chapter  2
29 Pages

The Tower of Babel: The Slave Trade and Creolization at the Cape, 1652–1834

WithRobert C.-H. Shell

In modem South Africa, the emphasis on ethnicity and race disguises the feet that most of today's descendants of the premodern, immigrant South African population do not know from whence they came. If anything, ignorance of geographical roots has been a primary incentive to classify, legally and socially, ali persons in South Africa according to origin and to construct a plethora of odd and exotic identities. Until 1792 the basic vectors of the Cape slave trade were determined by rivalry between the Dutch West India Company and Dutch East India Company (VOC). The West India Company, which held a monopoly over west Africa, denied the VOC permission to import slaves from west Africa and early on demanded the award of the Cape colony itself, arguing that Cape Town was technically on the west coast of Africa. The decline of the VOC and Dutch shipping in the second half of the eighteenth century also altered the cultural composition of imported slaves.