotho and take over the territory to turn it into a labour reserve.

The Boers moved into northern Basutoland in March 1867 and forced Mopedi to surrender at Witsie’s Hoek. Early in 1868 they invaded the southern part of Basutoland, killing Posholi.

Moshoeshoe appealed to Natal to annex Basutoland, and Sir Theophilus Shepstone saw this as a viable option, a means to reduce the black population in Natal.

With refugees streaming into Natal and Transkei, Wodehouse suspected the Free Staters would move all the way to the coast at Port St Johns. Fearing a takeover of Basutoland by the Boers, Wodehouse sent in mounted police to check the Boers, cutting off their supplies of ammunition.

Wodehouse appealed to the British government in London to annex Basutoland, thereby reversing the policy set out in the Bloemfontein Convention.

Brand tore up the peace treaties of 1866 in return for territory, codified in the (second) Treaty of Aliwal North, concluded on 12 February 1869.  Brand was allowed to keep territory on the right bank of the Caledon, and he agreed to an Imperial takeover of Basutoland.

The Rolong of Thaba’Nchu

Moroka II ruled Thab’Nchu, a chiefdom adjacent to Basutoland. Here various tribes – the Seleka-Rolong and smaller groups such as the Tshidi-Rolong and Rapulana-Rolong had settled after escaping from the Difacane. Moroka, fearful of Moshoeshoe, allied with Brand in March 1865. After the war against the Basuto, Thaba’Nchu became an enclave.

Moroka, together with Brand, prevented Matlabe, a Rolong chief, from moving to Western Transvaal as part of an agreement made in the Keate Award. They refused to let the Rolong move through Free State territory.

When people from Thaba’Nchu raided stock in the Free State, the OFS intensified its control over Moroka’s territory.

When Moroka died in April 1880, a succession battle ensued between Tsipinare,  a son of Moroka’s second wife, and Samuel Moroka, a son of his first wife. Brand, acting as arbitrator, decided in favour of Tsipinare on 17 July 1880, ignoring the Rolong custom of ratification by the people. Tsipinare banished Samuel, who mounted an attack on Tsipinare together with a band of Free State Boers, who probably saw an opportunity to quell their land hunger.

After Samuel launched an attack on Tsipinare, shooting him, Brand annexed Thaba’Nchu. Tsipinare’s land was sold to white settlers. The title deeds for the land, which Tsipinare had had surveyed, were destroyed in the attack on his home, only 51 of the original 142 farms remained in Rolong hands by 1904.

On Maroka’s death, and an ensuing succession battle, Brand convinced the Volksraad to place the Barolong areas under Free State guardianship, and the Barolong were stripped of their arms but retained their territorial rights. A large exodus of the Rolong ensued, with many moving to the western Transvaal or becoming farm labourers in the OFS.

The diamond dispute

Diamonds were discovered in 1868 in Griqualand West, the territory between the Vaal and Orange rivers.

The OFS claimed the territory, but the Griquas and the Tlhaping also laid claim to the find. Griqua chief Waterboer’s claim was backed by the Colonial Secretary, Richard Southey, and a British arbitrator declared in favour of Waterboer. Sir Henry Barkly, the new British High Commissioner, proclaimed all of Waterboer’s territory for the English, and what was to be named Kimberley was annexed in 1871.

Brand fought the annexation over four years, and in 1876 the Cape territorial court decided that the annexation had been illegal. Brand went to London to reclaim the diamond fields but the British were unwilling to cede the territory, and instead paid compensation of £90,000 to the Free State. The money was used to establish a state bank.

When Lord Carnarvon called a conference in London in 1875 to consider a federal plan to unify South Africa, he was advised to redress the injury inflicted by the annexation of the diamond fields. Brand agreed to attend the conference on condition that no representative from Griqualand West would attend, and he refused to discuss federation. The conference ended up discussing the defence of the white territories facing military threats by armed African chiefdoms, and the possibility of common native policies throughout the region. 

Brand’s achievement: a ‘model state’

The OFS prospered from the trade in diamonds and the prospectors just outside its territory, and Brand helped transform the colony into a modern state.

He pushed for education, and together with Dr John Brebner, a Scot, and the NGK church, they greatly improved education in thei republic.

Brand established a High Court in 1867, and an Appeal Court in 1874 which became the Supreme Court in 1875, with Brand’s successor FW Reitz as the first Chief Justice. He also took care to establish an efficient civil service. He embraced technology and established a telegraph system by 1879. These developments added to the stability of the colony and attracted trade.

He sought to link a railway system to the rest of the country but it took a decade before this was achieved, largely because of resistance from the Volksraad, which feared that railways would make it easier for the British to annex the republic. But in 1888 the chair of the Raad passed a plan to link up with the Cape Colony.

By 1881, according to Hermann Giliomee, the OFS was regarded as the best-administered sector in South Africa.

Brand and Afrikaner nationalism

The Free State during Brand’s presidency remained ideologically neutral, especially where relations between Boer and Briton were concerned. In Bloemfontein, the use of English, rather than Afrikaans, was the order of the day. Brand used English administrators such as JG Fraser and JM Orpen, the Volksraad member for Harrismith, as officials.

In 1871 Brand was asked by a large party to become president of the Transvaal, and thus unite the two Dutch republics of South Africa; but as the project was hostile to Great Britain he declined to do so, and maintained his constant policy of friendship towards England, which in 1882 bestowed upon him a knighthood, the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George.

After the British annexed the ZAR in 1877, in 1880 war broke out between Britain and the ZAR’s Boers. Brand had maintained neutrality in the war that followed. When the Boers inflicted a decisive defeat at Majuba, Brand was asked to mediate as, at that point, he was trusted by the Boers.

Brand was later perceived by Afrikaners as prejudiced in favour of Imperial Britain and the Cape. He was convinced that closer economic ties with the Cape would lead to a united South Africa.

Brand, heavily influenced by his stay in England, was by and large an English sympathiser and was considered as such by the Boers. He was suspicious of the Afrikaner Bond, which he regarded as subversive, and refused to support Afrikaner nationalism. Most Free Staters favoured an alliance with the Transvaal in the hope of establishing independent Afrikaner states free of British imperialism.

Brand and President Kruger of the Transvaal tried in 1884-5 to interest the Cape Colony in a customs union, but the Cape refused. But this changed after gold was discovered in the Transvaal.

Brand refused to accept Kruger’s offer of a passage to the sea, and instead he concluded an advantageous customs deal with the Cape Colony.

He was a nationalist but practised a non-combative form of nationalism, looking out for the interests of his people but avoiding confrontations with Imperial Britain. He was later honoured as Vader des Volkes (father of the People).

Brand’s racial policies

In the 1880s there was agitation, especially by English traders, against the presence of Indian traders in the OFS.  The Volksraad restricted Indian trading rights in 1885 and in 1890 banned Indians from settling in the OFS.

According to Davenport, the OFS ‘was the only part of South Africa where it became legally impossible for a black person to become a land owner in his own right in the period before Union’.

In 1876, Brand announced at the London conference: ‘The Free State has no native problem: we have already settled it. The Whites are against the natives as two against one.’

Later years

After gold was discovered in 1886 on the Witwatersrand in the Transvaal, the question of rail links and tariff issues took on a greater urgency. A skilled negotiator, Brand concluded tariff deals that were advantageous to the OFS.

Brand died on 14 July 1888 while still in office, and was succeeded by FW Reitz.


Entry on John Henry Brand, in Dictionary of African Biography, volume 6,  available here|Giliomee, Hermann; The Afrikaners: Biography of a People; Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town, 2003

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