Slavery in South Africa

Administration, control and resistance in the Slave Lodge

The architecture of the Slave Lodge resembled a goal or military fort. There were only a few small windows and these were barred. The Lodge was designed to keep slaves in and outsiders out. The slaves were kept under lock and key at night to prevent desertion. Desertion, arson and poor or slow work were the most common ways of showing resistance by slaves.

 

The name of at least one Lodge deserter is known. Lena joined the fugitive slave society at Hangklip near present-day Betty’s Bay. They led a precarious life and survived mainly by stealing from surrounding farms. Lena was born in 1700 in Cape Town and deserted in 1725. She was caught in 1730 and was flogged and branded as punishment. She also had to work in heavy chains for the rest of her life. This did not seem to deter her as she stole linen in 1737.

 

The slaves in the Slave Lodge were controlled by a strict hierarchical system in which all but the highest ranks were filled by slaves. According to the historian, Robert Shell, descent or race played an important part in determining a person’s position in the hierarchy. Free “whites” had the most power and imported “black” people the least. The highest ranks available to slaves, such as foremen, were always filled by “mulattos” while the lowest ranks such as that of the Fiscal’s assistants (then known as “kaffers”) or hard manual labour, went to mainly imported black slaves. The middle ranks were mostly occupied by “mulattos” and locally born slaves.

 

The VOC employees were in overall control of the Lodge and responsible for security. They kept themselves separate from the day-to-day operations of the Lodge and none lived in the Lodge. The Slave Overseer, later called the Director, had other duties besides being responsible for the Slave Lodge. The administration of the Lodge appeared on the duty sheet of another four VOC officials, namely the Fiscal, the Commissioner of Company Slaves and the two foremen who did duty as quartermasters and gatekeepers. The tasks of the last two officials were to lock the door every night and to take the key to the Fiscal’s house in the evening and collect it again in the morning.

 

The slaves managed themselves to a large extent according to a military style barrack model. The translators were next in the hierarchy after the free officials. In the next tier came “mulatto” foremen, followed by the mandoors who were in charge of the work teams. The mandoors were usually either mulatto or born at the Cape.

 

According to the 1714 census there were seven mandoors, each with an average of 66 slaves under his control. A strict routine was followed. The mandoor and the slaves under his control gathered in the courtyard at 6 o’clock in the morning before starting to work. Roll call was held again at 8 o’clock in the evening after which prayers were said. The mandoors inspected the building daily.

 

The mandoors enjoyed special benefits such as separate sleeping quarters, extra clothing as well as additional personal items. It seems as if the allocation of clothing was controlled by the mandoors.

 

The next level in the hierarchy was the officer boys (officier jongens) who controlled the men. During the period of 1718 ¬ 1721 there was one officer boy for every five to eight men. They also received more clothing and controlled rations, with the exception of clothing rations.

 

The artisans, the next in line, were usually mulattos or from South East Asian descent. There was a strong belief in those days that a person’s personality and skills were determined by their ethnicity. People from South East Asia were regarded as being good artisans.

 

The lowest rank slaves in the Slave Lodge, were the Fiscal’s and executioner’s assistants or kaffers. Only the convicts had a lower status. There were 19 kaffers listed in an inventory of the VOC in 1795. Besides assisting the executioner, they also did most of the flogging ordered by the Court of Justice, administered punishment to privately owned slaves and maintained law and order in public spaces.

 

Although everybody, including other slaves, looked down on them, the kaffers received better quality clothing: special police uniforms with waistcoasts. They were also the only slaves allowed to carry weapons. They were not only exempted from the many curfews ruling slaves’ lives, but it was their duty to enforce these curfews. They did not only have jurisdiction over the slaves, but over the burghers as well.

 

Contrary to slaves in private ownership, many woman in the Lodge did the same type of work as the men. However, the women had lower status than the men. The women worked under a male mandoor outside the Lodge, but were under the control of a female equivalent of a mandoor, a matres or matron, inside the Lodge. Only three matron’s names are known. All three were able to obtain their freedom. Armozijn van de Caab was manumitted in 1711 by Governor W.A. van der Stel. She was able to buy her daughter’s freedom three years later. Manda Gratia’s freedom was bought in 1714 by William Frisnet who married her afterwards. Manda was able to buy all her children’s freedom as well. Christijna van de Caab obtained her freedom together with that of her 13 year old daughter, Johanne Barbara, in August 1728.

 

The undermistress (ondermeesteress) was next in rank amongst the women. These women were also of mulatto descent. It seems as if they were able to earn their own money as some of them, such as Anna Dapoer, were able to buy their freedom. The next rank, two female slave officials, had an average of 79 women under their control, many more subordinates than their male counterparts, the officer boys. Like their male equivalents, they also received more clothing than the other women.

 

While the men were controlled by a military style system, the system for women echoed the family ideal. The family metaphor was strengthened by the system of external (white, usually wives of VOC officials) and internal (slave) mothers. The Council of Policy appointed four external mothers in 1687 to look after girls younger than 14 and to teach them good manners and handcrafts such as needlework and embroidery. The girls were allowed to earn pocket money by using these skills to work for VOC officials and burghers.

 

The internal mothers looked after the children in the Lodge’s crèche as well as taking care of the children in the slave hospital. A mother was supposed to be released from duties when her child fell ill, but this did not always happen. According to the 1710 records, there were 19 children in the hospital, but only one mother was released from her duties to stay with her child. It is doubtful that the position of internal mother existed for long, as no record can be found of it towards the end of the 18th century.

A reconstruction of the Slave Lodge as it looked at the end of the 18th century, During the second half of the 18th century, the front door of the Lodge opened on to present-day Parliament Street, whereas today's front entrance opens on to Adderley Street. Model-builder: Peter Laponder (1999).

Note the small barred windows. The lodge had very little light entering the building.