This article appears in Historical Dictionary of the British Empire.

This was the penultimate stage of a process by which all the land occupied by the Xhosa was annexed to the Cape Colony and their independence ended. At the conclusion of the 4th Xhosa War in 1812, Xhosa had been driven back from the zuurveld to the west of the Great Fish River (a strip about 200 miles wide). Then in 1820 following the 5th War, Ngqika the erstwhile ally of the British, was forced to agree to evacuate another strip between the Great Fish and Keiskamma Rivers—land to which he did not in fact have a legitimate claim. Governor Lord Charles Somerset gave as his ostensible reason the desire to create a vacant tract as a means of separating white and black and thus solving the problem of conflict between them by a kind of spatial 'apartheid'. However, almost immediately Somerset wrote to Britain that the area might be "worthy of consideration with a view to systematic colonisation." Although there had never been enough troops to push the Xhosa out of the area (they had nowhere else to go), some farms were alienated to whites in what came to be called the "Ceded Territory". Whites were vociferous in demanding the expulsion of all Xhosa; with nowhere to go, the Xhosa were determined to stay and get back the land. Thus, claimed adamantly by both groups who intermingled, the area was a primary battleground in the next three wars.

With the outbreak of hostilities in 1834 and urged on by the hawkish white settlers, Sir Benjamin D'Urban decided to 'solve' the inveterate frontier problem by annexing all the land west of the Kei River (including the Ceded Territory) as Queen Adelaide Province. Then, frustrated with D'Urban's administration and with the increased responsibilities of the annexed land, Lord Glenelg ordered the disannexation of Queen Adelaide Province and part of the Ceded Territory in 1837. With the end of the 7th Xhosa war (the War of the Ax) in 1847, the newly returned (from India) Sir Harry Smith, now Governor, reannexed the returned portion of the Ceded Territory directly to the Cape and reannexed what had been Queen Adelaide Province (more or less the territory between the Keiskamma and Kei Rivers) as a separate Crown Colony which he called British Kaffraria.

The new colony was a recognition that the system of treaties with independent chiefs (pursued with variations for fifty years) failed to produce a stable, orderly frontier. Basically, Kaffraria was a large reserve; with the exception of a few small white settlements, the area was occupied by Xhosa. Nominally, the chiefs were in charge, but there were white magistrates to oversee their actions and their authority was being undermined. The legal situation was confused because Roman-Dutch law of the Cape did not apply but magistrates had no authority to apply traditional Xhosa law. When Smith deposed Sandile, the chief of the Ngqika and nominal paramount of all Rharhabe clans, the 8th Xhosa war broke out in December 1850. The war dragged on until December 1852, by which time Smith had been recalled.

Sir George Grey, who became governor late in 1854, made British Kaffraria the keystone in his assimilation policy as the solution to the frontier problem. He would encourage white settlers (eventually German legionaries retired there) to live intermingled as social and economic examples. Roads should be built to open trade and commerce; schools and hospitals should also be built to speed assimilation. Roman-Dutch law was applied for the whites living there, but white magistrates were empowered to apply Xhosa law to draw the people away from the chiefs, as part of Grey's plan to undermine the authority of the latter. Gradually, the people would be assimilated to Roman-Dutch law. Thus, British Kaffraria was planned as a transitional phase only. The grant from the imperial government to pay for this policy was also temporary and was withdrawn in 1861. Although a separate colony, British Kaffraria was administered by the government at Cape Town with the intention to make it an integral part of the Cape Colony sooner or later. The imperial government, anxious to reduce its responsibilities in South Africa, pressed for early annexation, and in spite of protests in the Cape legislature, forced the annexation of British Kaffraria to the Cape Colony in 1865.