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European Settlement
(page 9)
The VOC Legacy
Jan van Riebeeck was sent to establish a fortified trading base and a company garden at the Cape. In practice he laid the basis of a colony that expanded hundreds of miles beyond the Cape peninsula, beyond the control of the VOC itself, that ultimately evolved to became the Republic of South Africa.

Although sailors, soldiers and officials came and went, a population developed native to the Cape that did not look to other shores, but regarded Cape Town as home. It was a complex, eclectic and multi-cultural population, ill-educated and predominantly poor, but resourceful, with a broad base of skills, resentful of authority, and stratified into different classes. This was not a racial order, of the type that later developed in South Africa, but an economic order. It was an economy based upon cheap labour and slavery, enforced by law (more...).

Under the rule of the VOC a situation developed where most Europeans owned farms or businesses and held a preferred legal status as 'free burghers'. Most Asians worked as artisans, or held responsible clerical jobs, and were considered senior slaves or free blacks. And some Asians and most Africans were slaves living under a harsh rule of law.

Especially in the frontier farming communities a tough, violent, ill-educated and arrogant culture had developed that destroyed Khoekhoe society. The San would follow, and today the closest relatives of the KhoeSan live outside of South Africa, in the deserted places of Namibia and Botswana, groups such as the !Kung and G/wi. They had also engaged in hostilities with the Xhosa on the eastern frontier - the first of many wars to follow.

The elegant towns of Stellenbosch, Tulbagh, Swellendam, Graaff-Reinet and Cape Town itself are products of the Dutch era and retain their character to this day. The winelands owe much to Simon van der Stel, and the Franschhoek valley was cultivated for wine making by the courage of the Huguenots he brought to the Cape. South African wines came to prominence long before the end of the Dutch era, especially sweet desert wines like Vin de Constance, Napoleon's favourite wine.

Cape Town had developed as a busy and strategic port, whose significance would only grow in the following two centuries. Agriculture was well established and although local industries were in their early stages, a broad range of 'cottage' trading and manufacturing activities had developed and some professional services were emerging.

From the 'great babel' of languages a unique form of Dutch began to emerge in the form of Afrikaans, with words borrowed from several languages, including Khoe ('Kudu', 'Cango') and influenced by the Arabic spoken by many of the slaves. Cape food developed as a fine fusion of eastern spice in western meals. In the following century British puddings would be added to produce the truly eclectic 'Cape Malay' cuisine.

Unique forms of music, weddings and festivities developed with Asian influences among the free blacks. A fine architecture, similar to Dutch but with hints of the East and local adaptations, have given us the attractive townhouses, homesteads and Drostdy (magistrate's houses) that are enjoyed to this day and have become known as the Cape Dutch style.

It was truly a 'mixed bag' that the British inherited when they landed troops at Muizenberg in 1795.

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Heritage Sections
· Culture ·
· Environment ·
History · Society
Personalities · Areas

In this period of Cape History:


The First Years

A Town Develops

Simon v.d. Stel

VOC Control

Frontier Expansion

Cape Town in the 1700s

Cosmopolitan Cape Town

The Boom of the 1780s

The VOC Legacy

Bibliography & Contacts


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