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The Dutch Settlement
The region of the Western Cape which includes the Table Bay area (where the modern city of
Cape Town is located) was inhabited by Khoikhoi pastoralists (herders) who used it seasonally
as pastures for their cattle. When European ships landed on the shores of Table Bay they
came into contact with Khoikhoi.
Jan van Riebeeck,
Source: Giliomee et al. (2007), New History of South Africa.
Tafelberg Publishers: Cape Town
Cape Town was founded by the Dutch East India Company or
the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) in 1652 as a
refreshment outpost. The outpost was intended to supply VOC ships
on their way to Asia with fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and to let
sailors wearied by the sea to recover. What influenced the location
of the town in the Table Bay area was the availability of fresh water
which was difficult to find in other areas.
Portuguese explorers wanted to find an alternative trade route around Africa to Asia. In 1480,
Portuguese ships landed on the shores of the West Coast of Africa. Bartholomeu Dias
explored the continent further southwards and in 1488 unknowingly sailed round the Cape.
Dias named the Cape, the Cape of Storms, but John II the king of Portugal renamed it the
Cape of Good Hope. The name expressed the king’s optimism (positive view) that a sea trade
route to India could be opened up via the Cape. In 1497 Vasco da Gama and later Ferdinard
Magellan also sailed round the Cape all the way to India. The mapping of the coast of African
coast by explorers and the establishment of an trade route by sea between Europe and Asia
helped cause the settlement of the Cape.
By the middle of the 17th century the Dutch had replaced the Portuguese and the Spanish
trading networks and established their own. By 1620, the VOC was the largest corporation (a
type of business) in Europe trading in cotton and silk from India and China. In the 1600s both
the VOC and East India Company companies were increasingly using the Cape as a halfway
stop in their sea trade and occasionally set up tents along the shore to trade with the Khoikhoi.
During the same period the area around Table Bay and Robben Island were increasingly used
by the Dutch and British.
In 1651, the VOC issued instructions that a refreshment station should be set up at the Cape
to provide fresh supplies of vegetables, fruit and meat for VOC ships on their way to the East
Indies. Jan van Riebeeck was engaged on a five year contract by the VOC as the man who
was to build the refreshment outpost. Van Riebeeck was also instructed to build a fort of
defence against the Khoikhoi and other European competitors.
On December 1651, Van Riebeeck left the Netherlands for the Cape of Good Hope aboard
the Drommedaris accompanied by two other ships arriving at the Cape on 6 April 1652. A mud
and wooden structure was erected in the Table Bay area for shelter and defence. That same
year the VOC granted men permission to own land, build farms and improve food supply. By
1655 some company employees were growing their own vegetable plots near the castle.
Due to the growing need for supplies, in 1657 the VOC released some employees from their
contracts and granted them lands along the Liesbeeck Valley for them to start farming. The
‘free burgers’ (free citizens) were provided with seeds, tools and loans to start farming. They
were ordered to sell their produce to the company and forbidden to trade with the Khoikhoi.
Thus, the settlement slowly spread from shores of Table Bay to other parts of the Cape.
Dutch expansion into areas around Table Bay and beyond resulted in conflicts with the
Khoikhoi who lost grazing lands as settlers took over their land and in some instances took
their cattle. Tensions over loss of land between 1654 and 1659 resulted in open conflict in the
first Khoi-Dutch war from 1659-60.
By the 1660s, the settlement showed growth in the number of buildings and European visitors
began to refer to the settlement as a town. In the 1670s the VOC committed itself to
establishing a permanent settlement at the Cape. The growing influence of the British and the
French who also had interests in the Indian Ocean made the Dutch want an official settlement
so that the British and French could not claim it.
When war broke out between the United Provinces of Netherlands against both Britain and
France; the VOC declared itself the rightful owner of the Cape district, which included Table
Bay, Houtbay and Saldanha Bay in 1672. The Dutch claimed that they had purchased the land
from Osingkhima leader of the Khokhoi group known as the Goringhaiqua with brandy (a kind
of alcohol), tobacco and bread.
In 1795, the British, who were at war with France, invaded the Cape Peninsula from False Bay
and took over the Cape (including Cape Town) from the Dutch until 1803 when the colony was
handed back to the Dutch. When war between the British and French broke out once more in
1806, the British permanently occupied the Cape Colony.
English Settlement
The British were did not want the Cape to fall into the hands of the French after France had
taken over the Netherlands. The Dutch were defeated by the British and an estimated 1200
British soldiers marched into Cape Town.
The British control was only meant to last until the defeat of the French. After they signed
peace with France, Britain gave the Cape back to the Dutch. When the war with Napoleon and
the French began again, they attacked Cape Town from Blouberg beach and retook the Cape
from the Dutch in 1806. At the Treaty of Vienna in 1814 the British acquired the Cape
permanently. The British then paid the Dutch for six million pounds. Cape Town then remained
in the hands of the British and the Cape became a British colony (land that is controlled by
another country).
Cape Town experienced major changes under
the British occupation as it increasingly
became the capital of a growing British colony.
In the 1820s more British officials were
appointed and English became increasingly
used as the official language. The Dutch
soldiers at the castle was replaced by English
soldiers. There was a steady immigration of
British citizens to Cape Town especially young
men in search of a new life and the hope of
established themselves in various trades such
as bakers, blacksmiths (metal workers),
saddle makers and cobblers (shoe makers).
Despite marriage between the Dutch women
and British immigrants, the growth of
Political map of Southern Africa in 1885
British influence in the Cape bred
resentment (dislike) by the Dutch. As a
consequence, descendants of Dutch
settlers left the Cape Colony, migrating (moving) eastward and north eastward in the 1830s
and 1840s in what became known as the ‘Great Trek.’ This resulted in the making of Afrikaner
Republics away from British control such as the Transvaal in 1852 and the Orange Free State
in 1854. The movement of these people brought them into conflict with the African people
groups such as the Sotho and Zulu.
The mineral revolution (dramatic change in mining) in South Africa, which was sparked by the
discovery of diamonds in the 1860s and gold in the 1880s, set the stage for war between the
British and the Afrikaner republics. A war broke out between the Afrikaner republics and the
British in what became known as the South African war. At the end of the war in 1902, all four
colonies were placed under one flag. On 31 May 1910 these were united in the Union of South
Africa making South Africa a self governing colony but still under the British control. Cape
Town became the legislative (were the laws are made) capital of the Union.
Slavery and Emancipation of Slaves
After the establishment of a refreshment station at the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck was to ensure
a constant supply of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat for VOC ships. When the company
allocated land to company employees in 1652 and 1657, they were not provided with labour.
The Dutch initially did not have a sufficient labour force to grow enough fresh food supplies to
meet the needs of their ships. It soon became apparent that if the free burghers were to be
successful agricultural producers, they would need access to a lot of labour. There were three
possible sources of labour, the local Khoikhoi pastoralists, Dutch immigrants or people from
passing ships, and the importation of slave labour.
Van Riebeeck was instructed by the VOC not to set up a colony or imprison the local
population for use as labour. Furthermore the Khoikhoi were not willing to become labourers
for free burghers.
The VOC was already familiar with the practice of using slave labour in the East Indies. In
1653, Abraham van Batavia, the first slave at the Cape arrived aboard a ship named the
Malacca. The following year a slave voyage was undertaken from the Cape via Mauritius to
Madagascar to purchase slaves. In 1658 two major shiploads of slaves arrived at the Cape,
the first shipload arrived in March on board the Amersfort.
A total of 170 slaves survived the treacherous (dangerous) sea journey from an initial number
of 250. These slaves were captured by the Portuguese from the area around Angola and
destined for Brazil before the Dutch captured the ship and brought it to the Cape. The second
shipload of slaves arrived in May with 228 from the Coast of Guinea aboard the Hassalt. Thus,
by 1658 over half of the population at the settlement was slaves. Slavery formed the backbone
of labour force at the Table Bay settlement. It was both slaves and royalty from East Indies
that introduced Islam at the Cape. The importation of slaves continued in the Cape until a
temporary ban of the importation of male slaves from Asia was introduced in 1767 and 1787.
Slave trade was then opened to free enterprise in 1791. This reopening of the slave trade by
the Dutch was disrupted by the first British occupation of the Cape in 1795. The first occupation
ended in March 1803 when the colony was handed back to Dutch. That same year war
between and France broke again in Europe, Napoleon tried to stop British trade with Europe.
Fearing loss of trade with East, Britain occupied the Cape for the second time permanently in
In 1807 the British government passed the Abolition of Slave Act abolishing (ending) slave
trade in the British Empire. In the Cape, laws that were aimed at improving the welfare of
slaves in the Cape were introduced. A slave guardian appointed by the British government
was appointed to enforce these laws.
As a result, the lives of some slaves improved somewhat after 1807. Slavery continued to
exist within the Cape until 1834 when the Slavery Abolition Bill passed in 1833 was enforced
(put into action). The emancipated (freed) slaves became ‘apprentices’ to their previous
masters for four years until 1838 when the British administration ended slave apprenticeship.
A family of slaves.
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