Slavery The Control And Punishment


Control and punishment: The Statutes of India, promulgated in 1642, controlled slave ownership and all matters relating to slaves. But, in practice, slave-owners themselves were the immediate instrument of control and punishment. The Statutes permitted a slave-owner to punish his slaves for a mild offence with extra duties, but beating and flogging were forbidden. When the free burghers were allowed to buy slaves, Van Riebeeck made it a condition that they keep a whip or lash in the house for chastising their slaves. But when, almost immediately, slaves began to escape, he allowed owners to keep escaped slaves in chains. Where owner’s thought that slaves deserved severe punishment, they were to report to the Council of Justice. Slaves, in turn, were to report ill treatment, although it is debatable whether slaves fully understood this.

The "whites" fear of an uprising is reflected in a law, which forbade more than two slaves belonging to different owners, to meet at anytime. There was also a curfew, which required any slaves out of doors after 10pm to carry a lantern, unless accompanying a member of the owner’s family. In practice, slaves often disregarded these restrictions and pursued their amusements such as gambling with dice, cockfighting, fishing, drinking coffee or brandy, and even smoking opium.

Under criminal law — and there were many offences which, when carried out by a slave, were crimes — slaves received harsh punishment. Exceptions were made in the case of bigamy and adultery, for which whites were severely punished and not the slaves.

Sex between slaves and masters: A law forbidding sexual intercourse between white men and slave women was broken with impunity. In one case, however, a soldier named Jan Rutter and a slave named Catrijn van de Kaap were found guilty of this offence. Rutter was sentenced, and deprived of one month’s salary, while his partner was sentenced to be flogged and to work for six months in chains.

It was considered more reprehensible if a white woman committed adultery with a slave than if a white man did. Hester Jansz, found guilty at the Cape of committing this offence on the island of Mauritius, was sentenced to be flogged and to work for five years in chains. The slave’s fate was not recorded at the Cape.

In the case of gambling, which was forbidden, the court ordered two young officials to repay a slave, Catrijn vanBengalen, 50 of 80 rix-dollars, which they won from her in an evening of card playing. In addition, the officials were fined, but there appears to have been no charge against Catrijn

A privately owned slave, Paul van Malabar, was found guilty of keeping a female Company slave named Calafora in his room for three days and nights he was sentenced, to be flogged and branded — not for the sexual offence, but for depriving the Company of the labour of one of its slaves. Calafora was pregnant and sentence was postponed until after she gave birth.

Slaves sent by their owners beyond a certain distance were obliged to carry a pass, signed by the owner, stating the particulars of the mission. Owners who could not write had to buy a lead token from the Company, engraved with the names of owner and slave, which served as a pass. Anyone who arrested a slave without a pass received a reward from the slave's owner.

Farm slaves often worked under the immediate supervision of a mondoor (overseer), who was a slave, usually Cape born and chosen for this senior position by his owner. A mondoor received benefits, such as permission to sleep in the women's section of the slave quarters. Other supervisors were the knechte, unskilled European laborers or soldiers of the lowest rank, who were not far above the slaves in the social hierarchy. The knechte had to keep the balance between a high rate of production and the welfare of the slaves who, in turn, felt they were over­worked and retaliated with violence — fights between knechte and slaves were frequent.

An owner who felt that his slave deserved a beating could take him to special assistants of the Fiscal (prosecu­tor), known as ‘kaffirs’,in order to be flogged. The kaffirs were Asians who had committed criminal offences in other Dutch colonies and been banished to the Cape, where they now served as an elementary police force.

Justice was rigorously administered — and sentences were barbaric in the extreme. Runaway slaves who were recaptured were flogged, branded with a red-hot iron on the back or cheek and sentenced to a lifetime in chains. A second attempt to run away would result in the slave hav­ing his ears, the tip of his nose and, possibly, his right hand cutoff. This practice of mutilation was later discontinued, not for humanitarian reasons, but out of consideration for those who might take offence on seeing the disfigure­ments. Runaways were often hanged, which was also the sentence meted out to slaves found guilty of theft.

A slave woman found guilty of murdering her baby (on dubious evidence, although she ‘confessed’ under torture) was sentenced to have both breasts torn from her body with red-hot pincers, after which she was to be burnt. But the Council of Justice reduced the sentence — it felt it would be more merciful for Susanna to be sewn into a sack and dropped from a ship, far out in Table Bay.

For a slave to raise his hand, whether armed or not, against his owner, or against almost any other European, meant slow and painful torture on the wheel  (instrument that disjointed and broke bones), but did not actually kill. A slave woman who set fire to her owner’s house was chained to a stake and burnt to death. The remains of executed criminals were usually left on display, until devoured by scavengers, at the place of execution or at the scene where the crime was committed, as a ‘warning’ to other slaves.

The most severe sentence imposed on a white for the murder of a slave during the Dutch period is thought have been that against burgher Godfried Meyhuijsen who, af­ter beating one of his slaves to death, was taken to the place of execution, blindfolded and made to kneel while the executioner swung a sword above his head to signify that he deserved to die. After that, he was banished for life to Robben Island and the Company confiscated all his possessions.

The British took a different view, however. In 1822, Wil­helm Gebhart, 22-year-old son of the Dutch Reformed Church minister in Paarl, appeared before Chief Justice Sir John Truter, charged with the murder of a slave, Joris of Mozambique, whom Gebhart had allegedly beaten to death. A plea of manslaughter was rejected, and Gebhart was found guilty of willful murder and hanged. Some legends have grown around the Gebhart case, presenting the young man as a victim of a slave conspiracy.


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