Changing Times

Soon after the British government had taken over the Cape in 1795, the first proper census found that there were approximately 20 000 colonists, 25 754 slaves and approx imately 1 700 free blacks. The Khoikhoi and Bastaards were first enumerated in 1820, when they totalled 25 975. The total number of people in the colonial boundaries – apart from the Xhosa and San in some of the frontier districts – was probably between 60 000 and 70 000 by the end of the eighteenth century. In the interior, Stellenbosch – the only town of significance – still had fewer than 50 houses. There were no newspapers, no theatre, no publishers and no organised sport in the colony.

When the VOC rule over the Cape collapsed in 1795 it signalled the demise of the old world of status groups, each with its own set of rights, privileges and obligations, or disabilities and lack of rights. Everyone was now a British subject, a word that carried a quite different connotation to burgher – especially in placing everyone in a position of equality before the law. In effect, however, only the white colonists were equal before the law in the first two decades of the second British occupation. The Dutch-speaking white colonists nevertheless continued to reject any form of gelykstelling, or status levelling, as when a slave or a descendant of slaves claimed rights and privileges.

The British were firmer than the VOC in insisting that the Khoikhoi had recourse to the courts and the right to own land, but in practice these rights amounted to little since most Khoikhoi were not Christians and so could not swear an oath. Without an oath their evidence counted for less. So, too, almost no Khoikhoi owned land. Lord Charles Somerset, the third governor of the second British occupation, said that the Khoikhoi could become owners of farms, but he could mention only small grants made to three Khoikhoi and three Bastaard-Khoikhoi.

Even after 1828, when the Khoisan were ‘freed’ by Ordinance 50, the British granted land only to applicants with sufficient capital, which the Khoikhoi invariably lacked. There was only one successful Khoikhoi applicant for a farm in the eastern districts. For such reasons, the burghers continued to think of themselves as a superior kind of subject with special rights and privileges.

A necessary evil

A slave revolt

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