The settlement at the Cape was easily established because the Khoikhoi were small in numbers and technologically not well advanced. The fact that the food plants and animals of South Africa were unsuitable for domestication was one reason why the Khoi khoi living in the vicinity of the Cape were not more developed. After 60 years of European settlement they were decimated by smallpox. By the 1840s the Kat River settlement and a few missionary stations were the only places where they enjoyed some freedom and autonomy.
The Bantu-speaking peoples who lived on both sides of the Fish River suffered no similar demographic disaster as a result of the diseases the colonists brought with them. As cultivators and pastoralists they formed societies far more capable of resisting European expansion. But after British leadership and other military resources had been injected into the frontier conflict the remorseless dispossession of the Xhosa began. They would not be displaced completely but were left without a viable territory. Their incorp oration into colonial society and the breaking up of traditional society proceeded apace.
Economically the Cape had been transformed from the mercantilist policies of the VOC to a society that was fully integrated in the British economic system, with capitalist enterprise and materialist progress at its centre. The colonists had long believed that it was impossible to maintain the production of wheat and wine without slavery. They were wrong in both respects. By the mid 1840s slavery was gone but production levels quickly recovered. Wool had begun its march to become the main export article.
Culturally the colony had acquired a character that was neither European, nor African nor Asian. The form of government and the administration was now English, and so was the dominant fashion in dress, manners and public etiquette in Cape Town. In the city the Dutch kept the boarding houses. A small ‘gentry’ lived in the fine Cape Dutch houses in the towns and on the wine farms of the western Cape. The people who built the mansions and worked in the gardens, vineyards and the wheat fields were of African and Asian origin. Most of what was distinctive in the cuisine was imported from the East.
English was the language of instruction in most of the schools in the rudimentary system of education, but the Muslims used Arabic and Afrikaans in instructing the faithful. Ministers of the Reformed Church persisted with Dutch although most of their congregation understood Afrikaans better. On the eastern frontier the missionaries spread not only the Word but also the message that command of the English language and English dress was a prerequisite of ‘civilisation’. The weakening of Xhosa resistance also meant a major surge of Christian and British influence.
The legislation distinguishing between the free and unfree had all been removed by 1838. Slavery was ended without any upheaval, but the institution cast a long shadow, most notably the practice of indentured labour and the ideology of paternalism. There was no racial legislation, but because slavery and freedom so closely correlated with race for more than nearly two centuries, the informal racial distinctions survived. The fact that no land was made available to ex-slaves meant that they were compelled to work for a master if they wanted to live. In 1841 the government passed the Masters and Servants Act, which suited the employers well because it made a breach of contract a criminal offence.
The Cape Colony was one of the few places in the world where in the absence of a legislative assembly a sizeable number of slave-owners had no say in the process of ending slavery. Consequently the issues of slavery and freedom were never properly debated. It was in their common demand for a colonial assembly that the two white communitiesdrew together. Since the Imperial government recognised no colour distinction the demand for a colonial assembly had to be made in non-racial terms.
By the time representative rule was introduced in 1853 the total population had passed a quarter million and there were about 50 towns in the colony. The economy had begun to diversify. By the early 1860s a start had been made with a modern education syste for the children of the colonists. Some well-known schools had been established, including Diocesan College (Bishops) in 1849, St Andrews (Grahamstown) in 1855 and Grey Institute in Port Elizabeth (1856) and Stellenbosch Gymnasium (1866). There also were numerous mission schools providing education to coloured and black children, often taking in white children as well. A lively press flourished, publishing newspapers both in English and Dutch.
As the next section will show, it was this colony – one that after 1795 legally became increasingly non-racial, liberal and egalitarian – that would spew forth the Griquas, colonists and settlers who would embark on the processes of military conquest, dispossession and subjugation beyond the colony’s borders.