Slavery in South Africa

Sexual relations within the Lodge

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) emphasised religious instruction for their slaves and was concerned and prescriptive about the slaves’ personal conduct. The VOC allowed slaves to live as couples and forbade sexual relations between men and women who were nor registered as a couple. However, at the same time, they allowed the Slave Lodge to function as a brothel. The Slave Lodge was open to free men every night between eight and nine.

 

The VOC also concerned themselves with sexual relations between slaves belonging to the VOC and the rest of the colony’s inhabitants. Since 1671, several placaaten (regulations), were issued that forbade sexual relationships between slave women and men of European descent. The growing number of mulatto children indicates that these placaaten were not adhered to. However, the VOC never took steps to prevent the visits from free men to slave women in the Lodge.

 

It is difficult to know how the Lodge women felt about their role in prostitution. The historian has to deduce attitudes from behaviour as described in criminal records, baptismal records and descriptions of outsiders. No stories giving the women’s perspective survived. Outsiders such as Ambrose Cowley and Otto Mentzel mentioned that women were forced by their male partners to sleep with the visitors. According to Cowley the going rate was a 3-inch piece of tobacco.

 

Some historians such as Robert Shell argues that the women might have prostituted themselves out of own free will. Mulatto slaves enjoyed a higher status, had access to better jobs and had a better chance to be manumitted. Women may therefore have felt that their mulatto offspring may have had a better chance in life than children of slaves.

 

Not all the relationships between slave women and free men were that of a prostitute with her client. There are cases of relationships that led to marriage and freedom for the women. Free men who wanted to marry a slave woman could buy her freedom for 150 florins. Many of the women who obtained their freedom in this way were able to buy the freedom of her children. An example is that of Manda Gratia, a matron at the Slave Lodge who married Guilliam Frisnet in 1714. She was able to buy the freedom of all her children. One of her sons joined the VOC and was transferred to the East Indies, thereby becoming the first slave emigrant of the Cape.

The slave lodge, then in general wet, dark and unhygienic conditions, operated as a brothel during certain times of the evening. The depiction is of Peter Laponder's model of the slave lodge at the end of the 18th century (1999) and can be seen displayed today at the Iziko Slave Lodge.