Slavery in South Africa

Hangklip

Documents

Description of runaway community at Hangklip by S.E. Hudson in the early 19th century.

 

Source: Worden, N. 1996. The chains that bind us. A history of slavery at the Cape. Cape Town: Juta, p.68. (Transcribed by Robert Shell. Original in National Library of South Africa, Cape Town)

 

About two days journey from Cape Town in the neighbourbood of Hottentots Holland is a cavern where many of the runaway slaves secrete themselves and some have remained here for a number of years perfectly secure from the power of their masters or the arm of justice.

 

A few months since a person in Cape Town who had lost a slave six years since, he had been seen in the vicinity of this place by one of his fellow slaves which gave him reason to suppose that be was associated with the vagabonds in the caves of Hangklip. He made his report to his master who artfully sent the boy to the place and to remain about the entrance till he had an opportunity of speaking with some of the runaways and to beg them to admit him among the community as he had done a great crime which prevented him from returning to his master.

 

The plan succeeded. He was taken as one of their comrades and at first was permitted to enter no further than to the outermost part of the cavern to which he was let down by a rope. Here be remained for some weeks and accompanied them in many of their plundering expeditions, but could find no means of escaping from them, so vigilantly was he watched by the gang. A fortunate opportunity offered of conveying intelligence to his master that the party would be out on such an evening and that the long absent slave and himself were to be of the party. The necessary assistance was procured and they were secured and brought to Cape Town after having been absent more than six years and from this slave, government have received pretty correct information of the number of the Hangklip party which is numerous. This boy had a wife and five children with him and greater part of them are provided in the same way.

 

They have an opening to the sea which is inaccessible from this outlet. They fish and procure a very liberal supply of what nearly constitutes their daily food. At certain times boats can approach this dangerous place and the fishing slaves are well acquainted with the favourable period of escaping. About Simons Bay, the inhabitants have frequently lost their slaves and boats - and this is their constant hiding place. They frequently stop wagons returning from Cape Town where the farmers from the interior have been to purchase their yearly stock of necessaries, and from these supplies they derive everything their wants require.

 

It appears strange that the Dutch Government took no steps to break up this dangerous society that may in the course of time prove of fatal consequence. The present government is equally remiss: no endeavour taken to search this secret recess which by all accounts is among the curiosities of Africa.

 

[There is] Cave within cave to a very considerable extent and only two openings to them: the one from the rocks a single person might defend and that from the sea inaccessible except in very particular weather it being surrounded with sunken rocks around the entrance for miles and the tide washes into the cavern for a very considerable way back. There are many of these openings which have so much the appearance of each other it is difficult to find the real entrance.

 

I have been informed and cannot doubt the truth of the story that they have agents in Cape Town among the Malay slaves and even free people who furnish them with rice and whatever they may stand in need of and have regular modes of conveying these things to their subterranean habitation. Many slaves are concealed about the mountains round Cape Town who live nearly in the same way. They employ themselves in cutting wood and selling it to the slaves who are employed to bring firing to the Cape. From these boys they are supplied with food and every little comfort they require in their vagrant wanderings, a little bread, tobacco and fish constitutes their wants and a moderate share of labour will procure them these comforts.

 

‘Tis almost impossible for a slave to escape out of the colony. The Veld Cornets (the same as our constable) are very vigilant and permit no slave to pass who cannot produce a written document specifying whose boy he is and where he is going. Indeed the farmers are extremely careful in bringing runaway slaves back to the Cape where they lodge them in the Tronk till claimed by their master. They do sometimes steal on board ships lying in the Bay but the penalties are so great that few captains would venture to carry them away. An instance of the kind once happened when some Spanish ships of war were in Table Bay. After they had sailed several slaves were missing and it was clearly proved that they bad been carried away by the Spanish ships. Complaints were forwarded from the Dutch governor at the Cape to Madrid. The matter was checked to be precisely as stated in the complaint. Restitution was immediately made to the full amount of the slaves and the captain completely disgraced.

Map showing the location of Hangklip near Betty’s Bay, today known as Pringle Bay.