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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
— 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.
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
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
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
and the Company confiscated all his possessions.
took a different view, however. In
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.