The Voortrekkers (Afrikaans and Dutch for pioneers, literally "fore-pullers", "those in front who pull", "fore-trekkers") were Afrikaner emigrants during the 1830s and 1840s who left the Cape Colony (British at the time, but founded by the Dutch) moving into the interior of what is now South Africa in what is known as the Great Trek. The Great Trek consisted of a number of mass movements under a number of different leaders.
The Voortrekkers mainly came from the farming community of the Eastern Cape although some (such as Piet Retief) originally came from the Western Cape farming community while others (such as Gerrit Maritz) were successful tradesmen in the frontier towns. Some of them were wealthy men though most were not as they were from the poorer communities of the frontier. It was recorded that the 33 Voortrekker families at the Battle of Vegkop lost 100 horses, between 4,000 and 7,000 cattle, and between 40,000 and 50,000 sheep.
The Voortrekkers were mainly of Trekboer (migrating farmer) descent living in the eastern frontiers of the Cape. Hence, their ancestors had long established a semi-nomadic existence of trekking into expanding frontiers. Amongst the Voortrekkers were poor men too belonging to the squatter or bywoner class.
The reasons for the mass emigration from the Cape Colony have been much discussed over the years. Afrikaner historiography has emphasized the hardships endured by the frontier farmers which they blamed on British policies of pacifying the Xhosa tribes. Other historians[who?] have emphasized the harshness of the life in the Eastern Cape (which suffered one of its regular periods of drought in the early 1830s) compared to the attractions of the fertile country of Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Growing land shortages have also been cited as a contributing factor. The true reasons were obviously very complex and certainly consisted of both "push" factors (including the general dissatisfaction of life under British rule) and "pull" factors (including the desire for a better life in better country.)