Ending Slavery

Islamic slave

Many slaves saw Christianity as the religion of the slave-owners and growing numbers turned to Islam.

While the frontier conflict occupied the government’s mind for long periods, another social issue loomed large. This was amelioration of slavery as a prelude to their emancipation. This happened in three stages: first the banning of the slave trade in 1808, then the amelioration measures and finally the act of abolition. This process did not trigger a revolt, not because the government handled it so well, but because the mightiest empire in the world ruled a colony with relatively small numbers of slaves and colonists.

After the British ended the slave trade in 1808, slave prices at the Cape increased fourfold until 1824. At the same time the government moved to make slavery more tolerable. It abolished the ban on selling Christian slaves but granted baptised and confirmed slaves some privileges, such as the right to legal marriage, the right to have their children legalised, and the liberty to attend church services at certain times.

For most owners, Christianity for slaves still represented too grave a risk, both in terms of the money invested in slaves and a possible loss of control over them. The manumission level dropped to levels as low as that in the US slave South, the slave society with the lowest recorded manumission rate in the Americas. In the Cape Colony between 1808 and 1824, only 86 slaves, or an average of six per year, out of a total of more than 35 000 slaves were baptised.

Slaves and their religion

Katie Jacobs, a slave wet-nurse

Slave emancipation

The surprise of Emancipation Day

Emancipation’s aftermath

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