Emancipation at the Cape
|When the British
arrived in 1795 there were 25,000 slaves in the Cape, and a further 1000 free
blacks. The white population was similar in size. The VOC had supplied slaves
to the colony to ensure its economic success. The British, however, were
turning against the practice of slavery.
In 1787 William Wilberforce had formed an anti-slavery society
in Britain and dedicated himself as an MP to abolition. He spoke with moral
vigour against slavery and persuaded the influential William Pitt to support
his cause. Pitt rounded on Parliament berating the 'incurable injustice' of the
slave trade, and it was finally outlawed by act of parliament in 1806. It did
not, however, set existing slaves free.
The Act of 1806 stopped the traffic of slaves in the British Empire, and thus
curtailed imports of new slaves. In this climate the British authorities made
little use of the slaves inherited from the VOC. Among the British middle class
it also created greater sympathy toward slaves and former slaves, and this
spurred on anti-slavery societies and welfare initiatives. They pressed for the
emancipation of slaves.
Laws were introduced in the 1820s to control slave owners. In 1823 minimum
standards were set for slave owners, setting down maximum hours of work,
maximum punishments, and standards of clothing and food. These laws were
tightened over time.
In 1826 a policy was adopted that allowed slaves to buy their
freedom. Some had built up savings by paying their owners to allow them to seek
paid work. Others were bought by their family and friends who had gained their
freedom and were working in the town. Thus there was a marked decrease in the
number of slaves in Cape Town and an increase in the number of 'free blacks'.
They created a large pool of labour, many with skills as artisans.
Finally emancipation was passed in the British empire and
slaves were set free on 1 December 1834, although they had to serve a further
four years as 'apprentices'. The freed slaves took the streets in celebration,
and began the tradition of the Cape Carnival.
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