trade by Company officials became so rampant that, in 1713. return
tickets for slaves were booked and paid for in advance. A few years
later, however, this was stopped altogether, when it was discovered that
private people were making enormous profits at the cost of the Company’s
For a few years from 1724 a slave
station was maintained at Delagoa Bay, but the high mortality rate among
Company servants led to its closure. The Company turned its attention
again to Mozambique and later to Zanzibar.
Coming from different continents and
cultures, the slaves had little in common except their bondage. They
rarely formed a strongly united group with common aims. The mortality
rate was extremely high, and their numbers increased not through
procreation hut due to the continued importation of slaves. Groups, and
even families, were broken up and scattered at auction sales — there
being no obligation on a buyer, for instance, to purchase a mother as
well as her children. Although slaves formed a large part of the
population of the Cape, they were never accepted as being true members
of the community.
Slaves from Madagascar and the African
coast were the least valuable, although when Guinea slaves were first
introduced they fetched 100 rix-dollars apiece, as opposed to the 50
paid for a Malagasy. Generally they were set to the hardest work, such
as collecting firewood, for which they might have to search all day in
order to collect just enough for a household’s needs for the next day.
At the other extreme was the Malay,
described as the ‘king of slaves’. More quickly than any other
group, the Malays learnt the skills of almost all the trades practiced
at the Cape. When freed, many prospered commercially. Against this,
however, they were regarded as temperamental and dangerous. ‘Running
amok’ was something to be feared. On one occasion an Eastern slave, in
utter desperation and beyond caring, rushed through the streets, dagger
in hand, slashing at everyone in sight and eventually stabbing himself
By Law Muslim slaves were not allowed to practice there faith.
Most valued of all slaves was a
Cape-born child of a slave mother and white father. In the early years
of the colony, several marriages took place between white men and slave
women, due to the shortage of white women at the colony. Later, sexual
intercourse between whites and slaves took place without a formal union.
During most of its existence, the Company’s slave lodge was renowned
as the town’s leading brothel. Although forbidden, action was seldom
taken against transgressors — except in the early years.
one incident, Van Riebeeck noticed that Maria van Bengalen, one of his
slaves, was often seen with Constable Willem Cornelis. His suspicions
led him, with three others as witnesses, to burst into Cornelis’
bedroom one Sunday at around midnight. The two were found ‘in one
another’s arms’. The next day, Cornelis was sentenced to pay a fine
of 100 reals of eight (a Portuguese currency) and ‘labour for 50 years
on public works’. The second part of the sentence was commuted to a
fine of a further 50 reals. There is no record of a punishment imposed
When Commissioner Hendrik van
Reede visited the Cape in 1685 he noted that among the Company’s
slaves there were no fewer than 57 children who obviously had white
fathers. Van Reede decided that males could buy their freedom for 100
guilders on reaching the age of 25 years, provided that they had been
confirmed in the Dutch Reformed Church and could speak Dutch. The same
applied to women, but their age of freedom was 22 years.