CAMISSA vs COLOURED – CHALLENGING CONTINUED RACE-LABELLING:  Somebody in the Olympic stadium in Rio was overheard correcting someone else who has just shouted “Wayde van Niekerk the black South African has taken gold and smashed the world record for 400 metres”. “He’s not Black”, she said – “he is Coloured”.

Wayde-van-Niekerk-2  Athletic - 2016 CAA 20th African Senior Championships - Day 3 - Kings Park Athletic stadium - Durban

Across the world people started asking “what on earth are these South Africans talking about when they use the archaic old racist term ‘Coloured folks’ which went out of use over 50 years ago and they say they don’t mean that they’re ‘Black folks’ either?”

The recent Constitutional Court finding against the state for practicing discrimination against Coloured employees in the Department of Correctional Services and astounding achievement of Wayde van Niekerk at the Rio Olympics suddenly gave impetus to an old yet still very passionate debate, underpinned by much pain, as to whether it was appropriate to be still using the colonial and Apartheid race label ‘COLOURED’ for the range of communities that fell outside of those considered ‘White’ and, those considered to fall under the peculiar South African ethnicised meaning of ‘Black’.

In South Africa after the 1976 youth uprisings the Apartheid regime got rid of using the rejected term ‘Bantu’ which had replaced the term ‘Native’ and dealt the Black Consciousness Movement a deadly blow by using the term ‘Black’ in a narrow ethnic sense to denote only those tribally identified with predominantly sub-Saharan African roots but excluding those identifying as Khoena, San, Griqua, Nama, Korana and ‘Coloured’, suggesting that these cannot be regarded as native. It is unfortunate that the ANC has held onto this definition and in fact held onto the ‘four-race silo’ approach of the Apartheid era and this has done much to keep racism alive and flourishing in South Africa. It is not because there has been no alternative to the pseudo-scientific notion of ‘race’ for recognising diversity. South Africans who may self-identify, fall into just three broad families of people all with a strong affinity to Africa – Africans, Afro-Europeans and Afro-Asians. In each of these there is a diversity of sub-community identities shaped by history, experience and heritage. This has nothing to do with race, should have nothing to do with politics and the state should have no business in forcing people into identity silos. This was a cornerstone of Apartheid.

Where people saw themselves in terms of the three streams of overarching heritage or in the many different community heritages as sub-sets of these was a personal and community matter of self-identification. People could express affinities to a number of these at the same time. It is a personal prerogative. In a country where class has always co-related almost absolutely with colour, there should be no need to use the race-lexicon or even community identities as the means for socio-economic redress of the past. Class parameters can easily be used to address affirmation and level the opportunity playing field. Indeed it can do so in a much more just and focussed manner and could have avoided the opportunism and corruption by persons who simply on the base of race could stand at the front of the queue for redress over and over again while the real poor continued in abject poverty and experiencing the colonial experience under a new neo-colonial elite of colour.

Over the last decade I have done much writing on this subject and in more recent days General Jeremy Vearey published a letter on social media and in a Cape Town Newspaper on the subject too. In his letter he recalled a debate in the ANC journal SECHABA back in the mid-1980s when Alex la Guma, Arnold Selby and I (writing as PG – a member of Sechaba editorial board) opened a debate on the same subject, which raged on for some time and included contributions from Reg September, Jack Simons and others. In the course of the debate we separated out a number of things that were being conflated as one. Namely, the label ‘Coloured’ as an imposed term of identity, needed to be separated from a number of other pertinent issues.

We said that we needed to interrogate whether there were a set of distinct communities of people who had been herded together under this label and if so, who were they and what may they want in terms of self-identification? Under the Apartheid categorisation ‘Coloured’ included six sub-categories – Cape Coloured, Cape Malay, Griqua, Nama, San and Other Coloured. Initially Indians and Chinese were also categorised as ‘Coloured’ but later Eben Donges who was antagonistically obsessed with Indians decided that there should be as separate race classification for Asiatic.

We also needed to ask ourselves whether now that this constructed tenuous identity has been around for over more than a century and entrenched whether it can just be wished away? There are many people who either do not know about this painful past or do not want to know about or do not care what happened to their people before they were born….. they just loved to be known as Coloured (and that may be their right too). There are yet others who say – “to hell with any type of name or identity – I dont need identities… I am a human and a free-thinker and dont want to be boxed in any way. Let me be.”  That is a legitimate choice too.

Importantly we all felt incensed that both the Apartheid regime and many in the ANC referred to Coloured people as a ‘non-African’ minority and both also discriminated against Coloured people. We also felt incensed that the unity of people of colour who had collectively used the term ‘Black’ in a unitary fashion under the Black Consciousness Movement was undermined by both the Apartheid regime and some within the ANC who embraced the term ‘Black’ and gave it a narrow ethnicised meaning – namely referring only to descendants of sub-Saharan Africans who had predominantly Bantu ethnicity falling under a specific basket of tribes. This excluded marginalise Cape Khoena, San, Nama, Griqua and those broadly called Coloured. Many of us felt that the embracing of the ANC of the ethnicised meaning of Black and equally an ethnicised ownership of ‘African’ was contrary to the first constitution of the ANC drafted in 1919 and Prof Jack Simons, senior ANC political commissar pointed this out in the 1980s. That constitution said that anyone with at least one forebear who was indigenous to Africa was an African in terms of membership criteria.

More importantly even than all of these questions we raised and those of us still alive, still raise, is the fact that as much as the amaXhosa, Zulu, BaSotho, Shangaan, Venda, BaTswana et al exist as Africans and as part of the diverse South African family of communities, so do those unfairly herded under the label ‘coloured’ – Griqua, San, Korana, Nama and various surviving Cape Khoena communities. Also there are those who do not neatly fall into these groups but have ancestral genealogical and DNA connections to all of these, but also to slaves brought from West and East Africa, India and Southeast Asia, as well as some European and other migrant ancestry. It is this latter group that has struggled with expressing their sub-identity as South African. Do they create some kind of revivalist affinity identity as ‘KhoiSan’ (also a questionable anthropological term) or do they knock on one or another door of the marginalised survivalist Khoena formations, make common cause and ask to be let in? Taking those options would require that they engage in denial of their Bantu slave and indentured labour roots, their Indian and Southeast Asian slave roots, and even their European roots. So is there really any option but to embrace the ‘Coloured’ label?

These are all vexing questions. Some posit that “why can we not just bury all of these sub- identities – wish them away and simply all just be South Africans? Others say why can’t we just bury all of these community and cultural identities and just be Africans? Others say “ I just want to be Black; we people of colour should stand united as ‘Black’ South Africans meaning all people of colour as we share a common black experience!” Others want to walk over the rights of South Africans of perceived predominantly to Bantu heritage and make false claims that ‘Coloured’ people are the only true descendants of the Khoena and San when everyone knows that almost every tribal group in South Africa has Khoena and San ancestry to one degree or another and we also know that up to half of those who were classified as ‘Coloured’ in part have Bantu linages too. The proper terminology in fact is Sub-Saharan Ancestry and Southern African Ancestry, the latter being the forebears of the Khoena and San but also of other identifiable groups right up to Tanzania and Angola. Then there are those who simply hold racist views and hate the people they call ‘Blacks’ and emphasise that they consider ‘Coloured’ not to be black but brown. (bruin) WeThis dates back to a specific propaganda campaign of PW Botha to promte the concept of bruine-Afrikaner to rural Coloured townships. We all know that that the ‘bruin’ concept is nonesence because those labeled ‘Coloured’ range in tones from the whitest white to the blackest black…. but some buy into this and love it. During the 1994 election a TV camera captured an interview with Coloured gentleman who introduced himself as Kaffertjie Swart, and was in skintone the deepest black in colour. He called himself a bruin-ou and proceded to tell the world that he was going to vote for de Klerk because he did not want a “black kaffir” living next door to him. There is unfortunately for good discourse, plenty of falsehoods that abound.

When more thought is applied to these expressions none of these are stand up to scrutiny as progressive approaches on what some call the Colored Question.

Colonialism and imperialism battered African communities and tried to panel-beat people into imperialist-determined borders and one-ness. Community identities and cultures were in the name of civilisation repressed and as part of the peace agreed by two colonial factions – Boer and British, South Africa was created just over 100 years ago. The British largely decided who in Southern Africa was to be in South Africa and who was to be left out and for much of the 20th century people of colour had no rights in South Africa. Under these circumstances it would be a travesty of justice to accede to just being South African, whatever that may mean. Besides the injustice to the diverse communities inside the South Africa borders, what of the Southern Africans outside of these borders who were a huge part of building the South Africa economic power house. Bury community cultural identities? God forbid…Why? This was what colonialism tried to do all of these years.

Now here is the biggest issue. Should a cultural, spiritual, social, economic, political historical experience and heritage of a people, called Coloured, who first emerged as a creole formation over 400 years ago simply be set aside for political expediency? Over the years these people were given many different names…. Afrikanders and Free Blacks were just two of the names previously used.

When Asian and European ships started frequently visiting Cape shores from the early 15th century it left impacts on indigene communities as happened all over the world where different cultures engaged. These however were not dramatic. But in the 17th century when 1071 ships called at Table Bay in the first 50 years and another 1600 by the end of the century dramatic changes occurred. The indigenes initially met the challenges posed by establishing fairly complex port relations –  stevedoring, trading, having representatives travel abroad, and effectively establishing a port with a proto-settlement at the Camissa River flowing from Table Mountain to the sea. In 1652 however there was effectively a hostile takeover of the port business and settlement of the Goringhaicona at Camissa by the Dutch VOC under the command of Jan van Riebeeck and this changed the trajectory of our history.

In that period of 1600 – 1652 the indigene population came into contact with Europeans, and most likely with Asians and other Africans in large numbers when soldiers, sailors and others stopped over for lengthy stays at the Cape. As in any port all over the world various types of sexual encounters would have taken place and children were born of these. Recorded accounts note that some in the local community looked very similar to Europeans but were not. When thousands upon thousands of slaves were brought to the Cape – from other parts of Africa, and from India and Southeast Asia and, – when Europeans married and had children with indigenes and slaves, children were also born. Slaves were the largest population group for over a century after the Khoena were forced out of the Western Cape, other than those Khoena forced into servitude and conscripted into commandos. This history cannot be wished away.

But this is not the only aspect of what can be called the Camissa Footprint or experience. Camissa represents the genesis of heritage involving loss of life, land, liberty and identity and the resistance struggles manifested in rising above adversity. It incorporated the embrace between those struggling with enslavement and those struggling with dispossession of the port settlement and their livelihood, forced removal, livestock theft, land dispossession and conquest by the might of the gun and even genocide. The San suffered near obliteration in comparison to the Khoena and because of the tendency to overlay San history and heritage with the Khoena story or skewed Khoisan revivalism we continue to mete out injustice to San or /Xam heritage. The mutual embrace of Slave-Indigenes forebears with some of the rebel and non-conformists among the Europeans is also too often written out of our scripts by both whites and people of colour.

The Camissa port community is representative of a unique human coming together through struggles to overcome adversity in the face of the oppressive might of first the Dutch VOC and then the British and then the Union and Apartheid order of white nationalism and Apartheid. As much as the Camissa port settlement started by the Goringhaicona was driven underground, and as much as the very river was driven underground, so too have its descendants identity based on this heritage been overlaid by layer upon layer of camouflage.

The label ‘Coloured’ and the ridiculous Apartheid definition thereof has robbed people of their heritage rooted in the Camissa Footprint. A ‘race-label’ meaning ‘mixed-race’ in a lingo only understood against the Apartheid four-race silo lexicon replaced 400 years of history, heritage and struggles. The first people to experience dispossession as indigenes and slaves; the first to experience forced removals and wars involving land and cattle theft; the first people to experience pass laws; the first people to experience the brutality of torture and of genocide; and the first people to put up heroic resistance over a much longer and persistent period than any other community or set of communities in South Africa, should not have to continue to endure insult and continue to not be able to identify themselves and this amazing heritage. The term ‘Coloured’ does no justice to this Camissa heritage which I for one am proud of. It enhances my pride in being an African. It enhances my belonging to a diverse family of Southern African communities and when I say I am a South African it reminds me that this should never mean that I see this entity defined narrowly by the imperial-imposed borders or as a chauvinistic nation aggressive to others who don’t fit narrow notions of South Africanness.

It is exactly because of our Camissa heritage that the Apartheid regime found it so hard to define the ‘Coloured’ box that they tried to herd us into. First in the Population Registration Act they said –

A white person is one who in appearance is, or who is generally accepted as, a white person, but does not include a person who although in appearance obviously a white person, is generally accepted as a coloured person. A native is a person who is in fact or is generally accepted as a member of any aboriginal race or tribe of Africa. A Coloured person is a person who is not a white person, nor a native. Every coloured person or every native whose name is so included shall be classified by the Director according to the ethnic or other group to which he belongs.

And in  the Group Areas Act they told us there will be:

A coloured group in which shall be included (i) any person who is not a member of the white group or of the native group; and (ii) any woman, to whichever race, tribe or class she may belong, between whom and a person who is, in terms of sub-paragraph (i), a member of the coloured group, there exists a marriage, or who cohabits with such a person;

They then too gave themselves the powers to declare groups and proceeded to contradict their definition of Coloured and of Native by declaring the tribal organised Griqua, Nama and San to be Coloured. They also created ‘Other Coloured’ for the likes of some of us who were either too black or too white in appearance and ‘Cape Malay’ based on little more than the fact that these were slave descendants that were not Christian but Muslim. When the ANC came to power they held on to the Apartheid ‘Race-Silos’ for dear life and even although they abolished the Population Registration Act of 1950 and the Group Areas Act of 1950, they kept alive the classification of this same weirdly concocted constructed identity. They also used it for discriminatory purposes as found by the Constitutional Court in 2016.

It is with this background that my longstanding friend and former brother-in-law Kevin Patel and I drafted a proposal to the Cape Town City Council concerning the future development of the old Cape Town slate quarry which is an important heritage site.

Our proposal for a Galerie de Camissa Cultural Precinct addresses the need in Cape Town to urgently and seriously address the issue of social heritage and identity by establishing a place that celebrates the PEOPLING OF CAPE TOWN and central addresses the deferred issues around the ‘Coloured’ question.

Dedicated to the memory of what can be called the Camissa Footprint – the ‘Peopling of Cape Town’, the precinct envisages a low-rise multi-purpose structure, events centre and performance space, including commercial offerings for refreshments, arts & crafts, apparel, exhibitions, music, books and momentoes, built around a themed Gallery where the central permanent exhibition would be on the Seven Tributaries to the ‘Peopling of the Cape’.

The site and the backdrop of the old quarry is an important heritage feature of this city, sadly forgotten in the noise of so much else. But it has never been forgotten. Every year on Emancipation Day 1st December when the end of slavery is remembered, slave descendants have either started or ended a ‘freedom of the city’ procession at this quarry wall, where a fire is lit, songs sang, poetry performed and tributes and memories shared. The product of the old quarry, mined by slaves – its slave-mason stone-craft is to be found as part of many of the oldest foundation buildings of the City of Cape Town. The quarry, its stone and the buildings that arose from it form part of a chain of ‘silent witnesses’ to the unfolding of our history and heritage. Over time layer upon layer of overlays has given us the City we have today and in this process seven broad tributaries of people have come together in this City to form its population. The foundation of this coming together, is the very foundation of Cape Town itself- the Camissa story.

Our proposal presented a vision of a unique multi-purpose tourism enhancement project that both celebrates and memorialises all of these elements. Its core focus though the ‘Peopling of Cape Town’ – indeed is also the peopling of the broader reaches of the Cape through to its old Western extremities and Eastern extremities, and indeed it is also about the Camissa Footprint as it unfolded in the whole of South and Southern Africa. It is a heritage that grew out of a place but was never confined to a space.

It speaks of the ‘heritage ties that bind us’ and social cohesion that cuts across ethnic groups and in telling the story in its fullness it offers South Africans an opportunity to fill in the many gaps in our understanding of the past by bringing to the surface the stories that have fallen between the cracks. The proposal seeks to answer the oft posed question from tourists – “We see so many different faces in Cape Town and are left confused – African, East Asian, Chinese, Polynesian, European – but clearly these people are from here and, nowhere do we get an explanation or answer to how these features and these cultures  rolled into a locally born creole Cape identity.” 

 The proposal also incorporates in the broader association a ‘Fan Walk’ style ‘heritage walk’ linking the Prestwich Place Ossuary to the Gallerie Camissa Cultural Precinct  and the Bokaap. The Cape Town City Council has paid very little attention to the cultural heritage of the majority of its population. The project presents a challenge of redress. From this ‘corner of a triangle in Cape Town one would be able to travel along a heritage route through town to the next significant corner of the heritage triangle – namely the Castle of Good Hope and District Six  with the Camissa Site along the route, roughly where the Golden Acre Centre ends and the Grand Parade begins. It is here where van Riebeeck’s Fort de Goede Hoop also stood. The last corner of the heritage triangle is the Slave Lodge and Company Plantation (Gardens). Between these key points are many other sites and markers of our hidden heritage and below the surface criss-crosses the underground waterways of the Camissa River system. All of this story would come together as the narrative of this project and for once Cape Town will speak to its heritage and of the identity of its people.

The ‘Camissa Footprint’ that spread throughout the Cape and indeed throughout South Africa first emerged on the banks of the Camissa River (//gam i ssa) which runs from Table Mountain (Hoerikwaggo) and into the sea. Although the river, also known in the past as Rio Dolce, Rio Camis, Soetwater (Sweetwaters) and Platteklipstroom is not visible to the eye today, it still runs underground beneath the layers and layers of superstructure built over it, changing our original landscape into the built environment of today. One can today see that large parts of the underground Camissa River is indeed channeled by stone waterways made of the stone quarried from the Cape Town Quarry. Sometimes tours are arranged for people to see the Camissa in an underground tour. The ‘footprint’ or story of the roots of the people of Cape Town like the Camissa River is also layered over and runs underground away from the public gaze. It is the story of successive generations of uprooted people who rose above much adversity and it speaks to all South Africans of the invisible ties that bind us even as we celebrate our diversity.

The key feature of this story involves dispossession of indigenes, the slavery and indentured labour experience and migration – forced and voluntary.

The approach to telling this story links up the many gaps and brings to life the stories for example of the Maroons or Drosters, Indonesian religious exiles, the Mazbiekers, the Saints, the Pernakan Chinese, the Manillas, the Siddis and the Kroomen. The seven steps matrix utilising the symbolism of the iconic Seven Steps of Stone of old District Six as an educational tool, covers the seven main tributaries to Cape identities today and all that it encompasses.

  • Step 1. The Indigene story of the Khoena, San and the southern Nguni of the Cape;
  • Step 2. The story of the first European Settlers – Conformists and Non-Conformists;
  • Step 3. The story of the slaves from Africa, Madagascar, India and Southeast Asia;
  • Step 4. The story of the Free Blacks;
  • Step 5. The story of the ‘Redoubt’ solution or ethnic cleansing of the Cape and the Maroons in its wake;
  • Step 6. The story of the 18th & 19th Century Exiles and Refugees, and successive waves of refugees since;
  • Step 7. The story of the Indentures, African Naval Recruits and, successive waves of economic migrants.

The ‘seven steps tool’ is used to explain the wonderful tributaries of Camissa identity and also allows for Afro-Europeans and others in our diverse African family and Afro-Asian compatriots to better understand all of our inter-connectivity.

Within each of these layers or tributaries are amazing stories of people who rose above adversity which would be the subject of the Gallerie de Camissa as ‘Cameos of Captured Time’ told by means of seven large bass reliefs, illustrations, photographs, exhibits and other media. Markers of these histories can be found scattered all over the Peninsula. The idea would be to bring examples of these under one roof in an innovative manner. We have presented a plan incorporating a number of practical ways in which the site can be developed to incorporate elements such as music, performance, cuisine, art & craft, events, and commercial opportunities all of which enhance to core focus. Integral to the proposed design is a design that highlights the Quarry Rock Face as its outer wall, floodlit to capture the memory it represents.


We believe that by unpacking the Camissa memory and experience a mirror is held up for our people and the world to see the real story of those labelled ‘Coloured’ and for us to once and for all get rid of the myths and pseudo histories that are clogging up our understanding of ourselves. By once more being able to embrace our Camissa heritage and identity instead of a meaningless race term we will proudly be able to say I am an African and this is my story of how I fit in to the communities that make up the African family. This is how I and the community that I come from enhance Southern Africa and South Africa.

In conclusion and just briefly, the story of the Camissa Footprint and ‘peopling’ of the Cape starts with the story of the Khoena and San peoples and their interactions for around two centuries with external visitors and their shipping, before the 1652 European settlement by the VOC.

It moves on from 1600 through to the first British attempt to establish a settlement at the Cape with Newgate Convicts after taking the first South African indigene – Chief Xhore of the Goringhaiqua to London for a year in 1613. The fortunes of this aborted settlement led to the first establishment of a maroon Khoena community, the Goringhaicona, under Chief Autshumao first on Robben Island after his return from Jakarta in 1631 and then after 1636 on the mainland at the mouth of the freshwater river – the Camissa.

The Gorighaicona got their first naming from the Europeans who called them the Watermen, later disparagingly called the Strandloopers by van Riebeeck, as they largely set up a port service station providing the many passing ships, Portuguese, English, French, Danish and Dutch (1071 ships in the first half of the 17th century) with fresh water from the Camissa, meat, salt that was mined, hides, wood and a postal and news service. They also according to historian Richard Elphick had intricate relationships with the amaXhosa and the southernmost groups of Nguni-Khoena. It is this community who first hosted Jan van Riebeeck and his party in their midst, during the post April wintry months whilst the Fort de Goede Hoop was being built. There is much more to elaborate on this social history which is covered nowhere else in Cape Town or South Africa. It is also the story of van Riebeeck’s ‘Redoubt’ concept and how this shaped the trajectory of oppression, forced removals and subjugation of people of colour in in South Africa.

Following hot on the heels from the engagement between the early European visitors, came the European Settlers – a mixed group of a few Dutch VOC officials, and an assortment of Europeans, mainly Germans, as well as a platoon of Ambonese soldiers. Among these were many who rebelled against the restrictions and codes of the VOC. In the first fifty years of settlement a high proportion of these took slave, Free Black and Indigene partners in marriage and had children. Some became maroons also known as run-aways and integrated into the population of colour. With the Europeans were the first slaves – mainly Indian and Malagasy women. From 1658 onwards thousands of slaves were brought ashore alongside the Camissa and the Fort on its banks. The earliest large contingents of slaves were Sub-Saharan Africans or (Bantu peoples) from West Africa, some of whom revolted and ran away, assisted by the Khoena of Camissa to find refuge with remote communities. The Fort de Goede Hoop became a seat of conflict and then conquest of the Goringhaicona who had been living and trading at the river mouth. Fourteen years later the fort was dismantled after the Castle de Goede Hoop was built about 300 metres away.

The VOC conducted two wars against the Khoena in which the Gorinhaicona, Goringhaiqua, Gorachouqua, Chariguriqua and Cochoqua were defeated and their lands and cattle dispossessed from them. Over a 160 year period systematically kilometre by kilometre the Khoena and the San were steadily pushed by means of one war after the next, to flee to live with the Nama at the Gariep River region in the Northern Cape (the Witboois, Springboks, Orlam Afrikaners, Korana, Gora, Orlam Basters, Griqua) or to live as refugees among the amaXhosa who took them in. These included the Peninsula Khoena, Chainoqua, Einiqua, Hessequa, Houtunqua, Attaqua, Cauqua, Omaqua, Chamaqua, Humcumqua, Damasqua, Gamtoos, and Gonaqua. Sixty one years after the first settlement of Europeans in 1713 a devastating smallpox epidemic also battered the Khoena. The worst fate however awaited the San. European led commandos using Khoena conscripts launched a systematic genocide extermination campaign against the San who put up fierce and brave resistance. All adults were killed and their children taken as captive slave apprentices to work on farms.

The Camissa story pans out to take account first of the diversity of Slaves brought to the Cape – African; Malagasy; Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Pakistani; and Southeast Asian – (Indonesian, Myanmar, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malaysian, South Chinese). There are many sub-stories to these forced migrations into slave labour that built the city, towns and farmsteads that established the first economic pillars of the Cape Colony. Slave teachers too were responsible for starting the first schools which catered for both slave and European children. The largest numbers of slaves to arrive were known as the Mazbiekers who were made up of slaves from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and further afield. Their story like that of many others is lost in history.

Over the first fifty years of the emergent Cape Town a combination of freed or manumitted slaves and other persons of colour who had freely arrived on ships to the Cape resulted in an initially emergent and relatively prosperous Free Black community. The fortunes of this community and indeed the possibility of the Cape of Good Hope retaining a non-racial character was dealt a mortal blow through the outbreak of smallpox in 1713. Thereafter the Free Blacks community became trapped in a ‘poorhouse’ condition for various reasons, with just a few exceptions who ultimately assimilated into the European settler population. With the decline of the entrepreneurial first Free Black farmers of the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek areas a large aided migration programme to settle these areas with French Huguenots took place under the first ‘Coloured’ Governor of the Cape – the Mauritius born Simon van der Stel. The story of the struggles of his son Willem Adrian van der Stel and others labelled as the ‘Black brood among us’ by settlers Adam Tas and Henning Huising as well as the introduction of pass law controls on Khoena and slaves is all part of this fascinating cameo of our heritage.

Allied to this part of the story are the communities of Maroons – Khoena, slaves and non-conformist Europeans who fled to the north west frontier regions along the Gariep River joining the Namaqua, the Korana, the Einiqua and the San. These included the Gora, the Witboois, the Bergenaar Basters (who later adopted the name Griqua) and the Orlams Afrikaners. In the further panning out of this part of the story from both the Southwestern Cape where Khoena and amaXhosa communities had strong kinship ties and where already by 1702 Europeans were going on raids against the mixed Khoena-amaXhosa communities of the south east, the Northwestern Cape Maroon communities were also engaging maroon amaXhosa into their ranks.

Then this already amazing mix of people saw a flow into the Western Cape of Exiles & Refugees – Indonesian exiles, Batavian Chinese exiles (Peranakan) and later of Philippine (Manillas) refugees from the anti-Spanish revolutions.

The British wars of first occupation saw the first St Helenians (the Saints) come to the Cape as soldiers. Later the Saints would arrive as indentured labour. After slavery ended, in fact Indentured Labour and Economic Migrants became the alternative labour source and they poured into the Cape from a number of Southern African countries and from India. (BaTswana, Malawians, Mozamicans in the main) The period from 1780 through to the end of slavery saw a huge influx of African slaves known as the Mazbiekers. They were also joined by slaves liberated from slaver vessels by the Royal Navy. These were known as ‘Prise Slaves’ and largely Africans. The Royal Navy crews based at Simonstown were mainly made up of West African Kru people (Kroomen) and East African Siddis for over 100 years right through to 1939. Many settled in Cape Town and married local women.


In a continuum, passenger economic migrants and refugees made their way to the Cape – British and German poor settlers, British remittance men and armed forces personnel who settled, Passenger Indians, Portuguese draft dodgers, Jews fleeing pograms and persecution, Palestinians, Turks, more ‘Prize Slaves’ liberated from slaver vessels, African slave diaspora from the Caribbean and Americas, Japanese, Chinese and other seamen from a host of countries jumping ship, Chinese after the Boxer Rebellion and so many more. This story continues to this day with ever new seamen, refugees and migrants seeking asylum.

This is all part of our story and through telling it we pay tribute to our ancestral continuum and this underpins our identity – who we are.

Isn’t the Camissa Footprint and all within this story a much more valuable and meaningful expression than ‘Coloured’. It is a proud story of an African people who faced with overwhelming adversity, rose up above it and conquered that adversity.

Self-identity is an extremely important principle to which I subscribe. I believe that the state should have no role in identifying or categorizing people, racialising people and using this for social engineering purposes.

I say with pride I AM CAMISSA; I AM AFRICAN; I AM SOUTHERN AFRICAN and this is what I mean when I express pride as a South African. I am proud to have spent my life fighting this liberation struggle. Proudly Camissa. How could I ever be proud of a label like ‘Other Coloured’?

©  Patric Tariq Mellet