Friday 23 September – Pre Khutbah Lecture – Slavery in the Cape by Ebrahim Rhoda

Friday 23 September – Pre Khutbah Lecture – Slavery in the Cape by Ebrahim Rhoda



Short video at end of article



Islam at the Cape, according to Kerry Ward, was not an overtly political force and did not promote organised resistance to colonial rule.

Resistance was rather embedded in religious and ceremonial practices of Islam as the main expression of an alternative religious faith to  Christianity, the faith of the VOC, the faith of  the oppressor. Islam established a completely  alternative social order in which the dignity of the human being was recognised.

Slavery by its very nature is oppressive and demeaning and the harsh and brutal forms of punishment of slaves was sure to encourage resistance and rebellion.

There was also tension among the whites, which constantly feared a mass rebellion and death at the hands of a slave. There was always the fear that slaves who had run away might return to rob or kill, and so large rewards were offered for their recapture. Public warnings of an escaped slave included the tolling of bells and flying a large blue flag at the Castle and other signal-posts.


Slavery – the imposition of enforced servitude by a powerful group on another group — inevitably breeds fear in both groups, and resentment in the oppressed

Slaves who had no hope of being manumitted were understandably resentful and expressed their displeasure in numerous ways, including desertion, mutiny, physical violence, arson, damage to property, laziness. Intoxication, insolence. Murder of rival slaves, infanticide, suicide….  Acts of desperation  which deprive the ownerof valuable property.


Punishment at the Cape was severe, it is interesting that the Afrikaans word “soebat” meaning to plead, is from Malay origin. The slaves would have on many occasions used the word soebat. Runaway company slaves were whipped by a sjambok (Malay word, now part of the Afrikaans vocabulary) and branded on one cheek. With the next offence they were branded on the other cheek. Any further offence would lead to their nose and ears being cut off. Harsher punishment was dealt out for worse crimes. Punishment included; breaking on the wheel, pulling out flesh with red-hot tongs, mutilation, impaling, burning alive and slow strangulation. One slave woman who the authorities suspected of trying to strangle her child, the child died a week later, was to be punished by having her breast torn out by hot tongs. She was then to be burned to death, until there was only ashes The authorities showed mercy and put her in a sack and drowned her in Table bay. The dead bodies of slaves were also left in public places as a warning to the rest of the slaves. When looking at the cruel punishments that was handed out to the slaves, the historical context should be taken into account. Burghers, who were punished, received nearly as gruesome forms of punishment as the slaves, from our present humanitarian position we find revolting.


One attempt at an uprising took place on a farm in Stellenbosch in 1690. Four slaves attacked a farmhouse, killed one burgher, wounded another and fled with stolen firearms. Burghers, soldiers and Khoikhoi auxiliaries were dispatched in pursuit and, in a gun-fight, three of the slaves were killed and the fourth wounded and taken prisoner. Interrogated, the prisoner said it had been their intention to murder a number of farmers and set fire to their fields, hoping this would attract other slaves to their side. Then they planned to seize some white women and make their way to Madagascar. But after their first attack they had panicked and taken to the hills.

The Tulbagh Code of 1754 gives some indication of all the rules slaves had to abide by. Ryk Tulbagh was the governor of the Cape Colony at the time. The Tulbagh Code included the following rules:


  • Slaves have to be indoors after 10pm; if they were out, they had to carry a lantern
  • Slaves could not ride horses or wagons in the streets
  • Slaves could not sing, whistle or make any other sound at night
  • Slaves could not meet in bars, buy alcohol or form groups on public holidays
  • Slaves could not gather near the entrance of a church during a church service
  • Slaves who stopped in the street to talk to other slaves could be driven off, with canes if necessary
  • Slaves who insulted or falsely accused a freeman were to be flogged and chained
  • Slaves who struck a slave-holder were to be shown no mercy and put to death
  • Slaves were not permitted to own or carry guns.


Rebellionl  1713 Escape from Constantia.. Soudan Tappa Santrij


Rebellion –  Arson  Cape Town  and Stellenbosch 1736


Rebellion – 1808 – Louis  of Mauritius


Rebellion Galant of the Koue Bokkewveld

Summary of pre-Kutbah talk at the Claremont Main Road Masjid on Friday 23 September 2016


Kerry Ward: Islam  at the Cape was not an overtly political force and did not promote organised resistance to Colonial rule.

Dr Robert Ross: Wrote an article on slavery at the Cape titled The impossibility of Rebellion

Prof. Nigel Worden : Article  in Kronost : Violence, crime and slavery on Cape farmsteads in the eighteenth century. Amongst other he wrote: “There is no doubt that the eighteenth century Cape I was an extremely violent society; behind the pictures of ornate Cape Dutch  farmsteads and vines growing in a sunny landscape of unsurpassed beauty lurked the ever- present fear of murder, personal assault, theft and arson.”


Tuan Guru  1792…. Last words of his testament: “This is a place of sorrow” ( Makanal Ghuzn)

Relate story of  Brotto from Java


  1. Cite forms of punishment

a.Runaway slaves – flogged with sjambok and  branded  one cheek – next offence the other cheek

  1. Any further offence – either nose or ears being cut off
  2. More serious crimes: Breaking on wheel ; pulling out flesh with hot tongs; mutilation; impaling; burning alive, slow strangulation
  3. Woman had her breasts torn out with hot tongs
  4. Dead bodies of slaves were left in public …. Gallows in Greenpoint


  1. Slavery by its very nature is oppressive and demeaning and these harsh and brutal forms of punishment were attempts to control and sustain the system. Cite the apartheid regime / Palestine


  1. Historical evidence indicate that despite these harsh and brutal forms of punishment rebellion and resistance to slavery must forever have been on the minds of the enslaved… either individually or collectively


  1. Forms of resistance: Desertion

                                       b Arson

  1. Collective rebellion and Murder

d Physical violence

  1. damage to property (sabotage)
  2. laziness
  3. insolence
  4. intoxication
  5.        murder of fellow  slaves
  6. infanticide
  7. suicide

         Influence of  events in Europe, America and the Carribean

  1. Will focus on the FIRST THREE
  2. Desertion the most common form of resistance . Cite: 1. Soudan Tappa Santrij 1713
  3. Maroons of Hanglip / Table Mountain andFaure
  4. Arson: 1690 Stellenbosch

                                1725 Cape Town  1736

  1. Collective rebellion 1808 … Louis of Mauritius


  1. Galant and the murders in the Koue Bokkeveld in 1825


Slavery was introduced to the Cape Colony by the VOC in its desire to boost the agriculture and food supply while retaining control in the new settlement. As the settlement expanded, slavery also spread. Historian Nigel Worden points out that slavery “”¦became the mainstay of arable farming in the western districts, played a significant role in the functioning of Cape Town as a centre of exchange and was used for pastoral and domestic labour in the remoter northern and eastern districts…The vast majority of Company slaves worked in Cape Town, although some were based on company outposts and used in rural labour…  ” (Worden, N, (1985), Slavery in Dutch South Africa, (Cambridge University Press), p. 9)

The increase in the slave population was associated with the growth of the burger population and the expansion of agriculture. Cape Town expansion also led to the increase in the number of slaves. Slaves lived and worked under harsh conditions with long working hours maintained by the use of force. For serious offences slaves were hanged or broken at the wheel with coup de grace or without coup de grace.

Slave Resistance

Slave consciousness of injustice and awareness of issues of abolition of slavery in other parts of the world influenced two significant slave revolts in the Cape Colony. The first ‘mass movement’ against slavery and oppression in the Cape occurred in 1808. Stories of slave uprisings in the Americas and the Caribbean, and news of the abolition of slavery circulated in the Cape reaching different people including those who were enslaved. This inspired an ethnically mixed group of people such as a slave tailor named Louis from Mauritius, two Irishmen, James Hooper and Michael Kelly; another slave, Jeptha of Batavia, two more slaves Abraham and Adonis. This group was later joined by another Indian slave and two Khoi men.

This group planned to march from the rural districts of the Cape gathering slaves on the way to Cape Town. Upon arrival they hoped to seize the Amsterdam Battery, turn the guns on the Castle and then negotiate a peace deal which would involve establishing a free state and freedom for all slaves. On the evening of 27 October 1808, on the farm of Gerhardus Louw, Vogelgezang, just north of Malmesbury, Louis arrived on horseback dressed as a visiting Spanish sea captain. Hooper and Kelly rode up by his side, disguised as British officers. The disguised band managed to convince the absentee farmer’s wife to hand over all their slaves into the hands of the ‘military’ party, give them food and a place to sleep.

The next morning the party proceeded from farm to farm, persuading slaves and Khoi servants to join them. Only in one instance did the march encounter resistance.  In fact, overall there was surprisingly little violence given the magnitude of the insurrection. Soon the group swelled to 300 mutinous slaves and servants. News of the revolt soon reached the Governor of the Cape, who ordered Infantry and Cavalry to ambush the insurrectionists at Salt River just outside the city. The ambush worked as 326 marchers were captured. 47 were put on trial including the leadership group of Hooper, Kelly, Louis and the two Khoi leaders. Nine were found guilty of treason and sentenced to be hanged, including Louis of Mauritius and James Hooper. Another 11 were sentenced to death as well, for ‘active participation’. Others were given lesser sentences including imprisonment on Robben Island while 244 slaves were returned to their owners.

Galant and the 1825 slave uprising

In 1825 a slave named Galant who was aged 25 at the time led a revolt that consisted of twelve slaves and Khoisan laborers in the Koue Bokkeveld. Galant and the people that he mobilized killed his master and two other whites before fleeing into the surrounding mountains. A commando was dispatched from Cape Town and captured Galant and his supporters. They were tried and convicted of murder resulting in the execution of Galant and two others. The primary reason for Galant’s rebellion was revealed in the subsequent investigations. Galant was subjected to severe beatings by his master who sent him to prison for discipline. He thrice reported to colonial authorities the ill treatment he received from his master but the authorities took no action. Galant also had reported that his master unfairly took his possessions but his report also came to naught.

A crucial aspect of the uprising was its timing. In 1823 the Governor Somerset issued a proclamation announcing the amelioration of slavery. For instance, slaves were given the right to marry, be baptized as Christians, testimony of Christian slaves became acceptable in court, minimum and slave working hours were set for winter and summer, slave children under the age of ten were not to be sold.


How a slave from Mauritius led a rebellion in Cape Town


By Nigel Worden

30 March 2016

On 27 October 1808, about 340 slaves from the Swartland and Koeberg hinterland of Cape Town rose up in revolt. They attacked over thirty of the prosperous grain farms of the region, took the farmers prisoner and marched on Cape Town where they planned to ‘hoist the bloody flag and fight themselves free.’

The uprising was short-lived. On reaching Salt River, the slaves were met by troops sent out from the strongly-guarded Castle and were swiftly overcome. Within 36 hours it was all over. Because of this the uprising is not today widely known about or remembered.

Yet it was a highly significant event. Throughout the preceding 150 years of slavery at the Cape slaves had often resisted their owners. This was both by overt attacks on individuals or their property – fields and vineyards waiting to be harvested often went up in flames – as well as by less obvious means such as working slowly, breaking equipment or poisoning food. But usually slaves then ran away, seeking to escape from the colony into the interior.

But by the end of the eighteenth century, there was a new sense of resentment amongst Cape slaves. They were influenced by the revolutionary events in France and America, and in particular by the massive and successful slave revolt in Haiti. Instead of running away, Cape slaves were now beginning to demand their ‘rights’ and to stand up to their owners. For example in 1793 the slave Cesar van Madagascar was reprimanded by his owner for getting up late. He replied, “I was awake early enough, but because the weather was bad, I did not want to get up, and I must have my right to speak”.

In 1808 the slaves’ demand for change took a new turn. They went from farm to farm, gathering support from slaves and from some of the Khoi labourers as they went. They were armed with guns and greatly outnumbered the farmers, many of whom were taken by surprise. They took over the farmsteads, captured their owners and demanded freedom for all slaves and ‘to make themselves masters.’ This was a revolutionary act.

An intriguing aspect of the 1808 uprising is how the rebels behaved on the farms. There was very little direct physical violence. Instead they asserted themselves by deliberately reversing the roles of slaves and masters, often in highly symbolic ways. They gave orders to the male farmers and overseers while holding sjamboks, the symbol of the slave owner. They hunted down on horseback and with the help of dogs those farmers who attempted to escape, forcing those they captured to run in front of their horses. This was exactly how slave runaways were caught. They deliberately addressed the farmers with the familiar word jij rather than the respectful u expected of a slave addressing his owner. They demanded that the farmers doff their hats to them. They insisted on being given wine from the cellars in the best glasses. They told the slaves they met on each farm to stop treating their owners with respect since ‘their time is up’.

At the first farm they visited, the rebel leaders carried out an elaborate charade. They pretended to be visiting ship captains, and were served dinner and wine by the unsuspecting farmer’s wife while others informed the farm slaves what was afoot and obtained their support.

The leader of the revolt was a Cape Town slave named Louis. He had been transported to the Cape from Mauritius when he was a young boy. Now in his early 20s, he was owned by the proprietor of a wine store on the foreshore where he mingled with the diverse and transient population of sailors and soldiers from throughout the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds. They brought news of the momentous events taking place in this era of revolutions and war, including the slave uprising in Haiti.

Louis was particularly incensed when he met two Irish soldiers who told him that there was no slavery in Europe or America. As he later said, ‘I had heard that in other countries all persons were free, and there were so many black people here who could also be free, and that we ought to fight for our freedom.’

A clue of what inspired Louis is that he took particular care to obtain special clothes to wear : ‘a blue jacket turned up with red, white Chinese linen trousers … two golden and two silver epaulets besides some feathers for his hat.’ This was exactly the uniform worn by the the Haitian slave leader Toussaint l’Ouverture as shown in a print of the time. It seems clear that Louis was imitating the slave hero Toussaint.

But Louis did not have Toussaint’s success. His rebellion was swiftly crushed and he was sentenced to death. The slaves had only tasted power for a short time. Nonetheless their world would never be quite the same again. In the subsequent years more and more Cape slaves demanded rights within the colony rather than running away. This, as much as the actions of distant abolitionists, was eventually to bring chattel slavery to an end in the 1830s.


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