On the night of the passing of our dear Madiba – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela I was making a speech at the birthday dinner of someone who was turning 60. The person who I will leave unnamed is an outstanding leader of our people who has a passion and drive that is only matched by her caring spirit and intellectual prowess. She comes from a long line of outstanding leaders that stretches back to the 19th century.

CHAINMy speech occurred at around the exact time of Madiba’s passing and I made mention that we are only assured of two things in life – growing old and death. And in death we join our ancestors. I said that our lives in many ways is a preparation for this moment – a period where we have opportunity to leave a legacy that builds on the legacy of those who came before us in the ancestral continuum. The birthday lady, I said, had made her illustrious ancestors proud and could truly say that she had built on their legacy. It was uncanny that at that very moment Madiba was passing to join his ancestors and most certainly had done them proud and added many fold to their legacy. During his memorial today, I thought much about his legacy, the cleansing of the down pouring rain and about the ancestral continuum. It caused me to again visit the arena of my ancestral story.

When I was a young boy I was captivated by the story of Saint Martino de Porres who lived over 400 years ago as the son of a slave in Peru. It had a profound effect on the course of my life as I connected with a deep guiding ancestral spirit.  I was a troubled child being brought up by a single mother. My father had left us, my mother’s other children were grown and working, and my extended maternal family had been split up by Apartheid because we were a family of diverse roots which manifested differently in our complexions and features. I found myself fostered out to other families as my mother struggled to make ends meet. I was only a child, but a child with many questions and a strong desire to understand and appreciate my diverse roots. I was around 8 years old and over the next 50 years I relentless pursued a path of getting to know my ancestors. My first challenge was that I did not even know my father and was removed from even my living family.

My journey over the years took me to libraries, research centres, churches, and graveyards to interviews with people and long searches on the internet. I often went on wild goose chases in the wrong direction. However slowly but surely I put together the jigsaw puzzle pieces and from that a coherent picture began to emerge which explained why I had this strong urge to study slavery. In the course of time I began to understand myself better and my place in society and why I had put so much energy into the national liberation struggle against colonialism and Apartheid. Twenty-five personalities, who were slaves and indigenes in my family tree, each with their own story, emerged to provide a story of rising above adversity which is the heart of a true sense of identity and belonging.

This jigsaw picture required me to look at the lineages of my mother’s parents and my father’s parents. On both sides powerful false overlays had been erected and I received very little help in my quest to find the true stories of even the most recent years. But I persevered. It was a worthwhile and liberating journey – a catharsis.

Petrus Francois Mellet and Susanna Catharina Steyn are my paternal line great grandparents. They lived on a farm, Lemoenshoek near Barrydale, today sub-divided into six divisions. Their son Pieter Francois Mellet snr is my grandfather and Pieter Francois Mellet jnr is my father. Both have now long passed on. My paternal line great great grandfather is Jacobus Mellet and great great grandmother is Elizabeth Saayman. The lines of both these ancestors uncovered a wealth of connections with my spirit – a spirit in formation. Once I had tracked these personalities I spent equal time trying to find out more about who they were and what were their stories? Luckily for me there has been some great research done in recent times of these people.

Three generations down my great great grandmother’s line as per the Zaaiman/Willemse lines we track back another three generations to my ancestor Catharine van Malabar (1637) one of the first slaves with Jan Van Riebeeck at the Cape. She was married to Cornelis Claasz and their daughter Maria Claasen Cornelisz (1678) married Gerrit Willemse whose grandson married into the Saayman line as a direct descendant to my great great grandmother.

Four generations down my great great grandmother’s line as per the Zaaiman/Biljon line we track back over two more generations to a locally born slave – Maria van der Kaap (1674) who was the mother of Maria Walter (1700). Maria Walter and Bernardus van Bellion were the parents of Anna van Biljon who married Bartholomeus Zaaiman.

Six generations down from my paternal great great grandmother’s line through the Zaaiman line we track back to indigene Khoena lineage via Petronella van Meerhof (1663) the daughter of Kratoa of the Goringhaicona (1642), also known as Eva van Meerhof, the Khoena interpreter who married the Danish surgeon Peter Havgaard (aka van Meerhof) – first Khoena convert to Christianity and first recorded marriage of an indigene and a European at the Cape.

Through my great grandmother Susanna Catharina Steyn by way of her father’s line (Hermanus Jacobus Johannes Steyn) he tracks directly back by five generations (through two routes) to Jacobus Steyn the son of freed slave Maria Lozee van der Kaap (1662) who was the daughter of Maria van Bali (1640). Jacobus father is unknown, but the records show that Douwe Gerbrand Steyn who had no male children of his own, formally adopted Jacobus.

Further through Hermanus Jacobus Johannes Steyn’s mother (Christina Magdelene Lourens) and via her mother (Jacoba Petronella Swart) this line also goes back four more generations to Catharina van Malabar (1637).

Also through Susanna Catharina Steyn via her mother Johanna Louisa van der Vyver and through the Steyl/Volschenk line we again track back to the already mentioned Maria van Bali (1640) via another route. We also track back over five generations to Sara van Graan (1711) , her slave mother – locally born Rebecca van der Kaap (1690) (six generations) and Rebecca’s slave parents Sara van Macassar (1670)and Moses van Makassar (1670) – over seven generations.

Susanna Catharina Steyn further tracks five generations through to Johanna Catharina Voortman van der Kaap (1710), (known also as Tol and also as Katje Hottentotin in the Baptismal records). The lineage here is through Maria Steyl (the grandmother of  Susanna Catharina Steyn), who was the grand-daughter of Johannes Ernst Volschenk and Susanna Catharina Ziegler whose mother was Susanna Cordier jnr. She was the daughter of Anna Maria Voortman (1727) and Johannes Cordier. Anna Maria Voortman and her sister Susanna each married le Cordier brothers. The other brother Jurgen Cordier and Susanna Voortman feature in my grandmother Elsie Petronella le Cordier’s lineage too. The Voortman sisters were children of a Khoena woman (together with their mother they were baptized in 1747) and a German labourer (Hendrik Voortman).

My father’s mother was Elsie Petronella le Cordier. Through grand-mother Elsie’s grandmother, Anna la Grange from whom we can track through her mother Martha Vosloo three more slave lineages. Two of these track through Martha Vosloo’s father Arnoldus Francois Vosloo who is a descendent through his father, Arnoldus Vosloo (1724) to Johannes Vosloo and Gerbrecht Herbst (1702). It is Gerbrecht who was the daughter of Johan Herbst and Lijsbeth Saunders van der Kaap (1659). Lijsbeth was the daughter of the slave Lijsbeth Arabus van Abyssinia (1645) – one of two child princesses given as a gift to van Riebeeck’s wife by a French ship’s Captain. Johannes Vosloo the husband of Gerbrecht was the son of Johan Vosloo and the slave Helena van Malabar (1675).

The third track moves through Arnoldus Francois Vosloo’s mother, Anna Catherina Verkouter (1737), who was the daughter of Frans Verkouter (1705) and Maria Block (1703). Maria was the daughter of Darius van Bengal (1677) and Anna Grootheuning van Bengal (1676).

Grandmother Elsie Petronella le Cordier traces back over six generations to Johanna Catharina Mauritz (Tol) van der Kaap (1710), a Khoena woman from Tulbagh and a German labourer Hendrik Voortman, through their daughter Susanna Voortman (1728) and her husband Jurgen Cordier.

My maternal great grandmother Francina Haddon (1831) was born a slave in the Eastern Cape and in the absence of any details of her parents, her DNA shows that she has a West African lineage some time in her past. She was married to an Englishman William Haddon who had lived for over 60 of his 100 years, at Cala in free Thembuland. They had six children of whom my grandmother was one. My grandmother married another Englishman and after her father died they lost their farm and came to settle in lower Wynberg in the Cape (in Kent Road). After bearing six children my grandmother’s husband abandoned her and returned to England.

My paternal grandparents settled in Sterling Street in District Six. My mother lived in neighbouring Woodstock and Salt River. My father and mother both worked in a shoemaking factory and a clothing factory respectively in Woodstock. The culture of District Six, Salt River and Woodstock, the areas where many freed slaves settled also had a profound influence in my life in growing up.

The total of 22 slaves and 5 indigene Khoena, in my direct lineage in my family tree as outlined here, and the further 22+ indirect slave linkages through extended family links now provide references for me and my descendants. The places from which my direct slave ancestors came are Bengal, Angola, Malabar, Abyssinia, Makassar and locally born Cape Creole slaves. Indirect family links through great aunts and uncles other slaves came from Sri Lanka, Guinea, Madagascar, Goa, Angola, Japan and Jakarta (Batavia), Boegies. The wealth of cultures from these areas have greatly influenced the culture that we hold dear today. Every day I find out new linkages in this respect. The direct indigene lines are from the Hessequa and the Goringhaicona, and through indirect lineages – the amaXhosa and Griqua.

Left to Right: Father -Pieter Francois Mellet jnr; Mother - Annie Haddon Huntley; Aunt - Doll van Rooy; Maternal Great Grandma Francina Haddon; Cousin - Louisa 'Toekies' van Rooy; Maternal Great Grandpa William Haddon; Maternal Grandma Mary Anne Haddon; Maternal Grandpa - William Huntley; Paternal Grandma - Elsie Petronella le Cordier; Pateral Grandpa - Pieter Francois Mellet snr.

Left to Right: Father -Pieter Francois Mellet jnr; Mother – Annie Haddon Huntley; Aunt – Doll van Rooy; Maternal Great Grandma Francina Haddon; Cousin – Louisa ‘Toekies’ van Rooy; Maternal Great Grandpa William Haddon; Maternal Grandma Mary Anne Haddon; Maternal Grandpa – William Huntley; Paternal Grandma – Elsie Petronella le Cordier; Paternal Grandpa – Pieter Francois Mellet snr.

These indigenous cultures also influence my being today and a deep appreciation of these have been inculcated in me over the years through the quality of my mentors and leaders in our national liberation movement. Herein there has been a dynamic relationship between my following the path of national liberation and my following a path toward personal liberation.

The ancestral continuum has played itself out in my life and enhanced it. In engaging it there was a strong theme of healing both on the side of the ancestors and on the side of the living. Its an ongoing story. I can recommend that anyone who hears that little voice in themselves, as I did as an 8 year old kid, which says go out and search and embrace your ancestors – should follow that little voice. An enhancing and healing path will emerge.


Catharine van Malabar (1637)

Maria Claasen Cornelisz (1678)

Maria van der Kaap (1674)

Maria Walter (1700).

Jacobus Steyn  (1683)

Maria Lozee van der Kaap (1662)

Maria van Angola (1640).

Sara van Graan (1711)

Rebecca van der Kaap (1690)

Sara van Macassar (1670)

Moses van Makassar (1670)

Gerbrecht Herbst (1702)

Saunders van der Kaap (1635)

Lijsbeth Saunders van der Kaap (1659)

Lijsbeth Arabus van Abyssinia (1645)

Johannes Vosloo (   )

Helena van Malabar (1675).

Anna Catherina Verkouter (1737)

Maria Block (1703)

Darius van Bengal (1677)

Anna Grootheuning van Bengal (1676).

Francina Haddon (1831)


Petronella van Meerhof (1663)

Kratoa of the Goringhaicona (1642) / (aka Eva van Meerhof)

Johanna Catharina Mauritz Voortman van der Kaap (1710),

Anna Maria Voortman (1727)

Susanna Voortman (1728)

INDIRECT SLAVE ANCESTORS – Aunts, Uncles, Cousins (22  + many more)

 Anna van Guinea (1655)

Maria van Negapatnam (1669)

Lysbeth van Bengal (1643)

Armosyn Claaz van der Kaap (1661)

Claas Cornellisen van der Kaap (1663)

Cornelia Arabus van Abyssinia (1647)

Manda Gratia van der Kaap (1667)

Jackie gratias van Angola (1647)

Eva van Batavia (1660)

Susanna van Boegies (1682)

Anthony de Later van Japan (1648)

Susanna van Ceylon (1657)

Ventura van Ceylon (1656)

Armosyn de Groote van der Kaap (1657)

Catharina van Paliacatte (1631)

Rebekka van Madagascar (1780)

Catrijn van Madagascar (1670)

Swarte Maria Everts (1663)

Evert van Guinea (1639)

Monica da Costa van Goa (1607)

Jacomintjie van Madagascar (1670)

Angela van Bengale (1648)

Letter to the Editor of the Cape Times – Response to the question of providing references for CAMISSA

I have utmost respect for UWC academic and fellow comrade Keith Gottschalk (We Need Evidence, letter to editor of the Cape Times 2 December 2013) and would like to take up his request for information on the association of the name ‘Camissa’ with the City of Cape Town.

A fragment of Camissa - the Castle Moat. Most of Camissa is now underground.

A fragment of Camissa – the Castle Moat. Most of Camissa is now underground.

When I first came across the usage of ‘Camissa’ by Cyril Hromnick I shared Keith Gottschalk’s sceptism and did a research check, noting that many question the historical claims made by Hromnick, who seemed to be the person who popularised the term which then spread commercially.

Gottschalk is correct in stating that //Hui !Gais or //Hu !Gaeb is the Khoena term that most would associate with the broader Cape Peninsula where it simply means ‘where clouds gather’.

The term //ammi-i-ssa or ‘Camissa’ is the old indigene Khoena, or Khoi, term for any fresh or sweet-water river as noted by Portuguese cartographer Lazaro Luis in 1563 on his map as – ‘de Camis’ alongside the name ‘Aguada de Saldanha’. This is cross-referenced with an entry on 24 April 1682 by Governor-General van Goens captured in Moodie’s Record (1959) page 387 which notes the inland Khoena people referring to a fresh-water river as ‘Camissa’ or ‘Cumissa’. In Cape Town the main water tributary that ran from the mountain Hoerikwaggo to the sea was ‘Camissa’ later referred to, in keeping with the indigene term, as ‘Soetwater’ distinguishing it from the ‘Zout Rivieren’. The naming of the river by the Khoena was not a name in the European tradition of branding places and rivers, but rather a factual reference to fresh water.

The first establishment of a refreshment station on the banks of the ‘Camissa’ in Table Bay for passing ships must be attributed to the maroon group of Goringhaicona under Chief Austhumao, having continued this tradition from Chief Xhore of the Goringhaiqua from 1615 after Xhore was returned to the Cape, having been kidnapped to England for a year. The notion of a town or settlement before this time did not exist amongst the Khoena and thus Cape Town per se would not have existed, nor had any town-specific name existed. In their transhumance annual visitation the Khoena would make for the distant Peninsula seen from the West Coast – the cloud covered Hoerikwaggo, an area they called //Hu !Gaeb.

The entrepreneurial Autshumao broke with this pattern when he established himself on the banks of the Camissa and around the Table Bay shore with the Goringhaicona, maroons from other Khoena groups, particularly after returning from his trip to Batavia and his short period based on Robben Island.

The Camissa was a strategic point for trade and fresh water was a main commodity for passing ships. The provision of fresh water together with acting as a trader between inland groups and the seafarers, and later for Commander van Riebeeck was the real beginning of the City of Cape Town. Van Riebeeck who first camped alongside Autshumao for 6 months at the Camissa while the fort was built, noted after moving to the Fort that Autshumao remained camped by the river. The trading relationships of Xhore and Autshumao and their respective trips abroad as well as the formation of the Goringhaicona as the proto Capetonians is well documented and is the true foundation of Cape Town as a town settlement around the river Camissa.  The river is now driven underground, much as has this story remained layered over for too long.

The distinction between //Hu !Gaeb and //ammi-i-ssa is not competitive but complimentary. The one denotes the broader peninsula and the other recognizes the break with a transhumance pattern and the first establishment of a settlement, which like that of many towns and cities around the world, grew up around a fresh water river, now hidden from the public gaze. The older origins of the term amongst the Khoena is moot and may have been a cross-over term between the seafarers and Khoena during the 127 years pre-1615, as ‘Camis’ appears elsewhere on the Portuguese sea routes also denoting fresh-water .

Chief Autshumao, established what can be called the first Camissa footprint in South Africa, as the settlement where Khoena, Slaves of diverse origins and Europeans first engaged in meaningful relationships and where locally born people sharing these diverse roots first emerged. The term certainly has more meaning than the racial term, ‘Coloured’, foisted on people by the British. More information on Camissa and the ‘ties that bind us’ in our history and heritage can be found on this blogsite.