The ‘Mazbiekers’ in our Heritage – the Case of Sante Lydia of District Six

From the 1780s onward the majority of the slaves brought to the Cape were known as Mazbiekers and even after the abolition of slavery in 1834 ‘Mazbiekers’ continued to then be brought to the Cape as indentured workers. ‘Mazbiekers’ were the slaves that came from a wide range of countries in East and Southern Central Africa to the slaver station in Mozambique and then on to the Cape of Good Hope where they large were put to work in the agriculture and public works sectors. Sante Lydia of District Six was the child of a ‘Mazbieker’ slave. The ‘Mazbiekers’ are an important part of our heritage in the Cape. They also made up the majority of the slaves that took part in the 1808 ‘Jij Rebellion’ of slaves that was brutally suppressed by the British Dragoon troops.
– In 1910 Lydia ‘Ou Tamelytjie’ Williams, the Saint of District Six passed on at the age of 90. She was born into slavery, her father being a Mazbieker slave. The picture with her brief biography, appearing here, was a cameo part of an exhibition which I did more than a decade ago, called ‘THE TIES THAT BIND US’.
Like my special Saint – San Martino de Porres, saint of the slaves and mullatos, Sante Lydia dedicated her life to promoting healing amongst freed slaves and their descendants, operating from her one room rented home on the St Philips Anglican mission estate.

Fellow heritage activist, my dear sister Lucy Campbell wrote a wonderful piece on Sante Lydia last year after she went in search of the Cape Town Saint’s grave, which deserves wide readership. Please follow the link:

Fellow Heritage Activist and friend Rev Michael Weeder followed up my posting with the following:
My brother, a story of a remarkable woman, Lydia Williams. I was able to trace the locale of her grave at Gate number 9 at Maitland Cemetery assisted by an official of the City Council. That was about 1999. She is the focus of a movie ‘Lydia Williams: A fervent simplicity’ produced by Laverne Engel and Sharief Cullis. It was flighted numerous times on national TV. The District Six Museum display a short piece On Lydia and the poet Malicka Ndlovu wrote a beautiful poem, ‘Lydia in the Williams’ and Garth Erasmus’ artwork adorns the wall hanging in the museum. George Manuel was the first to make mention of Lydia and notes that the Lydia Williams English Church School in the Dry Dock is the only educational institutional named after an enslaved person. Her father was Mozambican and her mum Cape Creole. It would seem that that she was commandeered into the Great Trek by her ex-owner and they went as far as the Free State and then returned to the Cape. Her body bore the scars of lewin whip lashes she was rewarded with after repeated escapes while at Zonnebloem. It was part of her desperate attempt to find her daughter who had been separated from. She was a founder member of the old St Philip Anglican Church on Chapel Street, District 6, (the old CAP) building) The congregation still celebrates her memory. The value of Lydia’s story is that she is really a Cape Town griot who chose to observe 2 December to recall the days of slavery and shared her stories especially with the young. This is how she marked Emancipation Day 1 December with a feast of food and sweet delicacies. She gives voice and detail to the thousands of unnamed and unsung ancestral spirits of our lives. To rephrase Sojourner Truth’s immortal challenge sounding through the ages: “Ain’t she a woman?”
Lydia’s story is another of the many hidden stories of the people of Cape Town. She is another whose name and story ought to be memorialised. She was the unsung Nelson Mandela of her day.


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