Brief Overview of Slavery in South Africa

South Africa originated from the colony known by the name “Cape of Good Hope” as well as “Cape Colony”. Before gaining its freedom and becoming an independent state, ownership over Cape Colony switched several times. Timeline of European forces domains over South Africa(events inside the brackets took place in the ending year leading to change):

  • Netherlands domain:1652-1795(Battle of Muizenberg)
  • Great Britain domain:1795-1802(Peace of Amiens)
  • Netherlands domain:1803-1806(Battle of Blaauwberg)
  • Great Britain Domain:1806-1872(Cape Colony becomes self-governing)

Honorable Mention – South Africa Old History

It is believed that the first “modern” human beings originated from South Africa around 100 000 years ago. The first inhabitants of South Africa are collectively called Khoisan. They encompass both the pastoral Khoi Khoi and the hunter-gatherer San aboriginal folk. These groups were displaced and assimilated by Bantu migrations.

Arrival of Portuguese

Bartolomeu Dias On the Soils of South Africa

Bartolomeu Dias on the Soils of South Africa

At 1488 the first encounter with Europeans took place as Bartolomeu Dias was exploring the coastline of South Africa in the attempt to find a sailing route to the far east. However, the Portuguese showed no interest in colonialization since the rocky coast and ferocious weather posed a threat to their ships. In addition to that, almost every attempt to trade with Khoikhoi would end in conflict. Instead of South Africa, they had chosen Mozambican shores for building their establishments and refreshment camps. Until the late 16th century, Portuguese almost had no competition when it comes to establishing domination over aboriginals. After this point in time, the Netherlands and England entered the game and changed the ods.

How Did Slavery Start in South Africa?

Find out the Truth about Black Friday Slavery Myth

The beginning of slavery that started with the arrival of the Dutch in 1652. The initiative for this conquest came from the Dutch East India Company.


Dutch East India Company

Dutch East India Company Logo

Dutch East India Company Logo

Ditch East India company, also known by the abbreviation VOC(Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie), was founded through the government-directed amalgamation of three biggest companies in the Netherlands. The company was established on March 20th, 1602 as a chartered company. A chartered company was an association of investors incorporated and granted rights by royal charter. Dutch East India Company was created with the main purpose of trading with Mughal India. Textiles(50%) and silks(80%) were imported from the Mughal empire’s Bengal Subah region. VOC also traded with south-east Asian countries influenced by Indian culture and was granted a 21-year monopoly on the Dutch spice trade. Branching its activities into many areas like international trading, ship-building, and production of spices as well as wine gained from South Africa, Dutch East India Company earned to be regarded as the forerunner of today’s gigantic corporations.

Cape Of Good Hope

In 1647, the Dutch vessel Haarlem has wrecked at today’s Table Bay overlooked by Cape Town founded a few years later. Saved members of the crew recommended a permanent station to be built in the bay.

Establishing Permanent Station

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a trading post in a Cape Town. Jan van Riebeeck has been delegated the duty of managing the implementation of the whole operation. At first, the company had no colonizing intentions. All VOC wanted was a functional, secure and permanent refreshment camp for passing ships. In that name, the Dutch built a five-pointed stone castle on the shores of the bay. Supplies were gathered through trading with indigenous people. However, at some point, Khoikhoi aboriginals stopped trading with the Dutch and eventually broke every contact with them. They were pastoral people unwilling to work in fields as was, in addition to many things, expected from them. It is then that the enslaving started. But the enslaved part of the Cape Khoikhoi population wasn’t enough to achieve the required production level. The ensuing shortage of both the supplies and working capable men forced the company to import the domestic labor force. Farmers were brought to Cape of Good Hope to establish farms and create the source of supplies for VOC’s ships. European workers that settled in the Cape Town were known as Free Burghers. The rapid increase in the numbers of farmers led to European territory expansion to the north and east, even further into the lands of Khoikhoi. The VOC also brought around 71,000 slaves to Cape Town from India, Indonesia, East Africa, Mauritius, and Madagascar.

Free Burghers

Free burghers were VOC’s ex-soldiers and gardeners unable to return to the Netherlands after the expiration of the contract they had with the company. Rise of their numbers and being unable to return to the home country was the main reason for new colonialization. Most of them were Dutch but there were also those with German and Scandinavian origins.

Indentured Slavery

Indentured slavery is what came after the collision of expanding Europeans and Khoikhoi indigenous people who were stripped of their territories to the degree that war was the only remaining option. However, Dutchmen were in possession of way superior weapons – firearms. The advantage in arms turned battles to the sequence of one-sided massacres. The conflict eventually resulted in the submission of Khoikhoi. In addition to military defeats, Europeans had brought diseases lethal for indigenous people with a differently developed immune system. Indentured slavery was conducted over surviving aboriginals. That meant that Khoikhoi people had working contracts that provided them with rights almost equal to those that chattel slaves had(none).

The First Slaves in South Africa

In 1658 first slaves were imported to South Africa for purposes of agricultural work. These slaves arrived at the Cape Town on March 28 after being stripped away from Portuguese ship sailing to Brazil. Most of them originated from Angola. When sized, slaves were 250 in number but only 170 of them survived to set their foot on the shores of Cape.

Where did Slaves in the Cape Come From?

Slave origin list:

  • India
  • Mozambique
  • Madagascar
  • Angola
  • South Africa(Khoikhoi aboriginals)

During the early 17th century, 80% of the slaves in South Africa came from India. As time passed more and more slaves were imported from Madagascar. Then, in 1795 British took the Cape Colony for themselves and have governed it during the period of 7 years. During this period of rule, South Africa became the main source of slaves. The tradition was prolonged in Dutch short return from 1802-1806. Most of the trade Dutch made with slave traders in Mozambique who turned to be the main source for supplying Cape Colony with labor strength. From 1710 the enslaved population outnumbered free adults three to one. Yet the cause of such ratio had nothing to do with human reproductive nature but the constant import of slaves to Cape Colony. Due to extremely hard living conditions, giving free hands to the natural course of events would mean losing most of the slaves under diseases, punishments, escapes, and unbearable living conditions. That is why governing Cape Colony imperatively encompassed slave import.

Life of a Slave In Cape Colony Before 1807

Slave Life

Life of Slaves

Slaves were equalized with objects and were treated like chattel. That meant that masters could trade, punish or kill their subjects by the course of their free will without having to explain anything to anyone. Most of the time, punishments for misbehavior were whipping, additional working hours, or stripping portions of food. Clothes for enslaved was reducted on a single uniform per year. Slaves had no right to get married.

End Of Slavery In Cape Colony and Life of Slaves Before the Abolishment

In 1807, by the slave-trade act, England abolished slave-trade that was, from that year on, prohibited in the whole England Empire. However, the practice of slavery remained. It was only in 1837 that slavery was completely abolished on the soils of the empire. After 1806, when Great Britain regained control over Cape Colony, following the rise of popularity and influence of social stream fighting for the slavery abolishment, the state established rules for improving the welfare of the slaves. The Slave Guardian appointed by the English government was responsible for new laws to be respected. Despite new legal directives, some powerful masters remained loyal to their traditional way of treating slaves as objects. Slaves were allowed and expected to report and mistreatment to the Slave Guardian appointed by the colonial government.

Amelioration laws:

  • From 1824 slaves were allowed to make legal marriages.
  • Husband, wife, and children were allowed to live together.
  • Kids could not be sold until they reach a certain age.
  • Slaves were thought Christianity and their baptism was highly enhanced.
  • Sunday was reserved for rest.
  • Larger portions of food, shelter and much more than one uniform per year were proscribed by the law.
  • Punishments became less severe. Slaves had rights on possessions.
  • 1837 slavery in Cape Colony was completely abolished.

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