The Legacy of Adam Kok III

Today marks 142 years since Adam Kok III passed away.*

Adam Kok III was the great-grandson of Adam Kok I. He was the chief of the Kok clan of the Griquas and ruled the eastern Griqua at Philippolis from 1837 until the early 1860s, when he and his people trekked across the Drakensberg to found a new state in what became known as Griqualand East. After more than a decade of independence there, the Griquas suddenly found themselves taken under British control in 1874. Although he retained a measure of power, he never regained full control of the Griquas.

Adam Kok III was a well-loved Griqua leader who defended his dynasty against colonial encroachment in the central western regions of South Africa. No early descriptions of Kok III exist but after 1860 he was described as a kindly, astute, rather melancholic old man who was always courteous, with a particular fondness for children.

Kok III died tragically in an accident in his carriage while on his way from Kokstad to Umzimkulu, signalling the end, for some, of the greatest of the many Kok chiefs.

The measure of his success was that the Griqua state did not collapse earlier. His subjects also viewed this as a great achievement: At his funeral, his cousin and colleague, Adam ‘Eta’, spoke as follows:

“We have laid in the grave a man you all knew and loved. He is the last of his race. After him there will be no coloured king or chief in Colonial South Africa. Of Kaffir tribes, there may still be chiefs: of coloured chiefs he is the last. Take a good look into that grave. You will never look into the grave of another chief of our race. Do you realize that our nationality lies buried there? The deceased was the friend of you all. Did you ever hear of Adam Kok making an enemy? Political enemies he had, unfortunately more than his share: private enemies he had none. He had his faults—we all have; but you will hear me out, he was generous to a fault—too indulgent and gentle and yielding for a chief. There lie the remains of the one South African chief who never lifted arms nor fired a shot at a British soldier, though sometimes provoked beyond human endurance. There is not a single man here who has not received favours at his hand. If you are ever tempted to forget him, turn to the titles of your properties and see there his familiar sign manual. I have yielded to the temptation to add this much to what the minister has said because I am his near relative, and he honoured me with his confidence and occasionally delegated to me his authority…Let all questions of politics rest. Let us go home and mourn in secret and in silence, and prepare for the funeral services.”

*The date of his death has also been recorded as the 31 December 1875.


Christoper C. Saunders. Black Leaders in Southern African History. Heinemann Educational. 1979.