Slave Trail of Stellenbosch

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Slave Trail of Stellenbosch

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Slave Trail of Stellenbosch

When Simon van der Stel was first in the area now known as Stellenbosch in 1679, while on a trip to visit free burgher farmers in an area out with his colony, he and his officials arrived at "a level valley very suitable for agriculture, provided with a very effective fresh running river adorned by fine tall trees an either side, suitable for gardens and firewood". The area was named by van der Stel, Stellenbosch. And he increased the eastern boundary of his colony to include Stellenbosch too.

Within the next 18 months after discovering this fertile piece of land, 9 farmers were in planting vegetables and the vines, and in 1685 the first landdrost, Johannes Mulder was elected and the second town in South Africa was laid out - Stellenbosch.

As Stellenbosch flourished so did the amount of slaves in the area, slaves were the backbone of the colonial economy. In the 5 years from 1692 - 1697 the number of slaves had increased from 43 to 840 and by 1827 there were over 8000 slaves accounting for over 50% of the population, many of these slaves were of African origin, although some came from Madagascar and as far away as India . Slave owners were careful not to get to many slaves from the same country, as this could have caused solidarity amongst the slaves and rebellion against the owners. The slaves were used for the demanding work in the vineyards and orchards, working long hot days in the strong Cape sun. Many of the slaves to were selected and brought to the Cape for their artistic skills and this is reflected in many of the buildings in Stellenbosch and other towns throughout the region. Although slaves played such a huge part in the formation of Stellenbosch it seems to be all but forgotten who built and maintained public buildings and roads, who did the back-breaking labour in the vineyards and orchards, who helped to build the imposing homes and who made furniture, vats, wagons, clothes and other forms of cultural material that we still see around us today.

In Stellenbosch itself almost every building remaining today, all of those built before 1834 were probably built by the unpaid slaves. Slave sales were held on farms and auctions took place in Stellenbosch. Slaves were punished and executed in public in Stellenbosch, as well as in the Old Goal. Arson was one of the most frequent crimes and was punishable by hanging.

Here are a few buildings to look out for in Stellenbosch which are a silent reminder to days gone by.

The Old Drostry, found at 31 Dorp Street , now known as the Theological Seminary. Although the present building has undergone several changes over the years, the foundations and some of the walls remain those of the original, built by Adriean van Brakel, 7 other workers and 15 slaves in 1687, under the watchful eye of Simon van der Stel. The Old Drostry has survived 2 fires, a flood and even a hurricane.

The Rhenish Mission Church on the south side of Die Braak, was built in 1824, with contributions from Stellenbosch residents. As the society was concerned with the spiritual and educational needs of slaves, this building was used as a school for slave children, many of whom, on completion of their education, stayed in Stellenbosch in the hope of getting paid work and building a life for themselves, on Herte Street you will see a row of cottages, these were built by the missionaries of the church for the former students, and over the next 100 years they lived there in harmony with their neighbours. The forced removal of these people happened in 1950 when the Group Area Act came into force, after their removal the cottages were sold to new white owners

Bletterman House on the corner of Drostry and Plein was built by the last landdrost of the VOC administration, Hendrik Lodewyk Bletterman in 1795. When Bletterman died in 1823 the house was bought over and used as government offices. In 1825 the outbuildings of Bletterman House, which were originally used as accommodation for the slaves, were turned into a school for slave children. In this year there were 73 students, but this number soon reduced due to the neglect of Rev. Erasmus Smit, who ran the school. 7 years after it was opened the school was closed. When the school closed, the children were accommodated at the Rhenish Mission Church .

Here are a few interesting and significant dates in the history of slavery in South Africa

In 1652 the first settlers arrived in the Cape to supply provisions to the VOC ships, which were travelling around the Cape on there way east.

In 1658 the first slaves arrived in the Cape aboard the Amersfoort from countries in the West of Africa.

In 1959 one of the major industries which kept slaves - the wine industry - produces the first of the capes wine.

Construction was started on the Castle of Good Hope in 1666; many of the workers on the project were slaves.
In 1679 a Slave Lodge was built to house Company Slaves.
1717 the VOC resolves to keep slaves as the main workforce in the Cape .
In 1807 the British outlawed the slave trade - but it is still perfectly legal to own a slave.

In 1808 the slave rebellion, led by Louis of Mauritius, commenced in the Cape. Then in 1825 the second slave rebellion was led by a man called Galant, a slave from the Koue Bokkeveld.

In 1834 slavery was abolished in the British colonies, and in 1838 the thousands of slaves were freed on December the first.

Here are a few of the rules which the slaves had to adhere to:

  • Slaves had to go barefoot and were obliged carry passes at all times.

  • Any slave who stopped to talk to another slave in the street could be subject to beatings

  • Meeting in bars, buying of alcohol and gatherings on public holidays were all prohibited.

  • Slaves were subject to flogging and chaining for insulting a free man or making false accusations.

  • Free black women were not allowed to dress as well as respectable burghers' wives and they also had to carry passes.

  • Gathering near church doors during a service was not allowed.

  • Any slave who was out after dark had to carry a lantern.

  • The slaves curfew ment they had to be indoors by 10pm.

  • No singing, whistling or noise at night was permitted.

  • No slave was allowed to own or to carry guns.

  • Any slave who dared to strike a slave-holder was put to death.

  • One Cape farmer's estate as listed in 1776, consisted of 10 Farms, 173 Horses, 1322 Cattle, 4000 Sheep, 111 pigs and 204 Slaves!

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