Slavery has occurred since biblical times. We read in 16 Genesis that Abraham She gave birth to a son from his servant Hagar, and he sent her with the child Ishmael “to a far land.” The first auction was in 1444 in Portugal, and slaves were subsequently exported to the West Indies, Africa, South America, and the southern United States for forced labor.
King Willem-Alexander expressed deep regret to thousands of citizens of the South American state of Suriname (a country whose language sounds like Afrikaans) and the Caribbean islands.
slavery in the Cape
In 1652 Jan van Riebeeck established a refreshment post at the Cape. There was a lot of work and few hands. Therefore, he sent a request for slaves to his Dutch employers. The first slave, Abraham of Batavia, arrived at the Cape in 1653.
The number of slaves increased dramatically when the Dutch hijacked a Portuguese slave ship with 500 Angolan slaves on board and stole the slaves. More slaves were captured in Mauritius and Madagascar and taken to South Africa and other places where they were sold at auction and had to work for their owners until the day they died. Even their children will be slaves. In 1795 the British captured the Cape. They accepted the slave trade and continued to practice slavery.
Inhumane rules were imposed on the slaves which affected their human dignity and sometimes meant their death. In 1753, the governor of the Cape, Rijk Tulbagh, established a set of rules to control the slaves. One of them was a curfew that stipulated that slaves had to be home by ten o’clock at night. If forced out, they had to carry a walkway and a lantern.
slaves who insulted free citizens (Free citizens) are chained and flogged in public. Those who resisted their masters were executed. From 1680 to 1795, an average of one slave was executed per month on the Cape. The decomposing body of an executed slave was displayed in public for public information and later removed and displayed elsewhere to serve as a warning to other slaves.
I could write pages about atrocities against slaves but for lack of space these few examples will suffice.
In 1833 the British Act to Abolish Slavery was approved by royal ratification. It paved the way for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and its colonies (such as South Africa) in 1834. After that, slaves had to work another four years in the form of an apprenticeship. This explains why slaves were good craftsmen, masons, carpenters and tailors. Many of the beautiful churches and other buildings bear the stamp of her handiwork. Slavery was abolished only later in Denmark (1846), France (1848), Brazil (1851), Portugal (1858), the Netherlands (1861) and the USA (1862).
Slavery and forced labor are illegal today. However, human trafficking for labor and sexual slavery continues.
Throughout history, there have been many slaves or their children who have risen above their circumstances. These are the stories that should be told to our children. Abdullah Abdur Rahman was born in Wellington on 18 December 1872. He was educated at the South African College School (SACS) and studied in Scotland.
In 1893 he qualified as a physician and practiced in his hometown. Besides, he was a respected politician and leader who campaigned for the advancement of the colored community through such steps as the establishment of high schools for colored people. He was also the first member of the Cape Town City Council (1904) and the Cape County Council (1914).
In 1902 this warrior against oppression founded the African Political Organization (APO) and led two delegations to negotiate with the royal family in London to obtain a vote of colored people.
The language of resistance
Abd al-Rahman was also a writer and campaigner in Afrikaans. Under the pseudonym Piet Uithaler, his column, Street talk (1909-1922), featured in APO Magazine, is one of the first examples of Afrikaans as a language of political resistance.
From his marriage to Helen James of Scotland, two daughters were born – Waradea and Zainunnisa (Cissie Gool). The latter was an important political one in its own right. Abd al-Rahman died on February 2, 1940, and 30,000 people attended his funeral. A street in Wellington is named after him, in little acknowledgment of such a great leader.
Clara Bell Williams
Clara Bell Williams was the first black female graduate of New Mexico State University (NMSU). Her teachers wouldn’t let her into class and she had to stand at the door to take notes. She also couldn’t join her classmates on stage for her degree.
But she insisted: She became a teacher, teaching black students by day and their parents (all former slaves) by night. Having lived more than 100 years, NMSU named the English department building after the daughter of a slave.
As recorded in Andre Brink’s eponymous slave novel, Felida was a slave in the period before and during the abolition of slavery on the Cape. It is the story of Phylleda who in 1832 was on her way to file a complaint with the protector of slaves against Frans Brink, son of the plantation owner, with whom she had four children. He did not fulfill his promise to buy her freedom. I tackled the long walk from Zandvliet (currently Solms Delta) in Groot Drakenstein to Stellenbosch barefoot. Slaves were not allowed to wear shoes. This was a way of keeping you captive, like a foot fetter.
Felida’s relationship with France was similar to the story of slavery on the Cape: a beautiful slave girl becomes involved in an affair with her owner – in this case the owner’s son. This is a story where the partners in a relationship are never equals. How big are the female slaves in these relationships? Felida’s story and the way she defended her freedom is a lesson for everyone. As a slave, she was one of the first to be taught to read and write – in today’s context a powerful act of empowerment that would contribute to her eventual liberation.
The question is, what is the significance of the Dutch king’s apology to South Africans today? To be a slave means to live the exact opposite of freedom – that everything is decided for you by others. Vileda It takes place during a dark transitional period in South African history: the abolition of slavery when both slave and slave still had to find themselves because neither knew what effect freedom would have on their lives.
Abdurrahman, Claire Bell, and Phylida had one thing in common: the realization that true freedom lies within. Achieving freedom through legislation means little if you are still in intellectual slavery.
It is ironic that those South Africans who fought for freedom and the right to vote do not use it and are therefore disempowered. South Africa is experiencing one of the darkest times in its history. What does freedom help if citizens are literally groping in the dark for the meaning of their existence?
What does freedom mean, when you’re constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re not attacked, robbed, raped or killed? Motorists are kidnapped, trucks are set on fire and children live in fear when they go to school.
It’s like living in foot shackles again.
To be truly free requires you to make decisions about your future and reclaim your life from this modern “slavery”. This is only possible if we use the right to vote that Dr. Abdur-Rahman and others have fought so hard for, to take over our lives again in 2024.
I conclude with Phylleda’s words when asked: “Who are you?”
“I am Felida van de Cap (of the head). This is me, who was a slave. I am free. I am, who is now fully human.” DM