The Slave and Khoena Ancestors in my Family Tree

Over some 35 years I have been building my family tree and continue to enhance it by visiting and revisiting new information as it comes available. I encourage others to do the same. Today when many make wild claims about their past heritage, FACEunfortunately often with some opportunistic material claim in mind, or others still peddle the false Apartheid and Colonial narrative, I can recommend that there is so much more information out there based on impeccable resources, available to substantiate ones narrative, than when I started out on this quest more than half a lifetime ago. When I first started out on this journey to meet my ancestors, I did not even know who my father was and did not know more than half my 13 siblings. Not only did those questions get answered, I also tracked my ancestry for over 400 years.

Before going into my ancestral heritage I must first give credit to the small but dedicated community of researchers who have made the journey easier. My own painstaking search, particularly in the earlier ‘pre-online’ years has made me truly appreciate the dedication and hard work carried out by scholar researchers of our (much distorted) early history in South Africa. Distortions past and present have made the journey more difficult as one tries to navigate fact and fiction. At times I may disagree with the perspectives held by some researchers and, I have discovered that some researchers themselves now disagree with earlier work of their own. Its all part of the journey. The plurality of perspectives and versions of the past is a reality which will live on forever. Indeed all historical narratives are versions.

The research works that I must here accredit for this short summary just of my Slave and Khoena ancestors (sans an array of French, Dutch, German, Nordic and English/Scots forebears) include:

Names, dates and places: Robertson, Delia – The First Fifty Years project.; and; and CC de Villiers& C Pama – Geslagregisters van ou kaapse families, (Cape Town /Amsterdam); Cape Archive Repository; GISA – South African Genealogies, JA Heese & RJT Lombard;

Narrative sources: Van Riebeeck Society (1958) – Journal of Jan van Riebeeck, Edt HB Thom, Balkema, Cape Town; Mansell G Upham (2012) – Uprooted Lives: Unfurling the Cape of Good hope’s earliest colonial inhabitants 1652 – 1713; Made or marred by time (The other Armozijn & the two Arabian ‘princesses’ at the Cape of Good Hope in 1656); Mansell G Upham (2015) – For Eva’s sake who speaks for Krotoa; Maurice Boucher (1981) – French Speakers at the Cape, UNISA, Pretoria; Karel Schoeman (2009) –  Seven Khoi Lives, Cape biographies of the 16th Century; Karel Schoeman (2007) –  Early Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope 1652 – 1717; Cape Archive Repository Mellet, Huntley, Haddon docs; Patric Tariq Mellet  (2012) – ‘Drawing the Longbow’ at the Cape – Krotoa 

The work of Mansell G Upham is invaluable for both verifying factual information and in getting ones head around the early Cape settlement and many of the various characters that appear in my family tree. He is an exceptional pioneering researcher of primary resources who has beaten a path, holding no holy cows, to give us an amazing different picture to that which we associate with conventional history taught in schools, or the ideological bent that tinges much of what is read. (we all succumb to the latter in some way) I encourage all to go a read his work (available online) and be awakened to a whole new world. The snippets of my own family story informed by his work is just a taster of the gems his work holds and the challenge that it provokes for one to think. The raw and sometimes clumsy information that I gathered over the last 35 years of putting my genealogical record together has been greatly enhanced and at times corrected by comparing my data gleaned from other sources against the more thorough detail and perspective and argument that Upham provides.


Five personalities in my family tree of ancestors emerge from the indigenous Khoena people of the Cape rooted in the Goringhaicona and Hessequa clans. These are Krotoa Goringhaicona, Pieternella Goringhaicona Zaaiman, Caatje Hottentotin Mauritz Voortman, Susanna Fortman le Cordier and Anna Maria Fortman le Cordier.

Krotoa Eva Goringhaicona van Meerhof (Havgardt)  1642 – 1674 is one of my 9th great grandmothers. Kratoa (bn 1642) was born into the Goringhaicona clan of maroons made up of drifters from other clans (Goringhaiqua, Gorachoqua, Cochoqua) who settled at the Camissa River mouth in Table Bay to trade with passing ships under the leadership of her uncle Autshumao (bn  ). She also enjoyed a special relationship with the clan that her sister married into – the Cochoqua. The Khoena trading settlement around the Camissa dating from around 1630 represents the earliest foundations of what became the City of Cape Town. It is possible from the description of Kratoa’s appearance that she had paternal or ancestral links with a passing European seaman. She was taken into the fort de Goede Hoop by the van Riebeeck family to be a servant at the age of 10 years. By the age of 15 and for the next six years she worked as an interpreter and emissary for the VOC commander in his interaction with the Khoena. Over 200 times in 65 entries in the Journal of Commander Jan van Riebeeck there are references about her or attributed to her. Her life was a complex one. For a teenage woman at that time she played a remarkable role in a man’s world, besides the fact of her mastery of language. While at first the Commander praised her work, later he suspected her of treachery and aiding her people by providing him with dubious interpretation and information and possibly providing useful information to his enemy. He accusingly referred to her as “drawing the longbow” a reference to misleading him in favour of her own people, and their relationship soured. In 1662 she was baptised as a Christian and married a Danish employee of the VOC -Pieter (Havgardt) van Meerhof in 1664. They were then bundled off to live on Robben Island seemingly to get her out of the way. Mansell Upham, who has been doing some of the most comprehensive research on Krotoa shows that four, possibly five of her eight children were born on Robben Island. In the last ten years of her life and especially after her husband died away in Madagascar in 1668, she was marginalised, ostracised and vilified by the settler community and she became an alcoholic, leading a wretched existence. She had given birth to two children in her teens in 1661 (Jacobus) and in 1663 (Pieternella) before she was married, the first fathered by unknown official and the second likely to be the daughter of Pieter van Meerhof. Historian Mansell G Upham’s research shows that in 1664 Krotoa had a third child who died in infancy and in 1666 she and Pieter van Meerhof had a fourth child Salomon and a fifth child who also died as an infant. After van Meerhof’s death Kratoa had Jeronimus van der Kaap (1670), another child who died as an infant and Anthoniij van Meerhof (1673). The last third of her life clearly seems to have been filled with multiple layers of unfulfilled dreams and trauma. Contradicting voices emerge from accounts of personal interaction which suggests that everything may not be as clear as some would like to believe. Hers is an unfinished story. A few years before her death, her children were removed from her by the church authorities who had deceived her. She had faced incarceration on many occasions and on having her children removed from her she was banished to Robben Island until her death. She died in 1674, only around 32 years old. My family line traces through her daughter Pieternella Saayman (bn 1663).

Pieternella Goringhaicona (van Meerhof) Saayman 1663 – 1713 is one of my 8th great grandmothers. She was the daughter of Krotoa Goringhaicona born the year before she married Pieter van Meerhof, who is likely to be her father. According to the research of Mansell G Upham, in March 1669 she and two of her siblings were wrested from Krotoa and given over to the care of a VOC official Jan Reiniersz and his wife Lijsbeth Jans by order of the Dutch Reformed Church Counsel because they believed Krotoa was no longer able to care for her children. Krotoa was arrested later in March and banished until the end of her days to Robben Island. Reiniersz in turn passed the responsibility for the care of the Meerhof children on to an associate, the notorious Barbara Geems. Far from being the ‘honest and godly people’ so described by the Church Counsel, Reiniersz was a notorius livestock thief and his associate Geems was accused of being a whoremonger and running a brothel. In 1677 Pieternella and her brother Salomon van Meerhof were shipped off to Mauritius as wards of Theuntje Bartholomeus van der Linde and her husband Bartholomeus Borns on the ship ‘De Boode’. The older brother Jacobus was later also sent off to Mauritius to join them. He would later be sent back to the Cape but died mysteriously on the return voyage. The records are quiet about the fate of Krotoa’s other two children Jeronimus and Anthonij except for the fact that Anthonij died in the smallpox epidemic of 1713. Pieternella was to return to the Cape with her husband Daniel Saayman after the Dutch East India Company (VOC) abandoned Mauritius. She died aged 50 in Stellenbosch in that fateful year of the smallpox epidemic in 1713. Daniel died the following year. Krotoa’s descendants can be traced through four of Petronella’s 8 children – through Catharina Zaaijman Diodata and her daughters in Jakarta; through Magdalene Zaaijman Bockelenberg; through Maria Zaaijman de Vries; and through Pieter Zaaijman (bn 1686) and their offspring. Four other children died young. My lineage flows from Pieter Zaaijman (bn 1688 in Mauritius) and Anna Maria Koopman (bn 1690) and their son Bartholomeus Zaaiman (bn1717) who was married to Anna van Biljon (bn 1724). Their son Bernadus Lambertus Zaaiman (1752) was married to Gertruyda Johanna Willemse (bn 1752) and were the parents of Bartholomeus Saayman (bn 1781) who married Aletta Johanna Cecelia van der Vyver (bn 1781). Their son Barend Saayman (bn 1810) married Gertruida Willemse (bn c 1815) whose daughter Elizabeth Saayman (bn c 1838) married Jacobus Johannes Mellet (bn 1822) and were the parents of my great grandfather Petrus Francois Mellet (bn 1864). Notably through Gertruyda Johanna Willemse (bn 1752) this is another of my slave heritage lines (see… The Slave Connection).

Johanna Catharina (Tol) Mauritz van der Kaap (bn c 1700) (aka Caatje Hottentotin Mauritz or Catharina Hottentotin Mauritz) (probably Hessequa) was married to Heinrich Voortman from Hamburg in 1759 but they had already had 8 children between 1735 and 1756).

Two of their daughters Anna Maria Fortman vdk (bn 1735) and Susanna Fortman vdk (bn 1745) married two le Cordier brothers – Johannes le Cordier (bn 1725) and Jurgen le Cordier (bn 1731) respectively. Both sisters and both brothers feature in my family tree. The le Cordier boys were the sons of Philippe le Cordier (bn 1698) and Elizabeth Malherbe (bn 1697).  Philippe le Cordier was the son of Huguenot refugees Louis le Cordier (bn 1656) from Orleanais in France and Francois Martinet (bn 1679) from Champagne-Ardenne in France. In the Cape the French language was discouraged in favour of Dutch so many of the French names changed. In the case of le Cordier variations such as Cordier, Cordeur, and Cortje were used.

Caatje Hottentotin (Johanna Catharina Tol Mauritz vdk is one of my 5th great grandmothers. Both of her daughters are amongst my 4th great grandmothers. All three represent Khoena heritage in my family tree along with that of one of my 9th great grandmothers and 8th great grandmothers Krotoa and Pieternella Goringhaicona. Caatje (Catharina) is likely to be of Hessequa lineage as her place of abode was in the Roodezand (Tulbagh) district.

Susanna and Jurgen le Cordier had a son Anthonie Louis le Cordier (bn 1789) who married Anna Hartman (bn  ). Their son Josef Michiel Anthonie le Cordier (bn 1829) married Anna la Grange (bn  ). Their son in turn, Anthonie le Cordier, was my paternal great grandfather  – my grandmother Elsie Petronella le Cordier’s father.

Susanna’s sister, Anna Maria Fortman vdk and Johannes le Cordier had a daughter Susanna Cordier (bn 1761) who married John Jacob Ziegler (bn c 1752). Their daughter Susanna Catharina Ziegler (bn 1780) married Johannes Ernst Volschenk (bn 1771) and their daughter Sarah Adriana Volschenk (bn 1804) married Jan Christiaan Steyl (bn 1793). Their daughter Maria Christina Steyl (bn 1824) married Willem van der Vyver (bn 1823). Their daughter Johanna Louisa van der Vyver (bn 1838) married Hermanus Joacobus Johannes Steyn (bn 1840) whose daughter Susanna Catharina Francina Steyn (bn1869) was my great grandmother (paternal lineage) who married my great grandfather Petrus Francois Mellet (bn 1864). Their son Pieter Francois Mellet is my grandfather and my father too was named Pieter Francois Mellet.

Two more lines within this section of my family tree go back to slave ancestors – Volschenk/van Graan and Steyn. (see under section on slave ancestors)


The slaves in my family tree are from diverse origins. The earliest of the slaves in my heritage were two sisters Lijsbeth and Cornelia Arabus, two royal children 10 and 12 years respectively who came from Madagascar from a royal family with roots first in the horn of Africa and Arabia who then migrated to Sulawesi in Indonesia and then onto Madagascar. Then there was Lijsbeth Sanders van der Kaap; Gerbregcht Herbst;Tamara of Madagascar; Armosijn de Groote van der Kaap; Armosijn de Cleine van der Kaap; Marij of Angola; Maria Lozee van der Kaap; Jacobus Steyn van der Kaap; Maria Groothenning van der Kaap; Anna Groothenning van Bengal (bay of Bengal captured from Myanmar); Anna Verkouter; Johannes Vosloo; Mosesz van Makassar (captured in South Sulawesi); Sara van Makassar (captured in Celebes); Rebecca Mosesz van der Kaap; Maria Cornelisse Claasen van der Kaap; Catharina van Malabar/Coromandel; Lijsbeth van Bengal; Anna Pieterse; Darius van Bengal; and Francina NN (my maternal great grandmother). These 23 personalities are in my direct line of decedents from Africa, Madagascar, South East Asia and India. By association there are many more slaves in my indirect family line.

The earliest of my slave ancestors worked in the van Riebeeck household alongside my earliest Khoena ancestor Krotoa. Lijsbeth Arabus born in Madagascar in 1645 and Cornelia  Arabus born in Madagascar in 1647 are both 8th great grandmothers in my family tree. The Dutch husband of one of my other earliest direct slave ancestor’s Catharina van Malabar was also the father to Cornelia’s daughter. Because of this intricate connection these are the only great aunt and offspring that I include in immediate family. Should I include other slavery-rooted aunts, uncles and cousins the list of 24 would grow dramatically.

In 1656 two enslaved child captives from the Madagascar Zafaraminia royal line going back to Sumatra/Arabia/Abyssinia, were originally gifted to Maria van Riebeeck by French Admiral de la Roche – St Andre of a visiting French fleet of four ships – la Duchess, St Joris, La Erman and La Marechale. This fleet was part of a broader French Fleet intending a major occupation of parts of Madagascar.

But in 1659 the visiting VOC Commissioner Rijckloff van Goens ordered that the gift to the van Riebeecks was not to be interpreted as personal and, that the two girls were possessions of the Company (VOC).  Van Goens gave permission for Lijsbeth to serve in the home of Geertruida and Pieter van Stael the sick comforter and Cornelia to serve in the house of Meijnsje and Frederick Verburgh. Later Lijsbeth was reallocated as a slave to VOC gardener Hendrik Hendrikz Boom and then to successive VOC gardeners Jacob Rosendal and his wife Barbara Geems, and later to Herman Gresnicht. For a while in 1666 Lijsbeth was the slave of Barbara Geems (the widow of Jacob Rosendal) who remarried to Hendrik Gulix. Geems was said to be running a brothel after the death of her husband (ref Upham and Schoeman)

On the available evidence Lijsbeth Arabus was the mother of  Aromosyn (de Groote) van der Kaap (1657 – 1713); Lijsbeth Sanders (Everts) van der Kaap (1658 – 1744); and Pieter Willemz (Africano / aka Tamboer)(1660 – 1729)

Lijsbeth Sanders van der Kaap is one of my 7th great grandmothers.

Cornelia Arabus (bn ) was allocated to VOC Secunde, Roeloff de Man, and later possibly went into the service of VOC Secunde, Abraham Gabbema. On the available evidence Cornelia Arabus was the mother of Armosyn (de Cleinje) van der Kaap (1661 – 1733) and Claes Cornelius van der Kaap (1663 – 1719).

Cornelia is my 9th great Aunt. Her daughter Armosijn de Cleine vdk is my first cousin 9 times removed. Armosijn de Groote vdk is one of my 8th great aunts.

Lijsbeth Sanders van der Kaap was a child who was passed around from pillar to post until she was purchased  in 1671 at the age of 12 by the stepson of Barbara Geems, Adrian Willemz van Brakal.

Lijsbeth had remained with her mother in her early childhood, while her mother worked for the gardeners from the Staels to Barbara Geems, but is noted to have been sold from the VOC into private hands in 1665 at 8 years old to Mattijs Coeijmans who was also the owner of Anna van Guinea who effectively then became the foster mother to Lijsbeth (with Swart Maria Evert being her foster sister). Evert van Guinea who was the de facto husband to Anna, had been given his freedom by Jan van Riebeeck, also purchased Anna’s freedom from Coeijmans 1671.

It can be deduced that Lijsbeth was a rebellious teen who was prone to getting involved with bad company. In 1678 she was arrested with two young men for breaking into the house of Louis van Bengal and stealing a gold ring and silver buttons. As a result of her conviction she was legally ceded by her owner Brakal, to the ownership of Louis van Bengal in terms of reparation as a result of her criminal action against him.

At 19 Lijsbeth Sanders vdk now the slave of Free Black citizen, Louis van Bengal who effectively became her fourth owner and her de facto husband and, father to three of her children. Louis gave Lijsbeth her freedom after 5 years when she and her two enslaved children were manumitted by him in 1683. In 1687 she and Louis entered into a formal recorded engagement to be married, according to Lijsbeth, on condition that he stopped beating her. In the course of her living with Louis, she had three children with him – Elizabeth Louisz (1680), Anna Louisz (1683) and Maria Louisz (1686).

But in 1685 after having an affair with an English farm hand who was employed by Louis, Willem Teerling, she had another child Willem Teerling jnr, but continued to reside under the roof of Louis and indeed had her third child with Louis. The affair with Teerling continued under Louis nose and in 1688 Louis twice took Lijsbeth to court for infidelity and breaking her formal promise that they would be married. But it was Louis that had dragged his feet in not already having married her. His excuse was that she was not yet a Christian. On the second occasion in court he sued both Lijsbeth and Teerling but Louis came away from court with an order that favoured Lijsbeth in that he had to pay costs for the upkeep of Lijsbeth and the Teerling child. He had asked the court to reinstate her into slavery and that was not granted. In 1689 Lijsbeth had another child with Teerling, Clara, sometime before moving on to her next relationship.

In 1696 Lijsbeth was again caught for burglary and stealing and given a sentence whereby she was flogged and given over to undergo 3 years of hard labour in chains. At the age of 37 and already having 3 children Lijsbeth had reached the lowest point in her life.

Sometime after being released in 1699, having completed her sentence, this 40 year old woman began a new life with Jan Herfst and had her last child Gerbrecht Herfst (Herbst) in 1702. Jan had also had a previous relationship with a slave by the name of Cecelia van Angola and they had a child Angenietie van der Kaap the sister of Gerbrecht.

Gerbrecht Herbst married Johannes Vosloo son of Johann Vosloo and a slave, Tamara van Madagascar.

Johann snr had relationships with five different slave women from which six children were born. Helena van Malabar (child – Jannetjie vdk); Nasana van Madagascar (child – Helena Vosloo); Tamara van Madagascar (children – Johannes Vosloo & Maria Vosloo) Some references show Helena van Malabar as mother to Johannes; Apollonia van Bagada (child – Casper Vosloo);  Catrijn van Madagascar (child Catrijn). Records show that these were slaves whom were owned by Johann snr, some of whom, with their children were given their freedom.

Gerbrecht daughter of Lijsbeth Sanders van der Kaap married a man born out of a similar tumultuous scenario of multiple relationships amongst slaves and freemen as dominated her mother’s life and grandmother before. Lijsbeth Sanders vdk lived a long life until the age of 85 when she died in 1744. We can only assume that the lack of any further records of a criminal or relationship nature means that she finally found peace and settled down.

The son of Gerbrecht Herbst and Johannes Vosloo (bn 1694) by the name of Arnoldus Vosloo (1724) married Anna Catharina Verkouter (bn 1737) the daughter of Frans Verkouter (bn1660) and Maria Groothenning.(bn1703) – (daughter of Darius van Bengal (bn 1677) and Anna Groothenning van Bengal (bn 1676) – origin Myanmar or Laos. She was bought or taken captive by Cornelis Keeleman skipper of De Spiegel in 1698.

Arnoldus Vosloo and Anna Catharina Verkouter had a son, also Arnoldus Vosloo (bn 1763) who was married to Anna Spies had a daughter Martha Vosloo who married Johannes la Grange whose daughter Anna la Grange married Josef le Cordier, father of paternal great-grandfather Anthony le Cordier, father of grandmother Elsie Petronella (le Cordier) Mellet (bn 1900).

Mosesz van Makassar (captured in South Sulawesi) (bn 1651) was married to Sara van Makassar (captured in Celebes) (bn 1667) and had a daughter Rebecca Mosesz van der Kaap (bn 1683) who married Otto Ernst van Graan (bn 1651). Their daughter Sara van Graan (bn 1709) married Evert Jansen Volschenk (1705) the son of Johannes Ernst Volschenk (bn 1755) and Catharina Johanna Vermeulen (bn 1744). It is their daughter in this section of my family tree – Sara Adriana Steyl nee Volschenk (bn 1804) who traces back to the Indonesian slave ancestors and she is one of my fourth great grandmothers. Her forebears – Mosesz and Sara van Makassar, are two of my 9th great grandparents.

Maria Lozee van der Kaap (bn 1666) was a creole slave born at the Slave Lodge (Lozee) in Cape Town to Marij van Angola (bn c 1638) and an unknown father. She married Douwe Gerbrand Steyn (bn 1660). Maria and Douwe only had a female child together – Antie Steyn (bn 1692), but Douwe adopted Maria’s son Jacobus NN van der Kaap (bn 1683) and gave him the name Steyn. We do not know who the father of Jacobus was. He could have been another slave or a European. All of this branch of the Steyn family (there are later European Steyn arrivals) have Jacobus son of Maria Lozee vdk as their progenitor. Maria Lozee Steyn married again after Douwe Steyn’s death to Paul Heyns.

Jacobus Steyn married Maria Potgieter (bn1687) in 1704 and from this union most Steyns in South Africa are descended. (A number of other later Steyns also married free slaves). The child of Jacobus and Maria Steyn from whom I am descended was Jacobus Steyn jnr (bn 1723) who married Susanna Fourie (bn c 1730) and their son Douwe Gerbrand Steyn (bn 1759) married Maria Malan (bn 1763). Then their son Hermanus J Steyn (bn 1794) married Susanna Steyn (1796) and they had a son Hermanus Hendrikus Steyn (bn 1816) who married Christina Lourens (bn 1822) and their son Hermanus JJ Steyn (bn 1840) was my great great grandfather who married Johanna Louiza van der Vyver (bn c 1845). Their daughter Susanna Catharina Francina Steyn (bn 1869) married my grandfather Petrus Francois Mellet (bn 1864).]

Catharina van Malabar / Coast of Coromandel (bn 1650) was one of two slave partners of Cornelius ‘Kees de Boer’ Claasz from Utrecht, Netherlands (the other being Isabella van Angola). They were the parents of Maria Cornelisz (Claasen) (bn 1678) who was married to Gerrit Willemse (bn 1670) who were the parents of Mattheus Gerhardus Willemse (bn 1711) married to Johanna van Wieligh (bn 1716). They were the parents of Gertruyda Johanna Willemse (bn 1752) who married Bernadus Lambertus Zaaiman (bn 1752) whose son Bartholomeus was grandfather to Elizabeth Saayman (bn c 1838) who married my great great grandfather Jacobus Johannes Mellet (bn 1822).

Lisbeth van Bengal (bn 1643) was another of the earliest slaves at the Cape who is a 9th great grandmother in my family tree. She was captured in the Bay of Bengal region, most likely Myanmar, taken to Batavia (Jakarta0 and then brought to the Cape and sold to Jan van Riebeeck by Rear Admiral Pieter Kemp in 1657. She had around 8 children by different fathers. Her fourth child born around 1663 was fathered by a Pieter NN and the child was named Anna Pietersz. Anna was born into slavery as her mother and her were only freed ten years later in 1673. She later married Anthonij de Later van Japan a fellow freed slave. Anna Pietersz (bn 1663) married Matthys van Wijk (bn 1645) and their daughter Elizabeth van Wyk (1679) married Nikolaus von Wielligh. Their daughter Johanna von Wielligh (1716) married Mattheus Willemse (1711) and their daughter Gertruyda Johanna Willemse (bn 1752) married Bernardus Lambertus Zaaiman (bn 1752) great grandfather to Elizabeth Saayman (bn c 1838)  who married my great great grandfather Jacobus Johannes Mellet (1822).

Twenty-eight Khoena and Slave Personalities in my family tree

  1. Kratoa Goringhaicona (Eva van Meerhof) 9th great grandmother (Khoena)
  2. Pieternella Saayman 8th great grandmother (Khoena)
  3. Johanna Catharina Mauritz (Caatje Hottentotin) 5th great grandmother (Khoena)
  4. Susanna Fortman 4th great grandmother (Khoena)
  5. Anna Maria Fortman 4th great grandmother (Khoena)
  6. Lijsbeth Arabus 8th great grandmother (Slave Africa/Sumatra/Madagascar)
  7. Cornelia Arabus 9th great Aunt (Slave Africa/Sumatra/Madagascar)
  8. Armozijn de Groote van der Kaap 9th great aunt (Slave Cape Creole)
  9. Armozijn de Cleine van der Kaap first cousin 9 times removed. (Slave Cape Creole)
  10. Lijsbeth Sanders van der Kaap 7th great grandmother (Slave Cape Creole)
  11. Gerbrecht Herbst van der Kaap 6th great grandmother (Slave Cape Creole)
  12. Tamara van Madagascar 7th great grandmother (Slave Madagascar)
  13. Johannes Vosloo (van der Kaap) 6th great grandfather (Slave Cape Creole)
  14. Anna Groothenning van Bengal 7th great grandmother (Slave bay of Bengal Myanmar/Burma)
  15. Darius van Bengal 7th great grandfather (Slave Bay of Bengal Myanmar/Burma South E Asia)
  16. Maria Groothenning (van der Kaap) 6th great grandmother (Slave Cape Creole)
  17. Anna Verkouter (van der Kaap) 5th great grandmother (daughter of freed Slave Cape Creole)
  18. Mosesz van Makassar (Sulwesi) 9th great grandfather (Slave South Sulawesi South E Asia)
  19. Sara van Makassar (Celebes) 9th great grandmother (Slave Celebes South E Asia)
  20. Rebecca Mosesz van der Kaap 8th great grandmother (Slave Cape Creole)
  21. Catharina van Malabar/Coast of Coromandel 8th great grandmother (Indian Slave)
  22. Maria Cornelisse (Claasen) 7th great grandmother (Slave Cape Creole)
  23. Marij van Angola 9th great grandmother (African Slave Angola)
  24. Maria Lozee (van der Kaap) 8th great grandmother (Slave Cape Creole)
  25. Jacobus (NN van der Kaap) Steyn 7th great grandfather (Slave Cape Creole)
  26. Lijsbeth van Bengal 9th great grandmother (Slave Myanmar South E Asia)
  27. Anna Pieterse 8th great grandmother (Slave Cape creole)
  28. Francina (NN van der Kaap) maternal 1st great grandmother, (daughter freed Slave Cape Creole)

My generation and the younger generation in our family continued to rebel against imposed conventions and disregard boundaries of ethnicity, colour, culture, language and faith differences in choosing their partners in life and thus children continue to be born with more and more cultural diversity added to the mix. Today’s generation in our family include European, Camissa (‘coloured’), Indian, Griqua, Nama, amaXhosa, Euro-African…. but to us its just family, like its always been.

That first Camissa footprint that emerged strongly over more than a century between the 1615 and the 1750s and then steadily continued at a less visible pace over the years since then has got new life since the demise of Apartheid. The community that sprung up around the Camissa River mouth both before and after 1652 offers a beacon to all that the notion of race, race exclusivity and racist practices and its prejudices belongs in the rubbish bin of history.


High Treason – A few fateful days in October

A film-play written by Patric Tariq Mellet ©



The story of Louis van Mauritius takes place against the following backdrop.

From 1652 – 1834 slavery was a formal institution in the Cape Colony and spread across South Africa as the Boers trekked into the interior to set up new colonised territories after abolition of slavery in 1834. Even in the Cape Colony, after emancipation, so-called ‘prize slaves’ continued to be brought in until 1856 and were then placed with employers under long indenture contracts which differed very little from slavery. Between the years 1652 – 1808 there were 63 000 first generation slaves brought to the Cape and then at least another 8000 ‘prize slaves’ from 1808 – 1856. Their children and successive grandchildren were born into slavery. (These figures do not include those many unrecorded slaves brought to the Cape nor the thousands of indigene Khoena and San frontier slaves and other indigene African slaves taken by Boer commandos beyond the borders of the Cape).

The first generation slaves brought from other lands include 17 315 slaves from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; then 42 150 slaves from Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius; and a further 13 545 from South East Asian territories such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Formosa and other places. In 1806 British rule replaced the rule by the United Dutch East India Company under the Batavian Republic.


This story of 1808 has everything dramatists dream of – an amazing array of characters, tragic childhood, love, anger, dissatisfaction, a revolutionary world climate, the meeting of different cultures, a tavern conspiracy and intrigue, clandestine organisation, a tragedy, comedy, a rebel campaign, betrayal, a military clash, internment and interrogation, a turncoat, courtroom drama, a prison escape, brutal executions, slavery conditions and the quest for equality and freedom. It is an amazing story of a freedom seeking rebellion by the victims of the terrible system of slavery at the Cape.

Louis of Mauritius (1778 – 1808), the main character in this story was only five years old when William Wilberforce formed the Abolition Society in England in 1783.  At this time slaves were still pouring into the Cape now mainly being trafficked from East Africa. The practice continued to grow and after British rule in 1806, slave prices increased fourfold. By the time Louis turned ten years of age, the French Revolution had erupted and the declaration of the rights of man circulated widely. This had a great impact on the Cape. Within the next decade abolitionists such as Dr Johannes van der Kemp were active in the Cape and slave revolt and disobedience spread.

In Louis’ teen years the world was erupting. A series of events unfolded that would have a major influence on the destiny of Louis of Mauritius. In 1791 rebellion broke out in St Dominique in the Caribbean which by its successful conclusion in 1804 claimed over 300 000 lives on both sides. Led by Toussaint l`Overture against the French colonists the revolution established the first black republic of rebel slaves which they named the Republic of Haiti.

In 1794 the abolition of slavery was also declared in France. In 1794 the Maroon War in Jamaica by runaway slaves followed by the Feron Slave Revolt of 1796 in Grenada in the Caribbean against the British sent ripples throughout the slave-reliant colonial world including the Cape. Another conflict that had an impact on all British colonies was the United Irishmen`s Rebellion which erupted against British Rule in Ireland. The first British governor at the Cape in 1806 had been in Ireland during this rebellion which had been put down by the same Dragoons which put down the revolt by Louis of Mauritius.

The impact of the ructions in Europe was first felt in the Cape when it was occupied by the British in 1795. Having just returned the Cape back to the Batavian Republic in 1803 Britain and France were again at war with Batavia in the French camp. Thus the war visited the Cape Colony. Then ironically the military resistance against the British occupation forces at the Battle of Blaauwberg saw the fiercest resistance by conscripted slaves, Free Blacks and Khoena who were indispensable to the French aligned colonial forces. Having overpowered Dutch Batavian forces at the Cape and releaved its government from the Council for Asiatic Possessions of the Batavian Republic (Jakarta) in 1806 the British took over the Cape permanently by purchasing the Colony from the Dutch as part of the peace treaty. In 1807 bowing to the relentless campaign of William Wilberforce and others, the British Parliament also voted to outlaw the transoceanic trade in slaves.

Previously the Cape was under the control of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The VOC rule in the Cape since 1652 came to an end in 1795. The VOC collapsed under the burden of debt in 1798. Louis was working on the Table Bay waterfront at this time which was a mine of information about what was going on around the world. The seamen’s grapevine of stories would have had the young Louis enthralled. At this time Louis was hired out to work as a coolie – a porter or stevedore, which also gave him the chance to mingle with other slaves in similar circumstances.

The October Revolt in 1808

Over a few fateful days in October 1808, the year after the British bowed to the abolitionist campaign of Wilberforce and others by its Parliament voting to stop the transoceanic slave trade, a remarkable Slave Rebellion involving almost 340 participants took place at the Cape of Good Hope. Setting out from a farm named Bird’s Song (Vogelgezang) in the Swartland two columns of slave rebels imprison the farmers on 34 farms and released the slaves while moving on Cape Town where they aimed to remove the colonial government by force and replace it with freed slaves. The revolt was halted by Lord Caledon’s Dragoon cavalry and all participants were captured.

Hastily before the unique mass ‘treason trial’, the executions and the punishments that followed, Governor du Preez known as Lord Caledon, who had been taken completely by surprise, sought to downplay this event in communications to his superiors and to the British Crown. A major set of contradictions stands out between Caledon’s initial evaluation contained in a letter to Viscount Castlereagh on 11 November 1808 and the information that came out in the course of the trial. So much was this the case that Lord Caledon exercised a veto of much of the outcomes of the trial.

Lord Caledon presented the events as just ‘a slight disturbance to the tranquility at the Cape’. He painted it as a folly visited upon its unsuspecting participants who really did not know what was happening to them. He presents Louis as a misguided foolish slave unduly influenced and encouraged by a couple of Irish vagabonds. Notably while the court found one of the Irishmen, Michael Kelly, to be guilty of treason and he was given the death sentence, Lord Caledon reversed this and the scoundrel, clearly a turncoat, was set free. Of 16 death sentences handed down by the Court, Caledon set aside 11. He took great pains to lessen the magnitude of what had occurred. James Hooper, the other Irishman was executed along with slave leaders Louis, Abraham, Cupido and Jeptha. The mass of followers were said to have been tricked by just a handful of people.

The matters which arose in the trial and the convictions and sentences passed, contradicted Lord Caledon’s approach. The information put before the Court showed that despite the setbacks and failure of the revolt, it was relatively well organised and that a critical number of participants clearly knew what they were doing and why they were following this course of action. It was an organised quest for freedom and had the hallmarks of military style insurrection.

The largest ever Treason Trial in South Africa’s history took place in 1808 as a result of those few fateful days and, only the 1956 Treason Trial involving Nelson Mandela and 156 defendants ever came near in size and gravity to the 1808 trial.

Caledon moved quickly to intervene at the end of the trial with a combination of pardons and interpretations of the event, seeking actively to downplay matters so as to align the outcomes and punishments with his original assessment which contrasts starkly and glaringly with the story that emerges from the treason trial. Caledon was highly aware of the sensitivity of slavery in British politics coming so soon after Wilberforce’s victory in Parliament.

This is the story of Louis and those few fateful days in October 1808 and the Treason Trial and executions that followed. It was a historic moment that had major repercussions in the years that followed. The event is muted in South African history.

Prominent UCT historian Nigel Worden in his appraisal of the event in a newspaper feature article celebrating the 200th anniversary of the event, in October 2008, says:

“It (the 1808 rebellion) was an amazing feat of organisation, given the poor communications of the time, lack of any military experience, the long distances covered between town and countryside, difficult terrain, and the complexity of the plan itself. Added to this is the relative orderliness and discipline of the operation and the extent to which it had proceeded before it was checked, by the mounted, armed and most experienced military force of the times. For a small group of committed conspirators to have achieved this is quite phenomenal, given the context”.


Scene 1 (Port Louis, Isle de France, also known as Mauritius)

Just after the midnight hour in the morning of 29 October 1780 in the harbour of Port Louis, Isle de France, also known as Mauritius, a young woman sneaked her way onto the French Ship Marie Claire. She has done this a number of times before as the lady love of her dashing young French Ensign, long since back in France. He had promised to fetch her on his next voyage but had not turned up since. In fact he had promised her the earth.

Now three years later Eve was determined to meet up with him and show him their handsome young son conceived on one of their wonderful nights of passion. This time she and the young boy she carried on board were stowaways who hid away in the same corner of the hold, piled high with provisions, where she and her Ensign lover would meet for their trysts. Alongside the provisions were all sorts of goods from South East Asia bound for the merchants in Europe.

She had given the young 4 year old lad something to keep him sleeping least he give away their presence. In the hold next door to the provisions hold was a keep holding 40 souls bound for sale as slaves. The ship was not designed for carrying slaves but the trade in what was called ‘Black Gold’ was lucrative and the ship’s Captain had purchased these slaves to fulfill an order and this cargoi were as good as bought. The Captain expected casualties along the way but if he could at least get two thirds of these strapping and talented bodies to the destination, he would make a tidy fortune.

The ship has been made ready to leave at 5 bells and all were asleep after the revelry some hours earlier.

Once settled in, Eve waited and on the five bells she heard the Busan’s whistle and the ship’s crew came to life and felt the ship shudder and bob as it glided out of Port Louis and headed out to the high seas. The young boy stirred a few times and murmured, but in their hiding places penned in by sacks of provisions and in the din of the wailing of the wretched souls in the keep alongside them, Eve did not have to worry.

Scene 2 (a storm at sea leads to tragedy)

Mauritius was now far from sight and Eve and her son were still well hidden. When the boy awoke she had him venture to another spot behind the sacks so that he could urinate. Eve fed him some bread smeared with fat and slivers of goats cheese and then again gave him a sleeping potion in some milk. She had to make sure that when they were found the Captain would have no choice but to take them to France. She was sure that once there, her beloved Ensign would claim her for his own and be overjoyed to see and hold their son.

The ship by this time was now bouncing and lurching and rocking on the stormy sea. It was a frightening night and Eve was thrice knocked off her feet and clutched wildly with one hand at the beams, the sacks and anything that would keep her steady and safe. At the same time using the other hand she tried to hold her sleeping young boy in place in the makeshift bed-come-hammock that she had made from material strung between two bulwarks in a gap behind the sacks in the corner. There was only place there for one and this space protected and steadied the lad from all but the rocking; and he slept throughout.

Eve’s balancing act came to an abrupt end when the ship literally went into a violent fall between two swells of the sea outside. Her head sharply hit against a beam as she catapulted into the air and fell to the floor with a thud. At the same time two sacks came down on her pinning her to the floor and crushing the life from her.

Scene 3 (on board the Marie Claire the boy stowaway and dead mother is discovered)

The sea had calmed and outside on deck the crew were cleaning up, repairing masts and sails under an already tense morning sun. There was no land in sight. The groans from the keep, holding the slaves, were only broken by the occasional shouts of anger or anguish from among those in that wretched condition. Then a child’s screaming pierced the air and all on deck, not least of all the Captain were visibly startled.

The sedative had worn off and the hungry child began fumbling about calling for his mother in the dark. He felt her leg and arm and its lifelessness and her silence left him frightened. His sniffing and sobbing quickly grew into a crescendo of high pitched screams of terror.

The Captain ordered a party of the crew to go and find who was screaming like a lanced piglet and bring the culprit up on deck.

Soon the child was brought up on deck shortly followed by two of the crew carrying the lifeless body of Eve and unceremoniously the dumped the corpse on deck.

The Captain was flabbergasted. He immediately broke out in a litany of profanities cursing all stowaways, bitches and whores, and then lamented the fact that he had a little bastard brat on board. The boy had the features of a Mulatto and spoke a childish version of the Creole French common around the harbour district’s mixed pot of free blacks, suspected pirate crews, opportunist merchants, underclass creoles and marooned European seamen.

Though bruised and battered, the lifeless body of Eve showed her to be a rather beautiful Mulatto wench and from her attire he assumed her to be one of the many sugar girls that hung around the bars frequented by seamen. Why she chose to stowaway and on his ship and with her bastard brat he could not fathom. All amount of questioning his men produced no answers.

He commanded that one of the slave women be brought on deck and cleaned up and then be ordered to care for the brat and some make shift quarters be created for the two of them, preferably below decks near the provisions hold. They were to be fed the same diet as the other slaves, and the toddler would be entered into the ship’s record as a slave. He named the child after Port Louis. The Captain decided there and then that he would recoup his losses and make a little profit by selling little Louis on the ship’s arrival at the Cape of Good Hope. The ship’s Captain assumed the boy to be 3 or 4 years old. This is how Louis van Mauritius was enslaved.

Scene 4. (the quayside at Cape of good Hope waterfront – sale of Louis van Mauritius into slavery)

On arrival at the Cape of Good Hope the Captain of the Marie Claire immediately made it known that he had a male toddler Mulatto slave to dispose of and sought a suitable buyer who could raise the child and prepare him for a gainful life of service.

Willem Kirsten the locally born son of a successful German settler and his wife Maria Catharina Grove whom he had married only three years earlier answered the call for a buyer and the young motherless lad, named Louis, became the property of the couple and was registered as Louis van Mauritius.

The Kirsten couple were fascinated with the young slave and intrigued by the Captain’s story of his discovery as a stowaway. Willem and Maria were determined to get the best out of the young boy and to do so they agreed that he should attended classes with a teacher. Thus the young slave Louis joined a small group of 3 other young slaves who sat at the back of a class of 12 children from the homes of European Burghers.

Louis however was never baptised and was neither brought up with the Christian faith nor was he an adherent of the Muslim faith which was becoming popular among some slaves after the original conversions carried out some time earlier by Sheik Yusuf of Macassar and his followers. Louis like many slaves found their spiritual solace in the popular syncretic sub-culture faith that mixed Asian and African shamanism with bits of Christian and Islamic beliefs and prayers. Ancestors and Saints were called upon to enter their lives fortunes and they in times of distress would visit a spiritual guide whom they called a Dukun or by the creolised version Doekum. Louis would later testify that he did however believe in and tried to live by the basic tenants of the Christian faith which fascinated him as did its contradictions. His problem he articulated was that he saw Christians as slave owners and he was a slave.

But by the time Louis reached the age of 10 the Kirstens put him to work. He could speak Dutch well, read a little bit, count, but he could not write. He was put to work as an urban slave fetching, carrying, cleaning and interacting with the commercial interests of Mr Kirsten as a messenger and porter. Mrs Kirsten also ensured that he carried out household chores, the raising of chickens, collection of eggs, milking and so on.

By all accounts Louis led a confused drab and lonely life as a slave in the Kirsten home. He long for and romanticized his mother. In fact all of his life he sought a mother figure. It was a liberal paternalistic slavery regime in the Kirsten household in comparison to what young Louis saw elsewhere on his errands and particularly when visiting farm areas transporting goods. At times he would feel that he was part of this family but every day he would also be jolted into reality that he was a slave, their slave – the property of Mr and Mrs Kirsten.

Scene 5 (Louis meets the love of his life – Anna Steenveld, a Free Black woman)

Louis was 20 years old when Master Willem sent him down to the Waterfront for a week as a rented hand to assist with the loading and transporting of newly arrived wares for the Pachthuis or tavern in Strand Street. During breaks he would sit outside watching people in the busy street and would day-dream about all sorts of things that took his fancy. Anna Steenveld and her seemingly endless family lived nearby and she was the sister-in-law to the tavern keeper.

Anna took pity on young Louis and would bring him food during his breaks. On the second day coming up alongside of him she could see that he had this faraway look on his face. “Penny for your thoughts”, she said to him in Dutch. This unleashed a torrent of things and soon she found Louis to be a great conversationalist – a talker and a listener. She was amazed at his ability to remember things. Louis had found the caring mother-figure woman that he sought in his life.

Despite a huge age gap, the matronly Anna and Louis soon grew so fond of each other. After that amazing week pased by, Louis would by hook or by crook always find a way to keep visiting. The young Louis also started to flirt with Anna and everyone took to calling Louis “Anna se Jonk klonkje”. By this time in his life it was not just an affectionate mother that Louis was seeking. His arms and loins ached for a woman and his heart ached for a consummate love. At Anna Steenveld’s place Louis did not feel like a slave, nor did he feel like a ‘boy’ as all slaves were known – he was momentarily a ‘man’ – even although technically he was a ‘rent boy’.

Anna always had food ready for Louis and Louis had a habit of making things – little presents, for her. When Anna did not see Louis for a while, she found herself feeling down and took to asking her brother–in-law to hire him again from Willem Kirsten under some pretext. It was on one of these occasions when he was required to sleep over that Anna said that there was no need for him to sleep rough on the kitchen floor but that he would find it more comfortable sharing her bed. Louis did not need to be further persuaded and in this way they began what would be their lifelong love relationship as de facto man and wife.

Louis an Anna really loved each other and hated the fact that because he was the Kirsten’s slave they were kept apart. Slaves had no right of marriage. Indeed slaves could used for breeding purposes either by masters choosing suitable breeding mates to produce the kind of slave offspring that they wanted or in fact to have what they called ‘carnal conversation’ themselves with the female slaves and thereby get them pregnant. It also popped up here and there that female owners or wives or daughters of owners also had relations with slaves.

Louis and Anna  were an odd couple in many ways but they truly loved each other. Anna a grandmother already, but a really glamourous grandma at that, and him a strapping young and handsome man who could have had any lady he wanted, had been a free man.

Scene 6 (Separation of the Kirstens and Louis becomes a rent-boy slave)

 In 1803 at around the age of 23 there was upheaval in the Kirsten home and with it came the kind of good luck break that Louis and Anna needed. Willem and Maria Kirsten had drifted apart and sought a Judicial Separation which was granted in that year. As a result of the separation terms, Louis of Mauritius became the property of his Mistress Maria Grove Kirsten.

Maria Kirsten like many a European widow or separated women of her times became reliant on various income streams, one of which was to rent out their slaves. Louis who had already been rented out on many occasions by Willem Kirsten was thus initially rented out away from home at a fixed rate paid to Mrs Kirsten. He worked as what was called a “Coolie” or porter come-stevedore and through this activity the previous lonesome life in and around the Kirsten home, cut-off from the realities around him, came to an end.

Louis began mingling with other slaves, Free Blacks, and indentured indigene Khoena. He began to see the full harshness of the slavery system as he travelled more and more to farmlands. The feelings of imposed inferiority and the servitude in the Kirsten household though not as harsh as that which he now witnessed had left him bothered and uncomfortable. When he went out of town on the wagons to deliver goods from the Waterfront to outlaying farms he witnessed great cruelty by farmers towards slaves and he himself was at the receiving end of their vicious behaviour. His discomfort turned to anger.

This new status as a ‘rent boy’ on a permanent basis was like manna from heaven for Anna and Louis. This led them to hatch a plan that would allow them to live together as man and wife.

A few weeks after the Kirsten’s separation, Anna approached Mrs Kirsten to hire the services of Louis on a long term basis and she agreed to rent Louis from Maria Kirsten at a monthly fee of 12 Rixdollars.  Anna had worked out that between jobs that she was taking on and the work that Louis would earn from sub-leasing him they could easily pay Maria Kirsten the 12 Rixdollars per month. This allowed Louis to move out of the Kirsten home to cohabit with his wife Anna.

It was a peculiar scenario where Louis effectively was the rented husband of his wife. Anna was both wife and Mistress. This was not the only oddity of the relationship because Louis at around 23 years of age was a very young man whereas Anna probably twice his age not only had children but also had grandchildren. They already had put up with the playful jibes equivalent to “Toy Boy” from those around them and this now grew in crescendo. The two were deeply in love and each had a respect for each other as had not been seen before by those around them. They did not care a damn about what others had to say and in many ways after the din toned down they looked like any other Free Black couple.

Scene 7 (a lone slave among Free Blacks at the Strand Street Pachthuis pub)

Louis new home with Anna Steenveld was in a very lively part of town – namely 18 Strand Street where they rented the rooms beneath the balcony at Stadler’s house which was near Windell’s livery stables. Next door his brother-in-law Abraham Anthonissen ran a licenced Pachthuis or pub. Louis, though a rented slave, only worked for his wife in name but mostly was an assistant at the Pachthuis working for Abraham. Louis also utilised money that he had saved over time to buy three horses which he then hired out to generate an income. The entire extended family contributed to collectively pay for the rented premises.

Anna and Louis home was not a quiet place like the Kirsten’s home. HereAnna and  Louis formally known to everyone around him as a slave, shared home with Philida, Anna’s mother, and with Anna’s two married sisters Rachel and Jacoba, their husbands and their children. Anna’s oldest daughter Silvia was also married and had children and they too lived in the same establishment. It was Jacoba’s husband Abraham Antonissen who owned the Pachthuis business. At this time Jacoba had three of the ten children that she bore in her marriage until 1819. Abraham the Free Black pub-owner was well off enough to employ a European Knegt (labourer) who would later marry his eldest daughter Johanna. He too lived in this Free Black household.

It clearly irked Louis that he and another elderly slave Oude Baatjoe were slaves and not free people in the household. In Baatjoe’s case he was paying off a debt towards his manumission where Silvia Antonissen held the title deed of ownership. At this time he was still paying off the 80 Rixdollars that was his manumission price. He had already paid off 60 Rixdollars. Besides the payments towards rent, food and family upkeep Anna and Louis had to also generate 12 Rixdollars a month for his rental and he had no hope of manumission because this income was widow Kirsten’s lifeblood. The household mainly spoke Dutch and just a little of the basics of English.

When Louis van Mauritius was not tending to his horses or taking on odd jobs stevedoring he spent much of his time at the Tavern serving customers and engaging in discussions with them. From his early days of schooling he had an enquiring mind. He puzzled over how it came to be that he became a slave and what life might have been like if he had stayed in Mauritius. He wondered about his mother and his father. He did not harbour anger towards the Kirstens and believed that he had been treated fairly well, although he could not accept being a slave and always felt that his fate was not in his hands. He witnessed the terrible conditions of slaves on farms and had seen the punishments meted out. He saw the slave auctions and the public executions by hanging, garrotting, impalement and crucifixion and could not accept that this should be allowed to continue without challenge. He knew that at any time Mrs Kirsten could sell him into such a state. His life was not in his own hands.

This was the scenario when Louis was faced with some very difficult decisions which would lead him into a struggle where he took his life into his own hands and where only two scenarios could pan out – victory or death.

Scene 8 (cameos of local and international events that impacted in terms of influence on the course of action taken by Louis and his co-conspirators)

Dutch Batavian rule by the VOC had come to the end and in 1806 the British took control over the Cape Colony. The new British Governor along with his crack troops the Royal Dragoons were veterans of ruthlessly putting down the revolt known as the United Irishmen’s Rebellion. Du Preez known as Lord Caledon took up the Governorship of the Cape doing so against the backdrop of slave rebellions throughout the colonial world of the French and British.

News and detail of the famous Haitian Revolution and its hero Tousainte L’Overture spread throughout the colonies and also reached the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1807 the British Crown denounced and outlawed the slave trade on the high seas and the Royal Navy started to patrol the known slaver routes to disrupt the trade. They developed naval platoons made up of men from the West African Kru people, known as Kroomen as well as crews made up of Siddis from East Africa. These were based at British naval ports along the African coast and that of her islands. One such port was at Simonstown on the Cape Peninsula. Seized cargoes of slaves now were called ‘Prize Slaves’ or ‘Liberated Slaves’ and were brought to the Cape where their eventual freedom had to be bought by giving 14 years of their lives as indentured labour. It was little more than slavery under a different name.

On the Cape Eastern Frontier the rebel Khoena under the leadership of first Klaas and then David Stuurman took root and scored a series of victories. The great military commander Makana the son of an amaXhosa man and Khoena woman was also making a name for himself as a resistance leader. The non-conformist European missionary Dr Johannes van der Kemp took up the cause of the cruelly treated frontier slaves and indentured Khoena. All four of these men also campaigned against the conscription of Khoena youth into colonial militia’s. Lord Caledon had his hands full with these ‘troublesome’ leaders. What they did not need at this point was for another resistance front to open up amongst slaves. To make his troubles worse, a troublesome priest, Dr Johannes van der Kemp was agitating for abolition and a judicial enquiry into brutality against the Khoena in the farmlands of the eastern frontier.

The new British administration had inherited a very restless and shaky Cape. Only a few years previously it was indeed regiments of conscripted Khoena, slaves and Free Blacks that put up a good fight against the British invasion at Bloubergstrand. The British were less worried about the local European colonists who proved to have no fight in them.

All of these global and local events were hot points of discussion wherever men sat eating and drinking. It is also easy to see that in the closing years of the 18th century and opening years of the 19th century anyone considering a slave revolt would have been presented with the best conditions within which to Act. The abolitionist movement in England could already smell a victory for emancipation of slaves in the near future. The Irish resistance, the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution were still amongst the biggest news stories.

Louis and his friends conversations at the pub on many a day included talk of revolt and the possibility of the same occurring in Cape Town.

When Louis came home he would relate all of these stories with large dollops of his own annimated flair to Anna. She was enthralled but as time went on and the stories became more intense and she nervously saw where it was heading. She knew her man too well. She knew that this wagonload of ideas had a destination and she began to fear for him and fear for losing him. But she did not stop him. She loved him for who he was.

Scene 9.(Introduction to Abraham van der Kaap, Irishmen James Hooper and Michael Kelly, Jephta van Batavia and Adonis van Ceylon)

The Strand Street Pachthuis (pub) brought Louis van Mauritius into contact with a former servant of a ship’s Captain, who had jumped ship and was dodging the authorities in Cape Town – James Hooper, a 26 year old Irishman. To avoid detection he would move around and on many occasion Louis would give him shelter. Louis was also the friend of another creole slave owned by Jan Wagenaar – Abraham van der Kaap. Abraham was vital to Louis friendship with James Hooper because he could speak good English whereas Louis could not. The trio shared experiences and had many a discussion about world events concerning revolts of slaves, servants and oppressed national groups. Abraham was Louis key to communicating because Louis had by this stage lost his command of the creole French and only spoke the low Dutch-Creole Patois common amongst slaves.

The group were later joined by another Irishman who had been discharged from the Company’s Military Service and to have left the Dover Castle East Indiaman on which he was a passenger when she touched at the Cape on her homeward bound voyage. Like Hooper he was also not lawfully in the Colony. Effectively he deserted his ship and lived by his wits in Cape Town – 24 year old Michael Kelly. This fellow Kelly was a scallywag character and had a visibly shifty way about him. He was loud and daring in his talk – a bit of an arrogant braggart prone to exaggeration and the small group had their misgivings but he also had that loveable roguishness about him too. So it was that Michael came into the inner circle – something the group would live to regret.

Soon the broad discussions turned to the conditions of slaves at the Cape and the personal experiences of Louis and Abraham. Louis related the brutal harshness experienced by the slaves at rural farms and small towns. This was contrasted with the more liberal approach of urban slave owners. Louis through his work of transporting goods from the waterfront to farms and small towns nurtured a strong friendship with a slave in the Malmesbury district at a farm named Vogelgezang. The slave’s name was Jephta van Batavia and they had originally met when Jephta also worked as a ‘Coolie’ on the waterfront in Cape Town. Jephta would often contrast the slave experience there with the harsh conditions faced on the farm under his master Petrus Louw. Jephta also knew all of the comings and goings of Petrus Louw and was able to say with some certainty when he would be away from home for a few days. Jephta further related how gullible Mrs Jacomina Louw was and tantalized the two Irishmen in describing Louw’s flirtatious daughters.

It was through meetings between these five, and another deserter slave Adonis van Ceylon, that the nature of the conversations turned from admiring resistance to slavery abroad, and then coming up with a plan for a revolt of slaves in Cape Town. Louis network of friends amongst the urban slaves was small and the chances of betrayal was high as there was no common cause bonding slaves in the urban environment. Jephta on the other hand did have a rural network of slaves across a number of farms and these laboured under a harsh regime and the bonds of common cause were great. The vast majority were slaves from East Africa and its interior. The other large group were locally born slaves and a scattering of Indian and South East Asian slaves. Others were indeed de facto indigene slaves from various Khoena clans.

Scene 10. (the plan for mustering rebel slaves and overthrowing the seat of authority and freeing of slaves)

Through the now clandestine discussion between these friends a plan emerged, to first canvas support and incite groups of slaves on the farms in the Malmesbury/Swartland area to join in a revolt. Many of the slaves in this area were what were known as Mazbieker slaves. They were east and central Africans who were captured and incarcerated in the slaver station in Mozambique before being shipped out and sold at the Cape and in Brazil. They suffered the worst of slavery conditions and punishments at the Cape and, they were responsible for providing the most backbreaking labour. Jephta and Louis had their trust but still they kept a tight leash on how much information was shared, using the need to know principle.

All in all, 34 farms were identified for participation in the revolt. Louis and Abraham mobilised support during the winter and groups of slaves on each identified farm were to overpower their masters, take them as prisoners and seize their weapons for use in the later attack on the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. Only key personalities were informed so that groups could be groomed without them actually knowing the plan.  It was envisaged that not all the slaves would take the risk, so a bogus document was drawn up both to bamboozle farmers and to assure reluctant slaves that the Governor had ordered the slave-owners to the Castle from which they would be despatched back to Europe and that the governor will then give the slaves their freedom.

The plan elaborated how after they had mustered the slaves and taken farmers and their families as prisoners, they would move in three columns down through Koeberg to rendezvous at Salt River just outside of town before they would move on together towards Cape Town. They needed a day and a half to the furthest point, a sleepover and a day and a half back to the outskirts of Cape Town befor the final assault on 28th October 1808.

Their first focus in reaching their destination would be to overpower the defence battery at the breakwater, seize the powder magazine and turn the fire power on the Castle. At this point they would offer to negotiate with the Governor with a set of demands. However if the demands were not met they would boost their numbers by freeing prisoners from jail and through an all-out fight they would seize power and proclaim their freedom. Louis van Maritius would replace the Governor and James Hooper would be installed in high office when a new government was formed by the victorious slaves.

Ever since his childhood encounter with his first sea Captain, Louis had an infatuation with the rank and persona of a sea Captain. Michael and James encouraged Louis that he could pass for Captain Don Louis from Spain and as such he would be able to fool the female household on the Louw farm. The finer details of the plan included Louis dressing up as the Spanish sea Captain, while Hooper and Kelly would pose as English officers, and Abraham and Adonis would accompany them as servants. A wagon and drivers would be hired for the task ahead. To pay for the wagon, drivers, uniforms complete with epaulettes, and cutlasses, Louis would sell his three horses.

Thus was born Don Louis, Commander of the slave resistance forces. Louis had purchased for himself a blue jacket with red collar and cuffs, a large and a small sword, two gold and two silver epaulets and some ostrich feathers so that he could fully play the part of Don Louis, a Captain of a Spanish man’o war. In the course of the revolt Louis had a horse and seized firearms too.

They planned to set out to travel to Vogelgezang farm early on the 25th October to initiate the uprising over the 26th and 27th of October 1808 and by the evening of the 27th October to ready themselves for the final push and attack on 28th October.

Scene 11 (the plan unfolds – journey and events at Vogelgezang farm)

On that first fateful day on 25 October 1808, the leading party set out together with the wagon crew who knew nothing about the plan and they were also joined by another supporter at the last moment. They had basic provisions for the two day journey consisting of bread, meat and brandy. Their wagon was drawn by 8 black horses. David, a slave of Hendrik Matfeld from whom the wagon was hired, was the driver and Adonis, slave of Johan Hendrik Schultz, was the wagon leader. They at this stage knew nothing of the mission. Also with Louis and Hooper was a slave deserter Adonis, who arranged to join Louis. The party set off from Anna Steenveld’s house. Anna bid Louis an emotional goodbye without giving anything away. It would be their last embrace. As she watched the wagon roll out and her Louis riding off the tears quietly rolled down her cheeks.

Abraham and Michael Kelly joined the party in Salt River and until they were well away from the town limits Louis and the others played the subservient role with James Hooper playing the white master. They stopped at an outspan at Brakke Fontyn and changed their clothes and personas. The light brown skinned Louis of Mauritius – Don Louis, cut a fine figure in his uniform complete with ostrich plumes on his hat, epaulettes on his shoulders and cutlass at his waist, flanked either side by the bogus British officers – Hooper and Kelly.

When they arrived at the Vogelgezang farm on the following afternoon on 26th October 1808 their timing was perfect. Farmer Petrus Louw, as expected per the plan, was away on business and his wife Jacomina and her five children were absolutely taken in by the ‘Spanish Captain’ Don Louis and ‘English officers’. She laid on the finest hospitality for her guests.

Michael and James engaged in outrageous mutual flirtation with the two oldest girls while Louis (who had a way with mature woman) leaned heavily on Abraham for support in developing a rather embarrassing Spanglish and Dutch lingo when communicating with Jacomina. Louis had to be very careful not to raise suspicion by communicating in his Cape Dutch patois. It was a jolly and animated night of male and female company with great farm hospitality, much wine and brandy. Louis and Abraham maintained their sobriety.

During the night the two Irishmen with much liquor consumed started making excuses to Louis saying that they were going to move on to the other farms to oversee similar success and would see him along the way. They exited the house through the window in the early hours. Effectively they skedaddled. (From that point on the two Irishmen scarcely featured anymore in the revolt)

Louis and Jephta showed the rather inebriated Jacomina Louw the bogus document in the early morning of the 27th while the dawn just started. It purported to be from the Fiscal that all owners and slaves were to immediately come to the Castle of Good Hope. Louis with his sweet talk via Abraham’s interpretation tried to make her feel comfortable with the contents.

Jephta speedily mustered the nine slaves and one Khoena servant on the farm. At this point Louis broke into his normal Cape Dutch and the pretence of being Don Louis the Spanish sea Captain evaporated. As the penny dropped, a shocked Jacomina protested but she and the children were taken captive and the group proceeded to the next farm, and then to the next and the next. The revolt was launched and there was no turning back.

Scene 12 – (The course of the Revolt part 1)

On the morning of 27thth October the insurgent leaders, according to plan now, split into two groups rather than three so as to cover all 34 of the identified farms from Malmesbury to Tygerberg to Salt River and, from Malmesbury to Koeberg to Salt River. Louis took the lead of the one group and Cupido of Java took leadership of the other. Louis assessed the men and appointed Lieutenants and gave each specific instructions that evolved from his overall plan. It was no mean feat to commandeering 34 farms and bring them into the two speedily moving columns without delay.

Abraham of the Cape having observed that the Irishmen had dropped their bravado and disappeared on a pretext was now beginning to get jittery. He was sent on ahead to be at hand to assess the situation at various identified farms.

On each farm the two columns either duped the farmers with the bogus notice or overpowered them or both. Weapons were seized and distributed to trusted mutineers. They met little resistance from the shocked European farmers and by and large Louis and the other leaders asserted strong discipline in the ranks. There was a small degree of manhandling and humiliating the prisoners but only two incidents stand out as a breakdown in discipline and conduct.

In one incident one old farmer was beaten severely and dragged by his hair and there was one case of rape of a farmer’s wife.  (see next scene)

Women and children were taken as prisoners and the aged transported on seized wagons. To control the farmers and their sons numbering 40 in all, these were bound and also hoisted onto their seized wagons.

It was important for the success of the rebellion that the journey took no more than a day.  By nightfall of the same day – 27th October 1808  they had to be at the outskirts of Cape Town. This required much discipline and speed of movement.

Around 340 slaves and indentured Khoena servants had joined the columns of rebels. While remarkably a thread of discipline was a mark of the revolt and no blood was shed there was however a degree of damage done to farm property as well as some minor burning, looting and slaves who helped themselves to food and drink. Some taunted the farmers and their families about “who was boss now” and about how they had been treated in the past.

But at all times Louis seemed to have kept control and the plan had with a few tactical alterations been followed. On horseback he moved up and down the columns giving orders and encouragement. Abraham took charge of the second column.

Scene 13: (Behaviours during the engagement between Rebels and Farmers>)

To give some insight into the action on the farms as the revolt unfolded the following would later emerge during the treason trial.

After the action at Vogelgezang farm one of the next farms to be liberated was that of Willem Basson. He too was not at home but Johannes Arnoldus Basson was set upon and bound and all were quickly assembled. The Slaves seized the guns, powder, lead, and took provisions. The rebel slaves entered the upstairs room of the master’s house and attempted to bind the arms of Mrs Basson and another ‘Christian’ Engela Smith who also lived on the property but the ‘rope’ made of the material from a tent which they shred was too short. In the confusion the two made a dash and escaped. With Arnoldus bundled into a wagon it was moved into the growing column of 12 other wagons carrying slaves, prisoners and possessions seized. They also had 5 saddle horses and many of the slaves were now armed with guns.

Another farm that they proceeded towards was that of Pieter Basson, but then they happened to meet Pieter on the road with his wagon. Louis of Mauritius, Cupido of Ceylon and Adonis of Java each armed with a sword, called on him to surrender and then grabbed him to the ground and he was tied up and bundled onto his wagon. They went on to his farm to collect his weapons, ammunition and slaves.

The farm of Johannes Louw the son of Jacobus Louw from Vogelgezang was yet another that was raided, where they seized a lot of money, weaponry, ammunition and many slaves were liberated. As weaponry – guns and swords, and ammunition was seized, the arms were passed around to the slaves and Louis continued to identify the most reliable and talented for resistance roles.

At the farm of Pieter van der Westhuizen, Louis dispatched four of his armed men to the field to collect the slaves who were busy reaping the barley.  Pieter van der Westhuizen was bound and bundled onto a wagon. They entered his house and commanded Pieter’s wife to lead them to everything of value. The clothes and the contents of the wine cellar was distributed as was the guns and ammunition.

Van der Westhuizen was incensed and cried out – ” Oh God what befalls me? “ Louis of Mauritius sarcastically responded – “So you now want to think of God? ”

It was at this stage in the confusion and exchanges that Cupido of Java stole away pushing Jacoba Baard, Pieter’s wife, in front of him while placing the muzzle of his gun to her breast. He had spotted her in the distance as she had just successfully concealed one of her children in the bushes. Cupido marched her away into one of the outhouses nearby and proceeded to rape her. This was one of only two excesses that would later be raised in the Treason Trial.

The insurgents, moved from one farm to another following the same pattern where they bound the ‘Christians’ (slave owning free-men), declaring that such were the orders of the Governor and Fiscal, and liberated the guns, wagons, and horses, and freed the slaves. Some slaves became active participants while others just passively went along with the rebels. The slaves were heard to shout Woza! Woza! The fired shots outside and inside the houses, broke the windows, chests, and trunks to pieces, and helped themselves to whatever took their fancy.

Cupido of Java and Jonas of the Cape proceeded through Koeberg and Tygerberg in the direction of Salt River with the column under their joint command going to all of the farms in their path. At one stage the two joint commanders split off on two routes and then joined back up together again. Louis took the shortest and straightest route via Blouberg valley to Salt River.

At Christian Storm’s farm he was surprised in the middle of the night when his house was broken into. The rebels stripped the house of valuables, bound him almost naked and threw him into a wagon. At Adriaan Louw’s, Drooge Valley, the rebels seized Adriaan Louw, who was over 70 years old and dragged him by the hair and hit him with the butt of a musket on his head. He was further dragged outside and hit with a sword. He and 5 other farmers who the rebels were finding hard to control were then left, bound up in a wagon, in the custody of a Hendrik van Niekerk.

In the afternoon of the 27th Abraham van der Kaap had joined up with the column under the joint leadership of  Cupido of Java and Jonas of the Cape.. At the place of farmer Arend de Waal, whom Abraham had assaulted, Abraham of the Cape told a slave girl Samina who was crying through fear, “Do you cry for a Christian? “  The term “Christian” was used to refer to free citizens, their masters.

He went on to say that the rebels on the next day “will hoist the bloody flag and fight to be free, and then you can say ‘sy’ or ‘jij’ to your madams and masters”.

Using ‘YOU’, ‘HE’ or SHE (Jij, Hy or Sy in Dutch) were too familiar words, only to be used by equals. Slaves were forbidden to be familiar in addressing their masters and madams or even in referring to them. Thus to address or reference ones owners as you, he or she was certain to be met with punishment for insolence. The proper address had to be “U” or “BAAS” or “MADAM”. To use “Sy” or “JiJ” as was later reported to Court required the Courts to send out a strong deterrent signal. These expressions of “Sy” and “Jij” became the watchwords for the 1808 Slave Rebellion.

Scene 14 (the plan unravels and the rebel columns are attacked by the Dragoons)

During the journey on 27 October the rebel slaves were in good spirits and the air was punctuated with the rebels walking up close to the wagons carrying the farmers and their wives and having loud conversations with each other referring to their captives as “Sy” and “Hy” and turning to their captives saying “En jij…. Jij loer nogt”…or “Jij! Ja jij Oubaas…jij”.

Abraham, Cupido and Adonis with their column of slaves, wagons and prisoners had arrived at the agreed meeting place but were in no mood to wait for Louis and decided to move on. Abraham of the Cape still worried about Hooper and Kelly’s assessments of their chances remained unsure of how to proceed. Cupido and Adonis had in fact assumed a greater leadership role. They said that Louis would catch up with them and that they should just keep moving on. So they did just that but moved forward at less of a speedy pace.

Before moving on to Salt River the leaders had agreed on the outspan meeting place for the entire leadership near or at Grendel.  When Louis van Mauritius arrived there, on the late afternoon of the 27th October, he expected to see Hooper, Kelly, Abraham, Jephta, Cupido and Adonis. There was nobody at the meeting place. No signs that Hooper and Kelly had been there but some signs that the latter had arrived but had moved on.

Louis could only assume that they had gone on ahead of him and that he should pick up the pace and move on in haste. But he for the first time was left flustered and nervous. This had been a team effort and at this crucial stage it was important for the team to meet and plan. Each of the leaders were required to give an assessment and each had important tasks for the final push on the Battery and Castle in the early hours of the next morning. Louis was reliant on these role-players and as he moved forward he sent out scouts to locate the other leaders but they were nowhere to be found. The forward march lost traction and the two columns were not tightly together any more.

There was an eerie foreboding in the air and Louis could feel it. In fact, after leaving Vogelgezand farm James and Michael parted company supposedly by accident.  James was apprehended by a Dragoon at the Saldanha Bay post. Michael Kelly in a separate incident not witnessed by James Hooper was also said to have been apprehended on his way to try and get on a ship in Saldanha Bay. There was no intention on the part of these two to meet at the outspan. They had also tried to influence Abraham of the Cape who for a while had gone missing but eventually joined up with Cupido and Adonis.

On his way after leaving the outspan and moving towards Salt River Louis column ran into  farmers Pieter Joubert and Wium Lategaan, with their waggons. They were easily overpowered and taken prisoner. Louis and a few men then went to the nearby home of Hendrik Prehn where they at first overpowered him but while attempting to tie him up he struggled free and grabbed a gun. Prehn fired a shot in the direction of Louis and some others but the shot did not hit anyone. However it immediately dispersed the group who left Prehn and hastily moved back to the column.

It had grown dark and everyone was tired after the long day of events but they pressed on.

Scene 15 (prelude to Louis arrival at the outspan)

Louis’ worries and Abrahams fears were well founded.  Indeed news of the rebellion had reach Governor du Preez, the Irish Peer known as Lord Caledon. Around 10 o’clock p.m. on the 27th October news had come to Lord Caledon via a farmer who had escaped.

Immediately he ordered  Brig’ General Wetherall to get ready and despatch a Squadron of Cavalry (Dragoons) under Major Spearman to engage the insurgents and bring the revolt to an end. It was also possible that Michael Kelly had opportunistically sent word that he would cooperate by providing valuable turncoat information in return for leniency. After he had separated from Hooper and Hooper literally walked into the arms of the Dragoons. Though Kelly would later appear in the trial as an accused he was the only ‘leader’ found guilty of High Treason who was mysteriously released after the trial and given a free passage back to Ireland.

However they had come by their information, Caledon’s men new exactly where to engage the rebels. Lord Caledon was furious and took the entire episode very seriously. He called for a calming of fears and labelled the rebels as ignorant rabble with misguided motives.

It is also clear that James Hooper had very early on foreseen that such a huge scale revolt would not go un-noticed and he like Kelly was familiar both with the reputation of the British troops of Lord Caledon as well as their mobility as a cavalry that moved with great speed and deadly firepower.

Hooper shared his fears with Abraham telling him that he is sure that many troops would be despatched and Abraham would be a fool not to abandon his quest. Some of the Europeans on the farms had gotten away and raised the alarm. James Hooper and Abraham knew that without any element of surprise their endeavour was doomed and in any case the unity amongst the rebels would quickly disappear as many had believed the story of the false notice from the Governor.

Around midnight Abraham on first hearing the advancing hooves of the Dragoons horses turned to Cupido and Adonis and shouted that it was of no use to stand and fight. He called on them to retreat to the bush – tomorrow is another day to fight. They did not get far when they ran straight into the arms of Lord Caledon’s men. The column itself came to a halt with most just rendered speechless in the face of the cavalry and their flaming torches with raised guns and sabres. On hearing Abraham’s shout  the more conscious rebels quickly scattered and made a dash for freedom. Some reached as far as Blouberg  and Tygerberg in their retreat while others moved towards the South Peninsula. Over the next few hours the Dragoons had rounded most up.

Scene 16 (interception by the Dragoons and the escape of Louis)

In the early hours of the morning of 28th October Louis and his column were on their way to link up with the column of Cupido and Adonis at Salt River. But the Dragoons by 4 am had already captured most of the first column of rebel slaves. Louis column walked straight into the awaiting cavalry and infantrymen.

By midnight the first engagement with Abraham’s column had taken place and by 4 am most were detained. By about 2 am Louis column shared the same fate.  Those rebels in retreating after the surprise engagement crossed paths with Louis column warning him that they were being pursued. . Louis of Mauritius and a few others on horseback made a quick getaway travelling in the direction of the South Peninsula.

On seeing the Dragoons come out of nowhere the rebel slaves began arguing with each other. For the most part, those who had been duped by the bogus order were the first to break ranks. As the Dragoon cavalry appeared from the dark many of the rebels froze and put up no further resistance while others ran in all directions before being rounded up

In a short while 326 rebels were marched in defeat to two internment camps around Fort Knokke. The leaders were removed and incarcerated at the Castle.

Louis made his way to Diep River where he sought refuge with friends of his dear wife Anna, – a couple by the names of Frederik and Betje Arendse. They however, fearful of the consequences of aiding and abetting the fugitive, betrayed Louis by sending a secret message to the local Field Cornet, Colyn.

Louis was a step ahead however when he overheard the distraught old couple talking to someone and sending him on his way. Louis quickly made his escape to Wynberg. But it was here that he was eventually tracked down and cornered by a detachment of Khoena Militia under white command at a Tavern. Louis was pounced upon, pinned down and bound. He was then taken to Cape Town under guard where he was kept separate from the other leaders at the Castle for interrogation. The rest of the rebels were interned at Fort Knokke and Maastricht.

The rebels who sought to overthrow the British government at the Cape and replace them with a freed slave government were to face swift justice. In how it proceeded there was a fine line between interrogation and torture on the one hand and judicial procedure on the other. Through a process of interrogation over the next week Lord Caledon had separated three categories of rebels. The Treason Trial was hastily convened and broken up into a pre-trial and trial and the rebels were categorised. The first category was the 5 leaders, the second 47 diehard rebels suspected of being the backbone of the rebellion, and then final category was the rest of the 274. In the case of the latter these were subject to a fast-tracked part of the trial, sentenced and given over to their owners with a verdict of punishment as the owners saw fit. The 52 were subjected to a more drawn out trial by the so called ‘Court of Justice’ which concluded by the end of December 1808.

Scene 17 (Trial and punishment)

A minutely detail record of the Court of Justice exists where the main charge was High Treason, Public Violence and Disorder. The 5 leaders and 47 others were tried in the Court of Justice using the infamous dual process of Courtroom drama coupled with extractions of confessions under torture. Only one person was found not guilty. His Majesty’s Fiscal William Stephanus van Ryneveld Esquire, was Prosecutor for the Crown.

This gave some credibility to a trial keenly followed by abolitionists who were highly influential at the time, having secured an end to the slave trade declared in the Parliament in London in the previous year. An array of charges ensured that everyone charged would be assured of conviction. The pre-verdict and releasing of the majority into the custody of their masters for punishment killed two birds with one stone. It appeased the proponents of rough justice outside of the public gaze and it also gave an impression of clemency and a new liberal order while giving some credibility the Lord Caledon’s earlier letter dispatched to London that downplayed the revolt as a foolish little hiccup in an otherwise peaceful and orderly colony.

As would naturally occur under circumstances where confessions were extracted, Louis and James contradicted each other at times in Court, but Louis stood by his beliefs in explaining himself and argued in mitigation that he kept discipline in the course of the revolt. He established that he was sincere in his opposition to slavery and believed that he conducted himself well even although the courts labelled the act of rebellion an evil, foolhardy and irresponsible deed.

In his trial Louis testified – “I had heard that in other countries all persons were free, and there were so many black people here who could also be free and that we ought to fight for our freedom and then – enough!”

Louis made it clear that his was a political stand by military means in the cause for freedom.

The Court heard too that Abraham had made the statement which defined the revolt – he it was reported had made a statement to a gathering of some of the rebels on the eve on the afternoon of the 27th October 1808, “tomorrow when the bloody red flag of battle goes up and the fight for freedom is complete, you will be able to address your owners as  ‘sy’ and ‘Jij’ (she and you).” The court saw this as a heinous act of arrogance, insolence and incitement.

The Court rejected both Louis account of his exemplary conduct and motivations and indeed the evidence showing no fatalities and a relatively disciplined revolt. It was put across that this was a major disorderly act of rebellion and high treason rather than the simple disturbance of the tranquelity at the Cape that Lord Caledon had communicated to his friend the Viscount early in November.

As a result of this Treason Trial, sixteen of the rebels were condemned to death by the Court, but the Governor, Lord Caledon, intervened to commute 11 of the death sentences to lengthy imprisonments and hard labour and only 6 were eventually convicted of High Treason and only 5 being given death sentences. All others were held to various charges of public violence and disorder. Caledon was at pains to demonstrate that he was a fair man in his new position in this new territory controlled by Britain. However the identified ringleaders – Louis van Mauritius, James Hooper, Abraham van der Kaap and Jephta van Batavia were sentenced to hang for their leadership of the act of rebellion.

The only other death sentence was passed on Cupido of Java who had committed the purely criminal offence of rape.

Michael Kelly, identified as a ringleader who had also be charged with High Treason, however mysteriously in terms of the silence in the record of his true role, escaped any sanction whatsoever and left the Cape pardoned and bound for Europe. In the record Caledon just states that Michael Kelly and Adonis of Ceylon, would have their conviction suspended until His Majesty’s pleasure will be known. It would seem that he was rewarded as an informant and collaborator.

The other 46 slaves were given various heavy sentences including imprisonment on Robben Island. Many of these slaves were from Mozambique – the Mazbiekers who were the most down-trodden of slaves at the time. While it is notable that there was a ‘rainbow` element to this rebellion, involving locally born slaves, slaves from the East Indies, Europeans, and indigene Khoena, it is clear that the most fertile ground for rebellion was the East African slaves of the wheat-belt farm fields because they were at the bottom of the exploitation and cruelty pile in the Cape. Of the 51 who were handed down the severest sentences 14 were Mazbieker slaves and 17 locally born creole slaves. The rest were from Mauritius, Siri Lanka, Java, Bougies, Malabar, Bengal, Batavia and Madagascar. One was an indigene Khoena farm labourer. Urban slavery had already began to metamorphous into an almost wage labour mode whereas rural slavery was raw, harsh and humiliating where slaves had little to lose but their chains.

The majority of the slaves who participated in the revolt were given over to their owners for “correction” by Governor Lord Caledon.

Scene 18 (Louis escape)

Louis wife Anna to whom he was so dearly attached, as she was to him, suffered great anxiety and depression during the course of the uprising, his capture and trial. The stress got to her and she had a fatal heart attack and died toward the end of the trial.

The imprisoned Louis was devastated and heartbroken. With bowed head he cried into his hands…. “Anna, dear Anna…. dear, dear Anna my love. I did this all for freedom and you.”  Thus ended the most unlikely love story between an old Free Black woman and the young gentleman she rescued from slavery by renting him from his mistress.

Louis’ grief gave him a new energy. He desperately wanted to bid a proper goodbye to Anna at her grave. Boldly he managed to escape from prison at the Castle while awaiting sentence and was determined to mourn his love in freedom and to place flowers on her grave.

On the run sympathisers gave him shelter and food but he was forced to be ever on the move. Lord Caledon was fearful that this fugitive would become as popular a legend amongst slaves as the Stuurman brothers were amongst the Khoena resisters on the eastern frontier and the Khoena-Xhosa Itola, Makhana amongst the amaXhosa resisters. He could not afford to divide his attentions to two different fronts of resistance, so a price was put on Louis head.

But no legend was to develop. Louis’ time ran out and he was betrayed as he laid the flowers on the simple grave of his beloved Anna. Dragoon cavalry surrounded the gravesite and infantry guards appeared from the shadows of the night to arrest him. Louis was apprehended and returned to face execution. A handsome reward was belatedly paid to the man who betrayed Louis. The sum was 50 Rixdollars.

Scene 19 (Execution)

Caledon’s final order was signed on 29 December 1808 to be carried out immediately. The Court of Justice sentences on the leaders were modified only slightly in the cases of the five sentenced to death. The modification on the original sentence was simply that after execution their bodies should not be quartered. Louis of Mauritius, James Hooper, Abraham of the Cape, Cupido of Java and Jephta of Batavia were all executed by hanging. Their bodies were ordered to be affixed to stakes in specific public places along main roads as a demonstration of deterrence.

The body of Louis of Mauritius was affixed to a stake and held in place by chains at the punishment poles near the citadel in Salt River, the place of execution reserved for slaves. The same was done with James Hooper’s body at the gibbet just across from the Castle next to the Grand Parade. In the case of Abraham of the Cape his body was subjected to the same on the Koeberg Road in the farming district. Jephta of Batavia’s body was hung in chains on the stake on the Main road through the Zwartland farming district near to Vogelgezang farm and the same occurred in the case of Cupido of Java at Tygerberg. The bodies were ordered to remain there to be consumed by the birds of the air.


Closing Fade-Out and Notes before credits.

Modern times – A youngster walking along a path on a farm is stopped by a white farmer and in front of a group of farm workers is told to get off his farm or else. The workers get agitated at the farmers tone. The youngster with a scowl on his face stares down the farmer, lifts his arm and points his finger at the farmer and just utters one sharp word – “Djy”.  (Freeze)

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  • In 1808 the transoceanic slave trade was abolished and in 1812 a Slave Protector was appointed at the Cape to look after the interest of slaves in law.
  • In 1825 another small slave revolt – the Kouebokkeveld Insurrection took place and rocked the Cape establishment.
  • In 1825 the Xhosa-Khoena resistance leader Makana imprisoned on Robben Island drowned in an escape bid….his co-warrior the Khoena Chief David Stuurman who led the last Khoena war of resistance, successfully escaped Robben Island but was captured and exiled to Australia.
  • In 1834 Emancipation of Slaves was declared and in 1838 former Slaves who underwent the compulsory 4 year apprenticeship were finally freed.
  • In 1856 the importation of ‘Prize Slaves’ came to an end and by 1870 all compulsory 14 year indenture periods for ‘Prize Slaves’ had run its course
  • Today more than 65% of the population of the Western Cape can celebrate being ancestors of diverse slaves forcibly brought to South Africa from Africa and Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka and Bengal; and from throughout South East Asia. THESE DESCENDANTS ARE BORN OF A PEOPLE WHO ROSE ABOVE ADVERSITY.



George McCall Theal; Records of the Cape Colony (36 Vols) Volume 6; William Clowes and Sons ltd; London; (1900) – Hugo de Villiers; Commanding the Archives – A discourse analysis of the 1808 Slave Rebellion at the Cape; Historical Approaches 5; (2007) – Jackie Loos; Echoes of Slavery; David Phillip; Cape Town; (2004) – Karen Harris; The Slave ‘Rebellion’ of 1808; Kleio 20; (1988) – Nigel Worden; The day Cape Slaves made themselves masters – The 1808 Rebellion a dramatic shift in the nature of resistance; Cape Times; (2008) – Robert Ross; Cape of Torments; Routledge & Kegan Paul; London; (1983)


© Patric Tariq Mellet

This script cannot be used in anyway without permission. It is a work-in-progress – the dialogue is being developed to run alongside the 19 scenes that make-up the script. The script follows the documented historical accounts and where there are gaps a sensitive fiction was developed to engance the storyline. I would welcome a skilled dialogue developer and an editor to collaborate with me on the finalization of the script. Movie producers and directors are also welcome to contact me.





MEETING A REQUEST FOR A READING LIST: My old colleague and comrade Burton Joseph asked me on FB to please provide some references or a reading list. Not an easy task by far and of course to get 2016-02-04 14.13.50to the narrative that I relate I cannot even begin to put down all of the references. Also it is not as easy as suggesting one or two books where you will find my perspective. I cross reference and hunt down small pieces of information within texts and it is often from looking at the same information that others have cast their eyes and minds on for years that by using a different eye one sees the hidden gems.

I am often asked to share some of the reading matter or research publications which form part of informing the history and heritage narrative that I relate when telling the stories of our past and reaching some of the conclusions that follow.

I see my role as a heritage activist, story-teller and interpreter of the past rather than an academic. For much of my 60 years, even going back to my school days I read a lot and absorbed history. You will see from the reading list that I share with you that by approach to research and crafting my stories is multi-disciplinary – history, culture, heritage, anthropology, sociology, psychology, global or international studies, archaeology, politics, built environment, science, military studies, criminology, legal studies, migration, and literature all are brought together to interrogate a subject to arrive at an outcome which I share as my version or take on history and heritage. The reading list (only partial) presented here was also part of my personal library built up over the last 40 years. Unfortunately during the upheavals of my life over the past two years most of my books were stolen. They were to have become the library in my Heritage Centre here at home for the greater public good.
My magnificent obsession with slavery and Cape slavery as a subject began at around the age of 8 when a German Holy Cross nun from Nile Street District Six, Sr Mary Martin would have me kneel with her before the statue of a black man dressed in Dominican attire as she asked for advice and protection from this 16th century black Saint – the son of a slave woman – San Martino de Porres. It was also the time that I first awakened to the fact that my maternal grandmother Francina Haddon, who was referred to in our family as a Creole and had been born into a freed slave community. These two factors led to me reading everything on the subject that I could lay my hands on. In time over the next 52 years, particularly from my 20s onwards, I pieced together my family tree and found that I had a mix of 22 slaves in my family line, 4 Khoena and a cross section of Europeans.
As time marched on my reading moved on away from the basic slave history narratives which in South Africa were often skewed and filled with information that undermined the story rather than enhance it. I began to discover serious researchers and found that they held different opinions and often also contradicted themselves but herein lay the exciting world of discovery. I would continuously discover new angles and then later discover their negation and the birth of totally new information from overlooked or sub-scripted titbits that would open up new vistas. Often academic works were never read outside their circles, wonderful as that research may be. The academic circles were incestuous and were largely closed to external critique and public gaze (vital critical component to knowledge development). I progressed from being a reader to a critique and from a critique to developing a different narrative, respectful of academic contribution, but going much further by applying historical knowledge to current identity, heritage, political, and psychological burning issues of our day.
To meet the request for a reading list I cannot possibly be comprehensive and list all of the literature that I have been exposed to and which has informed my ideas and narrative. But what I can do is share some of the book titles to encourage people to further explore and also to show you that although I generally write off the cuff, it is informed by a sound wealth of literature. Some of the books that I will suggest are really basic outlines of slavery at the Cape or Indigenes at the Cape and are full of discrepancies served up emphatically by the writers, but when you read a basket of literature you will discover for yourself what stands up to scrutiny and what does not: What I can refer you to in terms of a means to navigate the tons of research information making up the Slavery literature is a comprehensive index of such literature produced by Dr Robert Shell and Mogamat Kamedien entitled Bibliographies of Bondage – Selected bibliographies of South African Slavery and Abolition.
Firstly I am informed by particular schools of thought on the subject of identity which I do not see as singular nor ethnic and on a particular orientation on what in liberation-speak we called the ‘National Question’. Here two authors stand out in influencing me – Amin Maalouf (On Identity) and Mzala Jabulani Nxumalo (as can be found in ‘The National Question in SA’ edited by Maria van Diepen – and other writings). Associated with these schools of thought and variations is a whole lot of works on nations, nationalism, and the notion of so-called race and racism which flows from race identification.
From reading relating to the National Question in South Africa and globally my next reading framework involved understanding global slavery in all its facets but especially the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and The Indian Ocean Slave Trade. Allied to the latter it was further important to get a handle on the social, political and economic history of India and Southeast Asia and particularly the conduct of the rival European East India companies in that part of the world. It was also important to get more information on voyages of exploration of Arabs and Chinese and not simply to be focussed on the European voyages of exploration. Again there are too many works to be cited here but let me suggest just a few – Contingent Lives; Social Identity and material Culture in the VOC World edited by Nigel Worden; – The World’s Oldest Trade; Dutch Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean in the 17th Century by Marcus Fink; – A history of Early Modern Southeast Asia 1400 – 1830 by Barbara Watson Andaya and Leonard Y. Andaya; – 1421 The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menses; – The Slavery Reader by Gad Heuman and James Walvin; The Slave Trade with Madagascar; the Journals of the Cape Slaver Leijdsman 1715 by Piet westra and James Armstrong; -Slave Routes and Oral Traditions in Southeastern Africa by Benigna Zima, Esward Alpers and Allen Isaacman; – A Short History of Slavery by James Walvin; Written Culture in a colonial context: Africa and the Americas 1500 – 1900; – Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch east India Company by Kerry Ward.
Then there are just some very basic South Africa history books introducing slavery and Indigene history most of them simply scratching the surface or focus on a single subject within the field, with one exception – an old but invaluable and exceptional old book namely that of Victor de Kock (Those in Bondage – An account of the life of the slave at the Cape in the Days of the Dutch East India Company). Sometimes these also perpetuate myths. But nonetheless they are extremely valuable for getting a foothold into understanding this subject and its complexities. This category of books includes – Up from Slavery: The Slaves at the Cape, their origins, treatment and contribution by Richard van der Ross; – An Unsung Heritage by Alan Mountain; – A history of South Africa by M Wilson and L Thompson; – A New History of South Africa by Herman Gillomee and Bernard Mbenga; Cape Town Making of a City by N Worden, E van Heyningen and V Bickford-Smith; Cape Town in the 20th Century by the same previous authors; – First People of the Cape by Alan Mountain; Martha by Winnie Rust; The Black Countess by Richard van der Ross; and there are many others. Two of my earliest influential history books on SA were Time Longer than Rope by Edward Roux and Class and Colour by Jack and Ray Simons. I believe that these are fundamental to laying a groundwork for further research. Add to this two other books that although they have flaws are comprehensive and probing of the story of those labelled ‘Coloured’ – Between the Wire and the Wall by Gavin Lewis and In our own Skins; A political history of the Coloured People by Richard van der Ross.
Then there are a range of books which with a historical backdrop interrogate current issues from a sociological, cultural and psychological perspective and are invaluable when coming to grips with either primary texts or research works on Slavery in the Cape, the indigene story or the making of the City. Not White Enough, Not Black Enough by Mohamed Adhikari; – Straatpraatjies, Language, politics and popular culture 1909 – 1922 by Mohamed Adhikari; – The Afrikaans of Cape Muslims by Achmat Davids; – Racism: A very Short Introduction by Ali Rattansi; – Kramats of the Western Cape by Mansoor Jaffer; – Groep Sonder Grense by HF Heese; Cape Malay by ID du Plessis; – Coon Carnival – New Year in Cape Town, Past and Present by Denis-Constant Martin; – Colourful Heart of Cape Town by Michael Hutchinson; – Outcast Cape Town by John Western; Imagining the City: Memories and Cultures in Cape Town by Sean Field; District Six by Adam Small and Janse Wissema; The Spirit of District Six by Cloete Breytenbach; Recalling Community in Cape Town by Siraj Rassool and Sandra Prosalendis; – Group Portrait South Africa – Nine Family Histories by Paul Faber and Annari van der Merwe; – Lost Communities, Living Memories Remembering Forced Removals by Sean Field; The Cape Coloured People by JS Marais; — Sugar Girls and Seamen: A journey into the world of Dockside Prostitution in South Africa by Henry Trotter; – The Angry Divide: Social and Economic History of the Western Cape by Wilmot James and Mary Simons; The Shaping of South African Society 1652 – 1820 by Richard Elphick and Hermann Gilomee; – National Liberation by Rostislav Ulanovsky; Every Step of the way: The Journey to Freedom in South Africa by HSRC Press and Ministry of Education; Ethnic Conflict and Political Development; – Colonial South Africa and the origins of the racial order by T Keegan; Contingent Lives: Social Identity and Material Culture in the VOC World Edt by Nigel Worden….. there are just so many more of this type of literature that is vital to a discourse that helps one see historical texts with different eyes and helps one to zoom in to look at overlooked pieces of text. Part of my journey here was also to get involved in producing productions with a huge amount of oral input – a 6 part series with Elna Boesak for radio – Os Geskiedenis Tussen die Kraake; – Afrikaaps: The multimedia stage production; Krotoa – Perspectives on her life and so on.
In looking at Indigene Khoena, San and amaXhosa history and heritage there are many thesis papers and other research which is invaluable but not very accessible to the person on the street and hence it would be useless and time consuming on my part to note these here. One can explore some of these sources by reference for instance to a broad sweep on relevant texts such as ‘Notes towards a history of Khoi Literature’ by Hermann Wittenberg (UWC) but there are many conference papers and research documents that only painstaking reading in libraries and repositories can fulfil. Besides the many individual research papers poured through and hours sitting in the Cape Archives pouring through primary documents important basic texts dealing with indigenes which are a must read are – The Van Riebeeck Diaries (3 volumes) edt by JB Thom Van Riebeeck Society; The Record by Donald Moodie; -The Khoi Khoi and the Founding of White South Africa by Richard Elphick; The Cape Khoisan in the eastern districts of the Colony before Ordinance 50 of 1828 by VC Malherbe; – The KhoiKhoi Rebellion in the Eastern Cape 1799- 1803 by VC Malherbe an S Newton-King; – Shaping of South African Society 1652 – 1820 by Richard Elphick and Herman Gilomee; – The House of Phalo: a history of the Xhosa people in the days of their independence by J Peires (and other valuable works by this author); – Voices of the San by Willemien le Roux and Allison White; Borderline by William Dicey; The Forgotten Frontier by Nigel Penn; – Rogues, Rebels and Runaways by Nigel Penn; The Sunburnt Queen by Hazel Crampton; The King of the Hottentots by John Patrick Cope; – David Stuurman: Last Chief of the Hottentots by VC Malherbe; The Island: History of Robben Island 1488 – 1990 by Harriet Deacon; – Seven Khoi Lives by Karel Schoeman; Khoisan resistance to the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries by Shula Marks; – The Griqua Captaincy of Philippolis 1826 – 1861 by Karel Schoeman and at least 5 other works by Schoeman on various aspects of the Griqua story. A more creative and entertaining version of Griqua history employing much imagination but nonetheless fairly factual is ‘Children of the Mist’ by Scott Balson; Krotoa by Trudie Bloem (fiction but worth the read); – The Khoisan Peoples of South Africa by Isaac Schapera (a dated and highly inaccurate account that resulted in the popularising of the inaccurate term Khoisan); The Cape Herders by Emile Boonzaaier; – The Hottentot Venus: Life and death of Saartjie Baartman by Rachel Holmes; — The Bushmen of Southern Africa: Slaughter of the innocents by Sandy Gall; Hunters and Herders of Southern Africa: A Comparative Ethnography of the Khoisan Peoples by A Barnard (another of the books that perpetuates some Khoisan myths and stereotypes now embraced by some as though fact as well as a number of works based on the same erroneous notions); A History of the Xhosa of the Northern Cape 1795 – 1879 by Elizabeth Anderson; – The Struggle for the Eastern Cape 1800 – 1854 by Martin Leggasick; – Adam Kok’s Griquas by Robert ross; – Masters and Servants on the Cape Eastern Frontier by S Newton-King; The Career of JT van der Kemp and his role in the history of South Africa by WM Freund; The Return of Makhanda: Exploring the Legend by Julia C Wells; – Even the Cows were amazed: Shipwreck Survivors in South-East Africa 1552 – 1782 by Gillian Vernon….. there are just so many avenues of reading that one must travel down and cross reference to find the hidden history that falls between the cracks.
The literature on Cape Slavery and the shaping of Cape Town through slavery is extensive. It is amazing that this subject which has been suppressed for years and laboured under all sorts of mythologies could be so hidden from public gaze regardless of the wealth of resources that cover the subject. People often ask me “where on earth do you find this information?” My response is that it requires work but it is not so hard to find. Here are some of the resources to look at (by far not all): Children of Bondage by Dr Robert Shell; Early Slavery at the Cape of Good Hope 1652 – 1717 by Karel Schoeman; – Portrait of a Slave Society at the Cape of Good Hope 1717 – 1795 by Karel Schoeman; – Cape Lives of the 18th Century by Karel Schoeman; Slavery in Dutch South Africa by Nigel Worden; Trials of Slavery by Nigel Worden and Gerald Groenewald; – Breaking the Chains: Slavery and its legacy in the 19th Century Cape Colony by Nigel Worden and Clifton Crais; – The Diary of Adam Tas edt by L Fouche; – The House of van der Stel by Ian Colvin; – Paarl Valley 1687 – 1987 by AG Oberholster and P Breda; – Nog Altyd hier gewees – Herman Gillomee; -Slavery, emancipation and Colonial Rule in South Africa by Wayne Dooling; The Dutch East India company’s Slave Lodge at the Cape by Helene Vollgraff; Echoes of Slavery by Jackie Loos; – Colour, Confusion and Concessions: The history of the Chinese in South Africa by Melanie Yap and Dianne Leong Man; – Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape by AJ Boeseken; Cape of Torments by R Ross, Routledge and P Kegan; – Slavery in South Africa: Captive Labour on the Dutch Frontier by Elizabeth Eldredge and Fred Morton; – Decline of urban slavery at the Cape 1806 – 1843 A Bank; – Tindals, Kroomen and Seedis (Simonstown Historical Society Bulletin); – The sea is in our blood: Community and Craft in Kalk Bay 1880 – 1939 (Manilla Filipinos of Kalk Bay) by A Kirkaldy; Aided immigration from Britain (including the poor of St Helena) to South Africa 1857 – 1867 by Esme Bull; The Black Atlantic Communications Network; African American sailors and the Cape of Good Hope Connection by Keletso Atkins; Kroomen: Black Sailors at the cape by Alan Davey; – these readings should be complemented with a visit to the Slave Lodge museum in Cape Town and must be cross referenced with some of the literature mentioned earlier to cross pollinate with cultural, sociological and psychological perspectives and perspectives around the areas from which slaves were taken.
Complementing history and genealogical studies there is a range of work that has been done in the realm of DNA studies…. Here I will mention just two – the Final Report LivingHistory Project June 2008 of Pro Himla Soodyall; – and Discoveries in South Africa for the Genographic Project by National Geographic Genographics.
Additionally there are readings of many government and global agency reports that can also influence perspectives such as – the United Nations ‘State of the World’s Indigenous Populations; the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous People; Observations on the state of Indigenous Human Rights in the light of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s – SA 2007.
Then there is some of my own work:
Does Afrika-tourism have a future in the Western Cape? The challenge for Black entrepreneurs and their Cultural Heritage niche tourism product focused on slavery and indigene heritage – dissertation 1999; Business Plan for the Transformation of the Cultural History Museum into the Slave Lodge Museum – 2004; Western Cape Heritage: The Stories your tour guide didn’t tell you – 2005; Navigating Cape Identities published in – 2007; Black Roots of the Vine in Fraschhoek and Environs: An untold history of dispossession in the Drakenstein – published 2008; Lenses on Cape Identities – published 2009; as well as 30 biographies on resistance heroes 17th Century – 21 st century (commissioned) some of which can be found with other writings on my blogsite
Nou hell maar Burton Joseph dit was baie werk. Now you have the reading list boet, you have a lot of homework to do. Lol.

REFLECTION ON EMANCIPATION DAY 2015 – An overview of Cape Slavery


EMANCIPATION DAY – 1 DECEMBER: The majority of the Cape population are descendants of SLAVES and KHOENA INDIGENES whose slave labour and skills built this city, its rural towns and its farmlands. The City of Cape Town and indeed the Western Cape Province owes a great debt to these men and women that are still not properly recognised in the official calendar, nor in public spaces or indeed in the dominant narrative of the making of the city and provinceo.

Today we celebrate Emancipation Day (1 December 1834) and the long tradition of exercising liberty slave descendants once more walked, sang, played musical instruments, laughed, cried and prayed on their way last night from the Old Quarry in Strand Street to the Castle in Cape Town. While it is understood that neither a City nor a Province can declare a National Public Holiday, I do feel that this date should be marked as an official commemorative day on the provincial calendar and an official statement of remembrance and commemoration be issued each year. This is well within the powers of the City and Province which unfortunately continue to overlook the importance of emancipation from slavery as an integral part of the heritage of the majority of citizens in this part of the country.

From the time of the first visitations to the southern tip of Africa by Europeans in the late 1400s, these visits impacted on indigene peoples in many ways. But from the early 1600s it made an indelible impact that caused the local population to adopt new modes of living and new economic activity. From 1653 the importation of slaves caused further impact as slaves sought refuge amongst indigenes and later indigenes themselves began to be enslaved through use of apprenticeship and indenture mechanisms.

The impact most noticeably occurred first amongst the Goringhaiqua and then amongst the Cochoqua. Later maroons deserted these groups and formed a new and relatively settled community who lived along the seashore and on the banks of the Camissa – a fresh water river running from Table Mountain (Hoerikwaggo) into the sea at Table Bay (Hu Gais). Today the river still runs underground, as much as the history, heritage and identity of people labelled ‘Coloured’ was farced underground. This maroon group of indigenes known as the Goringhaicona kept some cattle and also harvested seafood, but a core activity that had emerged over just a few decades was to service the ever more frequent passing European vessels with fresh water and meat supplies. Some Europeans called them the ‘Watermen’ because of this activity. They under two successive leaders – Chief Xhore and Chief Autshumaowere the true founders of proto-city of Cape Town and the free resfreshment station for passing ships. The van Riebeeck settlement established in 1652 effectively took over this enterprise and he was incorrectly ascribed the title of founder of the city. Historical record shows that Autshumao travelled to Jakarta with the English, who then established the first refreshment station under Autshumao and 30 of his followers on Robben Island. He later asked to be removed back to the mainland where he and his followers set themselves up on the banks of the Camissa River to continue serving the passing ships.

It was this settlement that played host to van Riebeeck whilst he built his fort in the winter of 1652. The first attempt by the English to establish such a settlement in 1642 using Chief Xhore and a group of Newgate Convicts was not successful and Chief Xhore lost his life to the Dutch some years later. Thus in 1652 the entrepreneurial Autshumao and his people were ousted from their enterprise with the arrival of the United Dutch East India Company (VOC) under Jan van Riebeeck who then took control. The Khoena fought this Dutch control in two bitterly fought resistance wars. After over 160 years of passing ships, the European interaction with the indigenes had suddenly changed to be replaced by conquest but the foothold of the early group of Dutch, German, Nordic and Ambonese VOC officials was shaky. The environment was wild and hostile and there was urgent need to develop infrastructure and farming which could only be done by bringing in large numbers of SLAVES to do the backbreaking work and to provides artisanal skills.

While a small number of slaves initially arrived from 1653 – 1658 to support senior VOC officials as house servants there was a dramatic increase in numbers of slaves in the years following. A new dynamic emerged at Camissa. Escaped rebel slaves were accepted and assisted by dispossessed Khoena resisters and in the quest for freedom the foundation of a new class of people began to emerge on the embankment of the Camissa in the shadow of the VOC fort and spread into the interior. The last of the rebel Khoena wars under Klaas and David Stuurman took place over the first two decades of the 1800s. This footprint of Camissa people (former slaves, indigenes, amaXhosa allies and a few non-conformist European rebels) spread across South Africa and would later be labelled ‘COLOURED’.

From the late 1500s European shipping to South East Asia dramatically increased with the Cape of Good Hope playing host to the passing ships which needed fresh water and meat for their long voyage.

In 1602 the United Dutch East India Company (VOC) was formed and soon they had set up bases in Myanmar – Thailand – Vietnam – Cambodia – Malaysia – Indonesia – Timor – Philippines – Japan – Formosa and South China. By 1652 they set up at the Cape of Good Hope as a halfway station to their VOC capital at Batavia (Jakarta).

They traded in silk, spices and SLAVES destined to build the infrastructure of the new European colonies.

The first slaves at the Cape came from India / Bengal, but within a short while they were joined by slaves from South East Asia, Africa and Madagascar. Between 1653 and 1808 around 63 000 (researched by Dr Robert Shell) and from 1808 – 1856 at least 8 000 more Prize Slaves were brought to the Cape. Slaves from Africa and Madagascar numbered around 42 150, Slaves from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh numbered around 17 350; and slaves from South East Asia numbered around 13 500 drawn from the Indonesian Archipelago, Arakan Myanmar, Thailand, Hanoi Vietnam, Malaysia, Southern China and Formosa, Philippines and Borneo. Most became slaves due to being war, captured by pirates or through debt bondage systems in the east and in Africa villages were plundered by slave traders captives who captured slaves and sold them to large holding stations.

The very first slave that arrived in the Cape was Abraham van Batavia who had the misfortune of being a stowaway on a ship coming to the Cape.

he first people to brought to the Cape were largely a number of women and mainly from India, Bangladesh and Madagascar. The Dutch VOC officials had become use to having servants to do their cleaning, washing and cooking – this was the start of Domestic Service in South Africa which is still an entrenched culture of the lower middle classes right up to the super rich.

Eva van Madagascar, Jan Bruyn (3 years old) and Anthony van Madagascar arrived in 1654. Maria van Bengal arrived in 1655. Then Kleine Eva van Madagascar, Myndert van Antongil, Catharina van Bengal, Espaniola van Madagascar arrived in 1656. Also in 1656 two young captive Abyssinian princesses were gifted to Maria van Riebeeck as slaves by a passing French Captain. They were Cornelia van Abyssinia (10) and Lysbeth van Abyssinia (12). They joined the young Khoena girl Kratoa in domestic service in the van Riebeeck household. (All 3 are part of my family tree) Catharina van Paliacatte, Angela van Bengal and Domingo van Bengal arrived in 1657. Another Maria van Bengal arrived in 1658.

These 15 people, 8 women, 4 men, 2 girls and 1 boy were the first slaves that joined a number of indigene Khoena women and girls, the most notable being Krotoa Goringhaiqua (Eva van Meerhof) as house slaves doing domestic service.

The first large shiploads of slaves arrived in 1658 with 308 surviving slaves on board. The Amersfort had 180 surviving slaves and the Hasseldt had 228 surviving slaves of the original numbers captured when the Dutch overpowered the Portuguese in a sea battle. The Amersfort originally captured 500 Angolan slaves, seized 230 and left the others adrift on the severely damaged Portuguese ship. Those seized were mainly children and 50 more died or were tossed overboard before reaching the Cape.

The Hasseldt obtain 271 slaves from the Grande Popo in Benin but 43 had died at sea on the journey. Over the next couple of months many of the sickly captives died at the Cape. Some were put back on ships to be sold in Batavia and the rest were to live out their lives as slaves at the Cape.

In official histories slavery is usually given just a cursory mention and then collectively slaves are always incorrectly called MALAY SLAVES. Without the slaves the VOC would never have achieved building Cape Town and its farmlands. Slaves brought to the Cape included people from these locations:

FROM INDIA, BENGAL & SRI LANKA: Surat, Bombay, Goa, Calicat, Cochin, Tuticorin, Malabar, Coromandel, Negapatnum, Tranquebar, Pondicherry, Palacat, Masulpatam, Colombo, Galle, Bengal

FROM SOUTH EAST ASIA: Arakan, Burma (Myanmar), Siam (Thailand), Tonkin (Hanoi Vietnam), Malacca (Malaysia), Macao, Deshima (Japan), Formosa, China, Indonesian Archipelago (Borneo, Celebes, Ternate, Ambon, Banda, Roma, Boeton, Moloccas, Rambon, Boegies, Timor, Alor, Solor, Bima, Bali, Soembawa, Java, Madoera, Flores, Sumatra, Djambi, Nias, Padang)

FROM AFRICA & MADAGASCAR: Benin, Guinea, Angola, Mozambique (including southern Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia), Mombasa, Zanzibar, Madagascar (Antogil Bay, Sante Marie, Manajari, Matitana, Augustine Bay, Radama Bay)

When one can see the extent of the diversity of slavery and its bond with indigenes, one can begin to come to an understanding of how over time a new creole people were shaped in the Western Cape. The shorthand in official history books fails to take proper cognisance of this powerful coming together of peoples of colour.

Only a few slaves ever got to keep their own names – most were given names either by slave traders or by those to whom they were sold. These given names became surnames in the future. Other surnames evolved from first names. The months of the year indicating month of birth was one type of slave name; others included topo-nyms (places or slaver stations from where the slaves had been brought), other Geographic names, Classical Greek and Roman names, Facetious names, Biblical names, Names of Masters, names of Moods.

EXAMPLES: September, van Batavia, Canton, Plato, Titus, Snuffelaar, Contant, Moses, Karelse, Geluk etc. First generation creole slaves born in the Cape usually would carry the father’s first or second name plus the name van der Kaap (or van Cabo).

What were the conditions of slavery? Slaves were bought or sold as possessions of Masters & Mistresses (often by auction). Slaves enjoy no marital rights. Slaves had no control over their children or their destiny. Some slaves were subject of breeding practices by Masters. Slaves who practised animist, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Catholic beliefs were not allowed to do so (but these continued secretly). Because of a sunset clause to their enslavement if adherents to the Christian Reformed Church, slave owners discouraged baptism (the authorities were divided on this issue). Slaves were not allowed shoes and had no freedom of movement. Controls were exerted over what clothes slaves could wear. Food was rationed and largely offal and unwanted parts of animals and fowls. Slaves worked for no remuneration and had no choice in what they had to do and work ranged from housework, backbreaking public works such as roadbuilding and bush clearing, farming fieldwork as well as skilled craftsmen’s work. Slaves were subject to harsh and cruel punishments including rape, various tortures, scourging’s, crushing of bones, mutilation of body parts, depravations, and death by fire, drowning, garrotting, dismembering, crucifixion and impalement. In the administration of justice the word of a slave in terms of leading evidence could not carry weight.

There were VOC Company slaves and there were slaves in private hands: – Throughout the slavery period the VOC and its officials was the largest slave owner and the company Slave Lodge bordering the Company Gardens was built to house over 1000 slaves. Company slaves were marshalled and controlled by a regimented and hierarchical system. The Slave Lodge also informally acted as a brothel for company officials. It was a dark, dingy and damp hell hole, with a small school, hospital and quarters for the mentally ill. Slaves in Private Ownership fell into different categories. Urban and Rural, and house slaves and field slaves. Slaves in private ownership were bought either at slave auctions or directly from a ship. There were also slave owner to slave owner deals that were made. Urban conditions were more liberal and often slaves were skilled craftsmen and enjoyed good relationships with the Free Black community. This contrasted harshly with rural slave conditions under cruel and patriarchal masters. Rich owners on large farms replicated to some degree the Company slave regime while smaller farms and less well of farmers and more remote farms held the worst of conditions for slaves. Fieldworker slaves faced the worst conditions.

Punishments were a big part of life for slaves. There were both judicial punishments and private punishments meted out by slave owners. The judicial system was such that in a two-part legal process the second part allowed for “handing over the accused to the torturers so that they may freely make a confession”. In the court a slave’s word could not be used against a master or mistress. Only in the latter years of slavery was a public advocate for slaves established in the form of a ‘Protector’s Office’. Over the period 1652 – 1795 over 1400 crucifixions alone were carried out. Crucifixions, impalements, garrotting, drowning, being hanged drawn & quartered, torture on the rack, public death by burning, amputations and dismemberment, floggings, removal of the tongue and so on are recorded. The crimes ranged from running away, petty pilfering, fornication and disrespect to a master or his property – through to assault and murder. Punishment in private hands included tortures of all sorts, floggings and rubbing salt into the wounds, rape, food and sleep deprivation and much more.

From the earliest years of slavery various types of revolt are recorded. Running away and acts of arson were the most prominent acts of revolt. Additionally there were many cases of individuals or small groups of slaves making common cause who turned on their owners and faced assault and murder charges. Over the first 150 years revolt became more daring and graduated from ‘boiling over as a result of conditions’ to revolt against the institution of slavery. Alongside these developments an abolitionist movement amongst a small minority of the European colonists also emerged.

By far the biggest and most significant Slave Revolt was the armed ‘Jij Rebellion’ of 1808 led by Louis of Mauritius, a first generation slave brought to the Cape as a 4 year old. Over 326 slaves, including a few indentured Khoena labourers and two Irish sailors participated in an organised rebellion which included a plan to attack the seat of government at the Castle and establish a free black government. The leaders were executed and participants punished after Lord Caledon’s Dragoons defeated the rebels at Salt River.

For many years there was a denial about enslavement of indigene Africans or that Indigene South Africans were ever exported in the global slave trade. Much research now shows that this was false projection largely based on the early assertion that indigenes did not want to work and therefore slaves were required in the settlement.

Once the colonists had defeated the Khoena in Table Bay and particular after the devastating smallpox epidemic of 1713 the Khoena were forced to become labourers on settlers farms or were forcibly conscripted into Militias. These Khoena Militias headed by European officers were used to hunt down and exterminate all adult San people and to take the children captive to work on farms. Slavery of this type was commonplace amongst European frontiersmen. The last Khoena resistance war was in the 1820s and conscription of Khoena youth into Militias was a pivotal cause of the resistance. The issue of military conscription divided the Khoena and its impacts last to this day. It also caused a huge rift between the San and the Khoena.

Captured amaXhosa and later baTswana and moSotho later had the same fate. As early as Governor Simon van der Stel’s time at least one Nguni is recorded amongst Groot Constantia’s slave inventory. The later capture and export of slaves to the Americas from Natal is recorded. There is also the very well documented case of a European Mormon family who took an amaGcaleka boy, Gobo Fango, to the USA and made him a slave. Any assessment of Slavery in South Africa cannot only focus on imported slaves. Slavery was most certainly also a condition that indigenes were subjected to.

Slavery in the Cape is almost completely drowned out by the European colonial narrative and sites of memory in Cape Town a source of great grievance by slave descendants who make up the majority of the local population. Many tragic events go completely unrecognised in public life and public spaces. There are too many events to mention, but one of these were the 1713 outbreak of smallpox which decimated the slave, Free Black and Khoena populations reducing these dramatically and altering history. Another of these events was the wreck of the slaver ship San Jose in 1794 with 500 slaves on board just off Clifton beach. It is estimated that 212 slaves drowned with their shackles and the survivors were sold locally. The ship was bound for South America.

And so we come to this event that we celebrate today…. EMANCIPATION. Throughout the period of slavery there was the practice of manumission which under very tight regulation allow for a slave to be freed by their master or for the slave or someone else to pay for their freedom. The numbers of manumissions increased dramatically in the 1820s. Over the entire period a Free Black population emerged from freed slaves and from free persons of colour who had migrated to the Colony to work or trade. Then the beginning of the end came when the Slave Trade and Slavery on the High Seas was brought to an end after the abolitionist struggle had resulted in anti-slavery legislation being passed in the British Parliament in 1808. This led to the passing of the Act of Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies in 1833 in the British Parliament.

The British Crown decreed that Emancipation should enacted the Cape on 1 December 1834 and that a conditional apprenticeship of 4 years be instituted to manage the freedom process. All slaves therefore would be fully free in 1838. But for those ‘Prize Slaves’ undergoing 14 year Apprenticeships their full freedom would take up to 1870, as ‘Prize Slaves’ continued to arrive until 1856. The last ‘Prize Slaves’ arrived in 1890 when the Oromo slaves were brought here by the British Royal Navy and were sent for schooling to the Lovedale Mission.

After the ending of slavery the most primitive of wage-labour systems was quickly introduced with the result of watering down the freedom from slavery – the Indentured Labour system and Apprenticeship system. The legacy of this persisted right through to the imposition of the Apartheid State and beyond as these metamorphosed into the Migrant Labour and Pass Law system and then into the Labour Brokering system. This also created an industry for previous Slave Traders. From 1838 indentured workers were transported into South Africa to work on farms and mines and in service from St Helena, Bechuanaland, the Rhodesian territories, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, India, Bengal, and from rural South African villages. Their labour was cheaply rewarded and those trafficking these people took a large share of what employers paid. Indentured workers often stayed in crude hostel accommodation. It was very little different from slavery. Between 1808 and 1856 ‘Prise Slaves’ brought to South Africa by the Royal Navy after ‘liberating’ them from Slave Trader ships were forced to undergo 14 year Apprenticeships which were also very similar to slave conditions.

Slaves brought to South Africa came from a great variety of locations in Africa and Asia and had a range of religious beliefs, traditions, languages, music, dance, cuisine, clothes, and other cultural attributes. The popular humble Chilli in our cuisine is owed to slaves. Over time through the coming together of Slaves, Indigenes, Europeans and other Migrants from around the world a creolisation of cultures emerged in the language of Afrikaans, the impact on English and Indigenous languages, the use of musical instruments and the making of music, on dance, on the emerge of an Afro-Asian fusion cuisine and in many of our manifestations of faith. South African eating habits and the use of spices and rice in the Cape most especially his highly been influence by India and South East Asia.U


n the Cape the greatest symbol of our tapestry of cultural roots is the Ghoema Drum and Ghoema beat. It derives from African, Asian and Malagasy sources and the word evolved from Ngoma the east and southern African name for Drum. The way of the drum (ngoma) is a description for the ngoma faith of which most people only know the term Sangoma. The Mazbiekers slaves brought the term ngoma to the Cape with their drumming and locally it became GHOEMA…. The creolisation of NGOMA.


Our story on Cape Slavery would not be complete without looking at its modern form which continues into the present – HUMAN TRAFFICKING. Slavery has not disappeared, it has simply changed form. Human Trafficking and People Smuggling, some forms of Labour Brokering, Shipping agency practices, Sweatshops, Brothels, Nightclubs and the sex industry in general, some Farms, Drug Mules, Brides for Sale, Harvesting and sale of body parts, War captives, Use of children as soldiers and terrorists, are all forms of modern slavery.


In a city such as Cape Town it is likely that within every 6 kilometres from where you are located that there is someone being held in bondage and being forced into sex work under various guises or in bonded labour in sweatshop conditions. Brides for sale, drug mules and all of the other practices mentioned continue right under our noses.

This has just been an introduction on Cape Slavery and why we celebrate Emancipation Day, and indeed why this day should be given some official status by the City and Province. There is so much more that could be shared.

Please feel free to come visit the Asirawan Siam Healing House and the SA-Thai Slave Heritage Reflection Centre and Thai Spa at our home in West Beach, Bloubergstrand. More information at

These involve persons brought in from far off places including India and Bangladesh, South East Asia, China, Eastern Europe and from other African countries. It also involves South Africans who are spirited from one part of the country to another. The vast majority of modern slaves are women and children.

Lessons to be learnt from the Sao Jose tragedy of 1794

In the middle of packing up in Joburg and preparing for my move to Cape Town my cellphone and electronic communication packed up while I was writing this piece. I also lost much of my info on my phone. Also I regretably missed an important commemoration in the anals of slavery at the Cape when due to my still being in Joburg the memorial at Clifton of the San Jose tragedy took place.

This week for the first time many of the people of Cape Town first heard about the great 1794 tragedy that played out just off the shore between Oudekraal through to Clifton when a Portuguese slaver ship, the Sao Jose Paquete de Africa carrying over 500 slaves sank and over 200 drowned. It is one of many many hidden stories that our citizens do not know and one which illuminates the multifaceted and unclebrated heritage of the people of Cape Town. This incident represents by far one of the largest single migrant landings in Cape Town, albeit by accident, as around 300 of the surviving African Slaves were sold locally by auction and dispersed largely to the Western Cape farmlands.

I came across this story around 2002 and began to regularly raise it through my old blogsite Cape Slavery Heritage, bringing to the attention of the public who relax and forget about their troubles on Camps Bay beach, that the scores of bodies that washed up was buried in a mass grave on the beach of Camps Bay. I then called on tourism practitioners to integrate this story into their narratives and called on the city and Cape Town Tourism to recognise this tragic event with a permanent memorial marker board or a monument of some sort. My argument was that there are so many important sites for indigene and slavery memory that are unmarked and have no visual recognition of the history and heritage of our forebears in Cape Town and the broader Western Cape that it stymies the tourism narrative to such a degree that an almost false history is presented. In fact even the content of courses which tour guides have to undergo is often based on a highly skewed narrative. Tour guides who attempt to redress the skewed narrative and talk about indigene and slave heritage, and indeed even about non- conformist or rebel colonial history have to appeal to tourists to use their imagination because of the lack of visible markers and the lack of place names that truely reflect the past.

It was wonderful that the passionate Iziko Maritime archaeologist Jaco Boshoff took up this challenging exercise with his Slave Wrecks Project and that the wreck has been positively identified. The discoveries of artefacts also opens up the world of objects of memory and this provides a means of connecting us with our past in a visible and dynamicway. Imagining is very valuable but not as valuable as the tangible connection.

The Sao Jose was of course not the only slaver ship to sink in our waters and dynamic impact of many other indigene and slave stories do not reflect in our memory nor projection of the pillars of history on which our city is built. The 1808 Jij Slave Rebellion involving around 400 slaves which was brutally suppressed by Lord Caledon is just one such historical event. The slaves in both the case of the Sao Jose and the Jij Slave Rebellion were mainly those we refer to as the Mazbiekers. East and Central African slaves who were captured from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar and transported through Mozambique Island and Maputo to Brasil, the Caribbean and US with a steady trickle being sold at the Cape. The Sao Jose was en route with its human cargo to Brasil. A half a million East African slaves were taken to the Americas via Mozambique and the Cape of Good Hope in the latter 18th century and possibly as many from the entire Indian Ocean territories before. From 1808 the British Royal Navy began to intercept these slaver ships and seized the human cargo whom they called Prize Slaves. The Prize Slaves were then taken to various Indian Ocean Naval Stations and then resettled in South Africa and the Caribbean not as free men and women, but as people who were forced to be indentured labourers for 14 years. Prize Slaves continued to be brought to the Cape in large numbers until 1856 and remained in indenturship until 1870. So even although slavery was abolished in 1834 and effected fully in 1838 it hung around until 1870. The last of the Prize Slaves in fact arrived in 1890 – the Oromo. They were seized from a slaver vessel and came to the Cape from the RN Naval Station in Yemen. They were children and were taken to the Lovedale Mission College.

In 1818 another Portuguese slaver ship the Pacquet Real wrecked on Woodstock Beach with 167 slaves on board of whom 37 perish in the sea and their bodies was buried in a mass grave on that beach. Ships carrying slaves were also frequently wrecked on the wild coast and surving slaves were integrated into local Eastern Cape communities. There is so much more to our collective heritage in South Africa which involves the slaves of diverse African-Asian origins and this is a part of who we are today. These too are the ties that link and bind us as South Africans. Too many today think of themselves a “pure race” whatever that may mean and as having exclusive inalienable rights based on this “purity” as opposed to those whom they “other”. In paying tribute to these our slave forebears we are also reminding ourselves that it is the gravest folly and insult to our ancestors to engage in antagonisms towards others whom we may deem to be alien…. forgetting our cousin connections.

The history and heritage of slavery in the Cape and indeed in South Africa as a whole has many facinating dimensions which is poorly understood. In the earliest years of slavery West Africans features as the largest single group of slaves to be brought to the Cape in the first 50 years of settlement by Europeans. India and Sri Lanka slaver stations supplied the Cape with the largest numbers of slaves after the combined number of slaves brought from the African continent and Madagascar over the whole period of two centuries of the importing of slaves. But over 16 500 slaves were also brought to the Cape in the 17th and 18th centuries from another distinct corner of the world and while this was the smallest segment, their diversity and cultural impact was great. They came from South East Asia and the Indonesian Archipelago incorporating Bengal, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Jakarta, Java, Borneo, Celebes, Buton, Boegies, Ambon and othr islands… even as far as Japan and China.They came to be mistakingly collectively called Cape Malays largely because the slaver ships and slave stations used the Portuguese-Melayu languages as the main means of communication.

Of concern to me about how the present San Jose investigation is being pursued with our friends in the USA playing a large role is that while at last US academics are waking up to the role of the Indian Ocean slave trade they seem however to be starting their learning journey by making a cardinal mistake because they are still looking at the subject through a skewed lens. Reports in the media show them to be proceding from the notion that the Sao Jose shipment of slaves represented the first or earliest of the shipments of slaves from the Indian Ocean region, whereas this is just not true. Slaves from the Indian Ocean region were taken to the US and Latin America for 150 years before this date already and in the Indian Ocean slavery tradition such slaves would have been of both African and Asian origin. Before New York became New York it was New Amsterdam at the time when the Dutch were still in ascendency in Asia and a dominant force in the Indian Ocean. The trade in African and African Asian slaves from Madagascar and Mauritius shifted to Mozambique as the new centre from around the 1770s whereafter slaves who had predominantly come to the Cape from India, South East Asia and Indonesia became much smaller in number and the import of East African slaves began to dominate. Slaver ships destined for the European colonies rounded the Cape with their human cargos throughout the 1700s. However so dominant is the Atlantic Slave trade in US historiography that now the Indian Ocean slave trade is coming into the picture it is being presented as a later occurance and simply being seen as African slaves rather than the diverse community of slaves from all corners of the Indian Ocean territories occupied by the European empires.

Our understanding and approach to Cape Slavery has been isolated to the locally recorded experience of slavery largely through the eyes of slave owners and colonial authorities. As a result Cape Slavery has also been captured in a highly stunted and skewed manner in a relatively dry and dispassionate academic exercise. Cape Slavery’s full diversity, cultural heritage and impact, the slaves own experience, slavery resistance, indigene slavery and relations with imported slaves, Indian Ocean slavery and the experience of colonialism in India, South East Asia and Indonesia has largely been factored out. Only in the last 15 years have these dimensions began to be seriously explored in South Africa and elsewhere. There is an amazing connection between what happened here at the Cape and what happened eleswhere across the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British colonial footprint in East Africa, India, South East Asia, Indonesia, Japan and China. There are ties that bind us across the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean territories, but alas we are very ignorant of these in South Africa and of how it contributes to our identities whether of black, white, coloured, dravidian or asian ancestry. A few years ago when there was an international on slavery in Durban it was embarrassing to South Africa as to how ignorant the South African government participants were on the history and heritage of slavery in general and even more so on chattle slavery in South Africa. The dominant US narrative on slavery is also guilty of distortion and perhaps it will be though collaborations such as this Sao Jose story that we may have opportunity to influence the skewed perspectives…. But we really must be alert to distortion.

The Sao Jose story therefore represents much much more than the tragic loss of life. It represents a huge set of hidden histories and perspectives and a new opportunity for voyages of discovery about our past and exploration of our connections to so much more other communities than our previous narrow perspectives have allowed. It is a window on how Cape Town and its people were moulded from the first Khoena maritime trading settlement at the Camissa River in Table Bay, taken over by the Dutch under Jan van Riebeeck, to become the city of Cape Town today, with a people of such diverse roots. The over amplification of Dutch, French, German and British contributions to Cape Town has drowned out the Indigene contributions and that of the forced labourers who arrived in large numbers over time from the 1650s onwards from Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar, Mauritius and across the Southern African region – from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – from Arakan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore – from Jakarta, Java, the Celebes, Buton, Malaccas, Ambon, and Borneo – from the Phillipines, Makau, Japan and China – .and the Kroomen and Siddis from West Africa and from Zanzibar. What a rich history we have and what does this mean when we interact eith peoples ftom thesd same regions who continue to migrate here today either voluntarily or as smuggled and trafficked migrants to our shores. (Yes slavery still exists and slaves can be encountered within 10 kilometers of any South African home).

In conclusion it will also be interesting for readers to know another hidden fact about Camps Bay, the site of the mass grave of Sao Jose slaves….. The very first landowner of the entire Camps Bay estate and most sucessful farmer of her time was the Cape born daughter of two West African freed slaves, Anne and Evert of Guinea. Her name was Swart Maria Evert. She died in that fateful year of the first smallpox epidemic in 1713 and was the richest woman of her time…… But that is another story. ( pictures show the divers examining the wreck and the ceremonial scattering of sand from Mozambique at the wrecksite by divers)


After 1602 through to the end of the 17th century the Dutch entered an old trading network in South East Asia between powerful Kingdoms and other external parties – Arab, Chinese and Portuguese known as the Nusantara wherein everything from Javanese horses to silk, spice, Martaban jars and food products were traded. This linked Kingdoms in Siam (Thailand), Myanmar, Tonkin (Vietnam), Cambodia, Laos, and Bengal, with Japan, Batavia, Sri Lanka, Formosa, Taiwan and other Dutch stations. The Dutch outpost factories at Ayatthuya (Siam), Tonkin (Vietnam), Zeelandia Castle in Taiwan and Dejima in Japan were particularly connected by the Dutch trade in Silk for silver and the Dutch controlled shipping between these centres. But this trade and trading links were dominated by crooked merchants who conducted insider-trading which undermined the Dutch United East India Company (VOC), their employer. For instance every time the VOC discovered that the head of mission at Tonkin was corrupt, he would be dismissed and replaced only to find that the next head would also be corrupt.

This South East Asian scenario was to have a direct influence on the fortunes of the Cape of Good Hope, because of the destiny of one of those corrupt officials – Jan van Riebeeck. Thus the connection of slaves from Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam (Tonkin) who appear in our heritage records at the Cape is not the only dynamic linkage. Most people do not know of the Jan van Riebeeck story of his connection to Vietnam, Thailand and Japan.

The see note below artical - what is the real image of Jan van Riebeeck

The see note below article – what is the real image of Jan van Riebeeck

The heads of mission or Directors of the factories were actually just petty lower middle-ranking personalities in the vast VOC commercial empire and the Tonkin factory was made up of one director (chief merchant), one assistant-director, one bookkeeper, one surgeon (an official charged with doing amputatins), several assistants including merchants, and a company of soldiers.

As the first director of the Tonkin factory Carel Hartsnick started off in 1637 and was succeeded by Antonio van Brouckhorst who when he finished his service, recommended one of the younger merchants, a certain Jan van Riebeeck as his successor, because he best understood and conversed in the Vietnamese language. But Jan van Riebeeck was then found by the VOC to have been involved in the self-enrichment smuggling racket of private dealing at the expense of the VOC. He was thus dropped as successor to the first Director, dismissed and sent back to the Netherlands in disgrace. The Directorship was then given to Director Jan de Groot, who was later found to have also developed a vast smuggling network of illicit trade between the Ayattuya, Tonkin, Dejima routes, amassing considerable wealth for himself and undermining the VOC interests. He too was removed, and the next director, Philip Schillemans, proved to be both incompetent and unable to root out corruption. Tonkinese silk was continuously smuggled to Nagasaki by VOC officials who made huge fortunes. This chain of corruption ultimately led to the demise of the Tonkin factory in Vietnam. The Dutch later fared equally badly in Thailand and in Japan.

The successor interim director at Tonkin, Jacob Keijser was also found to be corrupt as was his successor Baron and so was Verdonk who succeeded him. Epitaphs for van Riebeeck, through to Verdonk all sang their praises as pious upstanding religious men of great virtue. The record says different.

Jan van Riebeeck while still in Japan was already scheming to get involved in an entrepreneurial venture of acquiring animal hides from the Cape of Good Hope and exporting these. Then on his voyage of disgrace from Tonkin back to Europe, in stopping off at the Cape of Good Hope in 1651 he developed a pitch to the VOC executives to establish a Dutch controlled half-way house for serving shipping fleets on their way to the east. A year later in 1652 the disgraced Jan van Riebeeck, one of the company of Tonkin rogues, was given the chance to redeem himself by leading the quest to take over the service role of local inhabitants to international shipping which for 40 years had been formally managed first by Chief Xhore and then Chief Autshumao who established the first proto service settlements on the mainland and at Robben Island.

Both had been taken abroad by the British to London and Batavia respectively for ‘training’. Prior to 1613 for 130 years Europeans of all nationalities had been stopping off at the Cape and were informally serviced by whomever they met from indigene communities. The notion of the 1652 settlement founding Cape Town is an erroneous one albeit that the arrival of the man of Vietnam infamy was an important moment in history. The quest to establish a European service base at the Cape had been tried before by the British in 1614 when they attempted a settlement comprised of released Newgate prisoners, which failed after three years. Jan van Riebeeck kept up his South East Asian interests while at the Cape of Good Hope and then returned to Batavia after a decade at the Cape, and is buried there.

Our history and heritage is closely bound to the Dutch United East India Company and to South East Asia, through slavery and the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) but most people today do not know about these deep ties. Most of those who hail Jan van Riebeeck as a super hero and founder of South Africa actually know very little about him and the history outlined here or the territories and Dutch imperial interests that the Dutch settlement at the Cape supported.

(The picture popularized in the past of Jan van Riebeeck as appeared on stamps, coins, banknotes etc was of a completely unrelated different man Vermuyden. The picture behind the banknote is the true image of Van Riebeeck.)


People ask the question – “When did the first Thai people come to South Africa?” They are surprised when told that Thai people are first clearly recorded in South Africa over 250 years ago and that there are indications of even earlier South East Asian arrivals.


Archive records show the presence of a Thai male slave by the name of Achilles of Siam in Cape Town in 1759. Another record for Cape Town shows a Thai female slave by the name of Leonora of Siam in 1790. The Thai first names were changed by slave traders when they found difficulty pronouncing Thai names.

But other indicators suggest that Thai and other South East Asian slaves were amongst the earliest slaves in the Cape during the period 1652 until 1710. Slaves were also taken from Arakan (Rhakine in Myanmar) and Tonkin (Vietnam). A man by the name of Soutanij of Burma is recorded for 1706. Today in the 21st century Thai people often comment on how some Coloured people in Cape Town look like Thai people. Now you know why!

The great Buddhist temple at Borobudur in Indonesia further shows a bass relief of an East Asian ship doing a voyage around the tip of Africa as early as the 8th century, so one cannot rule out the possibility of even earlier linkages.

Cape Town has a very old relationship to Thailand and the two main linkages are ‘SLAVERY’ and the ‘DUTCH UNITED EAST INDIA COMPANY’(VOC) which had a commercial factory in Ayatthuya. Both slavery and the VOC were the dominant forces in Cape Town which was the half-way station for the 65 European ships per year that were doing trade with the Kingdom of Ayatthuya.

Thailand loosely translated means ‘the land of the FREE’ and this has great significance to the descendants of slaves in the Western Cape Province of South Africa where around 65% of the people have slave ancestors including from South East Asia, India, the Indonesian Archipelago, Madagascar and Africa. Over 71 000 slaves were brought to Cape Town from 1652 through to the mid 19th century. The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of slaves imported into Cape Town were all born into slavery.

Although formal slavery was abolished and gradually phased out over 20 years after 1834, South Africa would only, after the resistance struggle against Apartheid, become the ‘Land of the FREE’ after 1994 under our great President Nelson Mandela.

Old Siam and the Kingdom of Ayatthuya was a kingdom where many people were slaves and were not free. This changed under the great progressive and beloved King Chulalongkorn Rama V, the fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri, transformed the face of Siam by abolishing slavery leading to the emergence of Thailand – the land of the FREE.

Slavery was so entrenched in Thailand that by 1867 over one third of the population of Siam, were slaves. Some of these slaves were taken to Cape Town. In 1874 King Rama V enacted a law that began a process taking over 30 years that led to the Slave Abolition Act passed in 1905. Sometime after the death of King Rama V, the broader reforms which he started were continued by the nationalist military officer Luang Phibunsongkhram who in 1939 renamed Siam as Thailand.

The links between Thailand and South Africa go back to 1602 when the Dutch United East India Company (VOC) was formed as the first modern joint stock company monopolizing trade with Asia.

By 1619 the VOC founded the powerful city-state of Batavia (Jakarta) as the center of the company’s interests in Asia, South East Asia and Indonesia with a Governor-General appointed to govern all Dutch interests and settlements from Cape Town to Ayatthuya in Siam and Deshime in Japan, as well as over the entire islands of the Indonesian Archipelago. These were the beginnings of the ties that bind Thailand and Cape Town in South Africa.

The Siamese Kingdom of Ayatthuya remained a strong and free Kingdom which the Dutch were not able to control but they were allowed to set up a factory and trading station by the King of Siam. King Ekathotsarot had sent a delegation to the Dutch State in 1605 and as a result a Dutch VOC factory was established in Ayatthuya and Dutch shipping frequently stopped off there in great numbers.

These ships and the trade with Ayatthuya were regularly serviced by the vital Dutch half-way station at Cape Town under the VOC administration based at Fort de Goede Hoop from 1652.

The Dutch settlement at the Cape desperately required slaves to build Cape Town and work on its farms so India, South East Asia and the Indonesian islands became a major source for over 30 000 slaves sent to Cape Town including skilled artisans. This is the background as to why Thai people and people from Myanmar, Bengal, India and Indonesia came to Cape Town in South Africa.

Along with these people came the mixture of Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, as well as Reusi, Dukun and other Shaminist faith traditions that collectively influenced religious belief in Cape Town, as well as, cooking traditions, use of spices and rice, and other cultural practices.

This is the true story of the deep roots of heritage ties between Thailand and South Africa and how we share blood ties.