The freed slaves had to work for another four years until 1838 for their previous owners as apprentices. Being an apprentice implies that one is learning a new skill. This was not the case with the slaves. In many instances, they did exactly the same work under the same conditions.
The owners received some compensation for their slaves, but the slaves received nothing to help them to start a new life. They did not receive money, or land, or training. That meant that some of them depended on their previous owners to find work after 1838.
Some continued to do the same kind of work, but at different farms. Many slaves moved to the city to find work. Others moved to mission stations such as Mamre and Wupperthal. The mission stations gave plots to freed slaves. Only “Christian” slaves were allowed on the mission stations and the freed slaves also had to obey the mission rules. Some slaves tried to reunite their families.
Some freed slaves had a good idea where to search for their family members. Katie Jacobs, for example, knew that her mother was sold to someone in the Franschhoek district. However, Katie’s owner prevented her from visiting her mother and she never saw her again. There is evidence of parents who travelled long distances on foot in an effort to reunite their families after emancipation.
In 1839 Mina July and her husband, Platjes, from the Hex River district, went to Swellendam to obtain the freedom of Mina’s twelve-year-old sister. Mina’s sister was indentured to Hans Brewer.
This journey from the Hex River Valley to Swellendam would have taken at least a few days to complete on foot or by wagon. There were also disappointments. In December 1839, Hans of the Stellenbosch district traced his four sons, Hans, Abraham, Ezau and Marthinus to different farms in the Swellendam district. He arranged for the children to come and live on the farm where he worked and even sent the Clerk of the Peace at Swellendam money to pay for his children’s transport costs.
However, three of his sons had already left Swellendam and only Marthinus, the youngest, could be reunited with his father. The former slave owners campaigned to gain more control of the now free labour force. The government passed the Masters and Servants Ordinance in 1842. This act set out the obligations between employer and employees. The terms favoured the employer rather than the workers.
For example, desertion, neglect, insubordination and the use of insulting language by workers were criminal offences. This law was regularly revised and made stricter during the 19th century. This law survived until 1974. In addition, laws were passed in the 1850s against squatting. This made it difficult for freed slaves to find land to farm. Freed slaves thus continued to experience tight control, discrimination and inequality after emancipation. Being freed did not mean having the same opportunities as the former owners.
Katie Jacobs, a freed slave, one of few slaves that had the opportunity to narrate a part of her story.
Replica medallion made by Wedgewood, England, 2007. Originally produced to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade in the British empire for the Slave Emancipation Society.