Slavery was officially abolished at the Cape in 1838, but its legacy lives on in South Africa. The country’s coloured inhabitants, who make up fifty percent of Cape Town’s population, are largely descendants of slaves and indigenous Khoisan people, and some historians argue that apartheid was a natural successor to slavery.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the almost 26,000-strong slave population of the Cape exceeded that of the free burghers (citizens, mostly of European extraction). Despite the profound impact this had on the development of social relations in South Africa, it remained one of the most neglected topics of the country’s history, until the publication in the 1980s of a number of studies on slavery. There’s still a reluctance on the part of most coloureds to acknowledge their slave origins.

Few, if any, slaves were captured at the Cape for export, making the colony unique in the African trade. Paradoxically, while people were being captured elsewhere on the continent for export to the Americas, the Cape administration, forbidden by the VOC from enslaving the local indigenous population, had to look further afield. Of the 63,000 slaves imported to the Cape before 1808, most came from East Africa, Madagascar, India and Indonesia, representing one of the broadest cultural mixes of any slave society. This diversity initially worked against the establishment of a unified group identity, but eventually a Creolized culture emerged which, among other things, played a major role in the development of the Afrikaans language.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

7 amazing African journeys

7 amazing African journeys

Africa is a continent of wild open savannahs, terracotta sunsets, thousands of vibrant green hills and rugged coastlines. Here, you can be chugging along on …

06 Jul 2016 • Harriet Constable insert_drive_file Article
Cape Town's irrepressible township revolution

Cape Town's irrepressible township revolution

Many visitors to Cape Town leave with a fairly limited view of the Mother City. They see the whitewashed beachfront restaurants and hotels, take the cable car u…

24 Dec 2015 • Chris Clark insert_drive_file Article
7 places to sample Cape Town’s hedonistic nightlife

7 places to sample Cape Town’s hedonistic nightlife

Whatever your scene, from sweaty electronic music dancefloors to open-air beer gardens, Cape Town has it all. Being a hedonistic city – especially in the sum…

30 Jan 2015 • Site Editor insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook