With colonialism, which began in South Africa in 1652, came the Slavery and Forced Labour Model. This was the original model of colonialism brought by the Dutch in 1652 and subsequently exported from the Western Cape to the Afrikaner Republics of the Orange Free State and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek. Many South Africans are the descendants of slaves brought to the Cape Colony from 1653 until 1822.
- Sadly, the article of trade in which Europeans showed the greatest interest, and which Africans were prepared to sacrifice, were slaves. The Atlantic slave trade stands at the centre of a long history of European contact with Africa. This was the era of the African Diaspora, an all-embracing term historians have used to describe the consequences of the slave trade. Estimates of the number of slaves transported from their African homes to European colonial possession in the Americas range from 9 to 15 million people.
- Although a great deal of violence accompanied the trade in slaves, the sheer scale of operations involved a high degree of organisation, on the part of both Europeans and Africans. In other words, the Atlantic slave trade could not have taken place without the cooperation, or complicity, of many Africans.
- As the number of transported slaves increased, African societies could not avoid transformation, and 400 years of slave trading took their toll. Of course, not all African societies were equally affected, but countries such as Angola and Senegal suffered heavily.
Slavery at the Cape
- Jan van Riebeeck, who founded the heritage colony at Cape Town in 1652, was an official of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch marked their permanence by building a five-pointed stone castle on the shores of the bay, a structure that continues to dominate the city centre of Cape Town.
- At first, the Dutch were primarily concerned with supplying their ships with fresh produce as they rounded the Cape en route to the spice-producing islands of the Indonesian archipelago. This is because the Dutch had their most important colonial interests in Indonesia, which included the growing of crops and spices that could not be produced in Europe. The Indian subcontinent was the main source of slaves during the early part of the 18th century, and approximately 80% of slaves came from India during this period.
How could slaves limit the power of slavery?
The single largest limitation that the slave owners faced was that they were compelled to acknowledge that their slaves were not merely property, but also human beings with human values, desires and emotions. On farms and households in the Cape, slaves and slave owners lived very near each other and came into daily contact. The culture that grew out of these regular interactions was one of domination, but it was also one that was based on acknowledging the humanity of the other party.
What was the impact of runaway slaves on the Cape slave society?
Almost from the start, slaves began to run away, because of ill-treatment, overwork and the natural desire to live as a free person. Runaway slaves were frequently supplied with foodstuffs from surrounding farms since they often lacked the knowledge that would allow them to feed themselves from the natural environment.
Slavery moves towards South Africa’s interior
It soon became apparent to the Boers that beyond the Western Cape and Boland regions, the terrain of South Africa was unsuitable for intensive agriculture but very suitable for cattle farming. The majority of them lacked the financial means to buy slaves imported all the way from Indonesia, but since they were already in the process of dispossessing the indigenous population of their land, it seemed logical to take both the land and the people by force.
The Abolition of Slavery at the Cape
The British occupied the Cape again in 1806, and in 1814 the Cape officially became a British colony. The growing influence of the concept of human rights at the beginning of the 19th century and the effects of a changing economic system in Western Europe during the same period both contributed to the questioning of the practice of slavery.
Does slavery still exist today?
Today, the term slavery is used to indicate a wide range of human rights abuses and exploitative labour practices. The United Nations defines contemporary slavery as consisting of a variety of human rights violations. In addition to traditional slavery and the slave trade, these abuses include the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography, the exploitation of child labour, the sexual mutilation of female children, the use of children in armed conflicts, debt bondage, the traffic in persons and in the sale of human organs, the exploitation of prostitution, and certain practices under apartheid and colonial regimes.