Slaves at the Cape, South Africa

Author: A.M. van Rensburg (b4 c2 d1 e6 f5 g5 h3 i2)
Webmaster: M.A. van Rensburg (b4 c2 d1 e6 f5 g5 h3 i2 j1)

Picture of Anna de Koning she was the daughter of Angela van Bengale.
Anna married Olof Bergh. Margaret Cairns came across this picture and realised
the significance and shared it with me. Picture ref: CA Elliot 313

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Genetic Enrichment Page 1
My Genetic Enrichment Page 2
My Genetic Enrichment - EVA the Hottentot


The early Cape had a very small number of people who formed the genetic pool for the make up of the future Afrikaners. Fortunately the pool was enlarged and enriched with people who were not from Europe. They were mainly Stammoeders. It is rather ironically that the so called White Afrikaner Race, can claim slaves as part of our ancestors. It may also be asked, when claims are made regarding the crime of slavery and being "historically victims" of slavery, which group suffered the Afrikaners or Africans of South Africa? Which of these two population group has a higher percentage ancestry which suffered the evils of slavery? The Africans of South Africa were subject to slavery, however in most instances the enslavement of Africans were by other Africans: The Batswana enslaved the Basarwa (Bushman), this was known as botlhanka; Amongst the Nguni we know the Gaza Nguni took males slaves from the Chopi and Amatonga refer to ed Seymour Drescher and Stanley L. Engerman A Historical Guide to World Slavery. During the Mfecane or Difaqane various forms of slavery was practiced. The Matabela's also practiced slavery by capturing and incorporating their captives into their society. It would be interesting to see historians apply 'revisionism' and reconstruct history. The scope of this presentation does not include the extent and practice of indigenous slavery. A worthwhile area of research would be the comparison of the fate of the VOC sailors who were bondaged by means of the contractual 'zielverkopers' with that of slavery, refer to C.R. Boxer The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600-1800 p 81 - 83 and O.F. Mentzel Life at the Cape in Mid-Eighteen Century.

The Cape settlement was established as a refreshment station by the Dutch East Indian Company in 1652. The VOC, had a rather interesting coat of arms (21k). As a refreshment station, the Cape served the ships going to the east. Batavia, see picture of Batavia (51k), this was the eastern base for the Dutch. The VOC encouraged slavery at the Cape. The slaves originated mainly from the Indian Ocean basin. They were snatched away from family and friends. Banished from their familiar environment, becoming the property of some strange person. Their fate was not just a singular experience, they were subject to being purchased and transported many times.

Slaves were bought in the slave markets of Batavia, Chinsura, Cochin, Boina and Delagoa Bay or Mozambique Islands. They were brought to the slave markets by a network of traders including Bengali Banians, Buginese trade-pirates, Chinese junk captains, Sakalava kings, Prazeros on the Zambezi, Portuguese officials in Delagoa Bay or kidnappers in South India (Robert Ross p13). The Dutch were mainly traders and not raiders of slaves. The Company sent ships to places like Madagascar, specifically to trade slaves, from there it took them five or six weeks to return to the Cape. The Dutch exchange firearms, brandy and Spanish reals for slaves. The slaves were then brought as cargo to the Cape.

The Trip of a Life Time

Most slaves from Africa and Madagascar came in sloops or yachts specifically fitted out for the purpose; portholes six inches by four, protected with iron crosses, were made between decks for health reasons; wooden partitions separated the males from the females; and long chains, fastened to ring-bolts secured the shackled captives. Both men and women had their heads shaved. At the mainmast sanitary facilities were provided by means of a partition. On the deck the slaves could wash themselves in a large tub. Occasionally, the hatches and the opening below deck had to be closed, and the unpleasant odours of closely-packed humans dispelled by means of smoke. The ships were infested with fleas, lice, rats and cockroaches.

The slaves from the east usually came in small numbers as part of the returning fleet. These slaves were often sold to the burghers. The trip for most sailors were very dangerous and many perished. The first effect of the rolling ship, from side to side was sea-sickness. With frequent vomiting, the resultant effect was a big appetite, however any food just made the ordeal so much worse. The smell was unbearable. One can only imagine how much worse it must have been for the slaves. Congested space, in the tropical area it must have been depressing with little fresh air below the deck. On occasions the ship faced the doldrums (that is where we get this depressing word from), where there was no wind for the sails and they would be stuck for days on the ocean without being able to sail. Being subjected to an environment of moist air, dampness and mould. At other time naked bodies being subjected to cold weather, scarcity of water, and inadequate food all added to the toll.

A third way by which slaves were procured at the Cape was from foreign ships who were on their way to Barbados, Beunos Aires and later Virginia. Some of the weaker slaves were sold at the Cape just in case they did not survive across the Atlantic.

The food was mainly salted meat, pork, as well as gray and white peas. The latter became sour and musty. This diet led to scurvy, the result was loss of appetite, blue knobs and blotches appeared over the body, gums rotted and their teeth were very loose, the victim became shivery and feverish. This led many to commit suicide others suffered the sickness and ultimately died. Those who did make it to the Cape would have looked more dead than alive. They would have greeted their new home country, with relief at being back on land and surviving the ordeal. On the other hand the fear of the new and unknown must have been present in the bosom of each of these people. The uncertainty of what will be done to them next must have pressed heavy on their heart and spirit.

With ridicule South Africans refer to the establishment of Australia by convicts, whereas South Africa was established not only by free burghers but by these banished and encaptured slaves.

The Cape of Sickness and Death

Once reaching the Cape they suffered from contagious diseases; smallpox, dysentery, measles, and infectious diseases. The ship Joanna Cathaerina in 1673 brought 221 slaves and within fourteen months 129 slaves had died. The ship Voorhout brought 257 slaves, mainly children in 1676 and within three and a half months 92 were dead.

At the Cape there were three groups of slaves, Company slaves held at the Lodge, officialdom's slaves and slaves belonging to the burghers. The slaves were sold at a Dutch auction, being exhibited by having to stand on a table or vat. As a sign of enslavement they were not allowed to wear shoes or stockings. They were only allowed to wear a hat once they were able to speak Dutch. The slaves thus formed the habit of using a handkerchief like a turban to tie up their hair. The slaves were supposed to walk in the middle of the road and not on the sidewalk. They were not allowed to ride a horse. The horse and the gun helped to make a slave society, the one as means of fast transport to control, the gun was the backup for forced slavery to be maintained.

Good Enough to be a Lover

With the small number of European females in the Cape many of the slave women or their daughters became the lovers and wives of the burghers. The soldiers and sailors were uprooted from Europe, they were bereft of female company. A change in social dynamics took place, progression from slavery to mistress of a household, sex gave many a slave women her freedom but not for the males. Later burghers, preferred marriages to women from these mixed unions, in other words these women were then classified as 'van de Kaap' (note this term did not only refer to people of black or mix ancestry). In Valkhoff's book J. Hoge quotes on p 99 that in 1667 of the list of free burghers there were only 19 women compared to 100 male free burghers. Valkhoff continues that thirty years after the foundation of the Colony there were not more than 25 white women. In 1707 when Governor W.A van der Stel left the demographics at the Cape were: 513 freemen, 290 freewomen, 848 children, 128 knechts (mainly bachelors), 841 male slaves, 149 female slaves, and 117 slave children.

The South African Library in 1981 published in two volumes the Het Nederduitsch Zuid-Afrikaansch Tydschrift 1824-1843. In it is given the following statistics:
In 1688 there were 254 Christian men, 88 Christian women, 231 Christian children, 230 slavemen, 44 slave women, 36 slave children
In 1694 there were 446 Christian men, 295 Christian women, 431 Christian children, 325 slavemen, 64 slave women, 58 slave children
Thus in 1688 there were 484 men to 132 women
In 1694 there were 771 men to 359 women

The male/female ratio needs to also take into account all the company servants who were predominately males. In the book edited by Elphick and Gilliomee The Shaping of South African Society it is mentioned on p 196 that in 1664 out of 178 company employees only 6 had their wives with them.

The visiting male sailors who stopped at the Cape also participated in the entertainment and the love scene (quoted in M.W. Spilhaus, The First South Africans p 33). To get an idea of the shipping traffic at the Cape, Elphick and Gilliomee states on p 196, that between 1701 and 1710 there were an average of 68 ship per year visiting the Cape. On each ship there were 70 to 300 men. The ratio between men and women was way out of proportion. The choice of burghers marrying slaves are rather interesting. Robert Shell p 322 "Of the 191 slave women who married or lived with men of German descent in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, the majority (59.7 percent) were Creole (Cape-born), many possibly mulatto. The next largest group of slave spouses were from the Indonesian Archipelago (22.5 percent) and 15.2 percent of the slave wives were from India, all from Bengal." Whereas very few marriages, 3 percent slave wives were from Malagasy and Africa. The Malay word "nyai" was the term used by the Dutch to denote a concubine to a European, or a housekeeper refer to J.G. Taylor The Social world of Batavia p 228. One wonders whether the Afrikaans word 'naai' - sex, which etymologist usually only attribute its origins from meaning "sew" does not also have a secondary connections back to this usage. It should also be remembered that the best chance of a female slave obtaining her freedom was to become sexually involved with her owner. Many a slave owner freed either his slave women and her children which in many cases the slave owner fathered. Many female slaves thus became the mothers of the settlers and slave owners in turn.

The demographics were such that miscegenation was inevitable, it was not just limited to European men with slave women but there were occasions of relationship between male slaves and female Europeans. Some unique excuses were used to cover up, the results of the latter union. White women who gave birth to non-white children made their husbands believe that they had been frightened by a Hottentot or slave during pregnancy.

At the Cape the legal line of descent for both slaves and free citizens were matrilineal, that is by virtue of who their mother was. If the father was free, but the mother a slave, then the child was a slave. If the mother was free, but the father was a slave, then the child was free. This determination avoided the multitude of challenges that would have resulted if the basis was paternal, since how do you prove who the real father was? Shell p xxxvi. It is rather interesting how modern day interpreters of early South African history conveniently ignore facts which would negate their preconceived labelling of the past as patriarchal.

Soebat: The Plea of the Slave

Punishment at the Cape was severe, it is interesting that the Afrikaans word "soebat" meaning to plead, is from Malay origin. The slaves would have on many occasions used the word soebat. Runaway company slaves were whipped by a sjambok (Malay word, now part of the Afrikaans vocabulary) and branded on one cheek. With the next offence they were branded on the other cheek. Any further offence would lead to their nose and ears being cut off. Harsher punishment was dealt out for worse crimes. Punishment included; breaking on the wheel, pulling out flesh with red-hot tongs, mutilation, impaling, burning alive and slow strangulation. One slave woman who the authorities suspected of trying to strangle her child, the child died a week later, was to be punished by having her breast torn out by hot tongs. She was then to be burned to death, until there was only ashes The authorities showed mercy and put her in a sack and drowned her in Table bay. The dead bodies of slaves were also left in public places as a warning to the rest of the slaves. When looking at the cruel punishments that was handed out to the slaves, the historical context should be taken into account. Burghers, who were punished, received nearly as gruesome forms of punishment as the slaves, from our present humanitarian position we find revolting.

Evidence in Afrikaans Language Concerning these Roots

My genealogy is reflected in the Afrikaans language, where other Malay words have been maintained such a baadjie -jacket, baie - a lot or plenty, piering - saucer, sjambok - wip, blatjang - chutney, piesang - banana, pondok - hut, rotang - cane. Some other words are outa - used for elderly man or servant, aia - for a lady servant and kaija - rough dwelling. It is rather interesting that most words deals with food, punishment or dwelling. Achmat Davids wrote an article: The Words the Slaves Made. In it he refers to some other words: nonnie, tronk from 'tarungka' meaning jail, baie from 'bannyak' meaning plenty or much, tamaai from 'utama' meaning big, soewaar which was first said as tjoewaar coming from 'tjoba' meaning assuredly. Other words include baklei - fight, sosatie, kabaai, katel, bobotie, oorlam, (oor)krabbetjie, amper, saam-saam from tjakki-tjakki.

According to Hans den Besten, during the greater part of the 18th Century many slaves came from India-Sri Lanka and the others from Indonesia. The slaves from the sub-continent and some from Indonesia used Creole Portugese, others who had Indonesian parents, whether they came from India or Indonesia they used a non standard Malay. One can observe the inluence of Creole Portugese: 'tronkoe' became 'tronk, '. The Mollucans (Ambon) influence can be seen in the use of titles: "Moenie Oom/ Dokter vir my pla nie"; "Jan-hulle". Other Creole Portugese words in Afrikaans: sambreel, tarentaal, kombers, koperkapel, kraal, mielie, ramkie, brinjal, kiepersol. For further information refer to the following books by Raidt, 'Afr. en sy Euroese verlede', and Ponelis, 'the development of Afr.'). Also Boshoff & Nienaber, 'Afrikaanse etimologiee'.


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