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  • Slavery, Emancipation and Colonial Rule in South Africa
  • Joyce M. Chadya
Slavery, Emancipation and Colonial Rule in South Africa. By Wayne Dooling. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008. 256 pp. $26.95 (paper).

Wayne Dooling examines the impact of the constantly shifting relationships between the colonial state, landowners, and labor and how they affected the fortunes of landowners in the Cape Colony of South Africa from the inception of Dutch colonial rule in the mid seventeenth century through the incorporation of the colony into the British empire in 1795 and more permanently in 1806, ending with the Anglo-Boer (South African) War of 1899. Dooling contends that it "was a complex web of shifting alliances, shot through with contradictions and punctured by crises" (p. 3). The main transformation in productive relations, Dooling argues, was brought about by the emancipation of slaves and the introduction of English merchant capital. He also argues that the experiences of the Cape landed class were analogous to those encountered by landowners in Europe and in European overseas colonies.

Dooling begins his analysis by exploring the cultural values of the slave-owning society of the eighteenth century as well as the nature of the Cape gentry's rule. He shows us, for example, that like other colonial economies elsewhere, one of the major problems the colony faced from its inception was labor. While VOC soldiers were too expensive to employ, the indigenous labor of the Khoisan (Khoi Khoi and San) was highly unreliable "as long as they retained access to their independent means of subsistence" by having access to land (p. 21). Consequently, like plantation owners in the Americas, Cape agricultural production was hinged, to a large extent, on imported slave labor. The Cape's slave labor was imported from Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. But, to a smaller extent the landowners, especially poor Boers, depended on the forced and "free" labor of the Khoisan. While many Khoisan, like other indigenous people in the Americas who came into contact with Europeans, were killed by smallpox, many more were killed during frontier wars. This was largely because extermination of the San, derogatively called Bushmen, became official company policy. San war captives were also forced to work on farms. Meanwhile the Khoi Khoi were forced into servitude by loss of their land, livestock, hunting grounds, and above all their independence.

In legal matters, Dooling states that at the Cape "matters of honor and individual reputation were more important than actual deeds" among the Cape gentry (p. 17). For example, slave owner Dirk Gysbert [End Page 196] Verwey was exonerated after murdering one of his slaves because his neighbors had told the court that he was a man of good standing who treated his slaves well. But, of course, it also helped that landowners dominated organs of the local judicial power. In as far as inheritance was concerned, partible inheritance meant that farms were continually subdivided between the surviving spouse and sons, thus many farmers ended up with small holdings.

In chapter 2, Dooling examined the "bitter-sweet" effects of British rule in the colony. Initially the Dutch benefited from British rule. It was the British, for example, who subdued the indigenous people in the northern frontier. They also benefited from the war spoils as captives were illegally enslaved or forced to work on the pretext that they were San orphans. When Khoi Khoi servants rebelled against their masters, it was the British who quelled the revolt followed by the 1809 Hottentot labor codes, which were in favor of the masters. Finally, the British did not disrupt the ruling system at the Cape as they continued to use the services of the old Dutch ruling class. Yet Dooling also identifies British rule as a factor in the challenges that Dutch farmers began facing in the nineteenth century. For instance, the British closed the Bushmen frontier, effectively curtailing any further expansion beyond the set boundaries. In 1808 the British abolished the slave trade, while Ordinance 50 of 1828 introduced labor relations certainly tilted in favor of the slaves, and the emancipation in 1838 witnessed large numbers of slaves and servants taking advantage of the new labor...