Iziko Slave Lodge
Slavery in South Africa

Although a few of the first slaves came from West Africa, most slaves came from societies around the Indian Ocean Basin. Slaves came from Madagascar, from Mozambique and the East African coast, from India and from the islands of the East Indies such as Sumatra, Java, the Celebes, Ternate and Timor.

Places of origind

The first slaves at the Cape arrived on 28 March 1658 on board the Amersfoort. This group was captured by the Dutch from a Portuguese slaver that was on its way to Brazil. Of the 250 slaves that were captured, only 170 survived the journey to the Cape. Most of the slaves on board the Amersfoort were originally captured by the Portuguese in present-day Angola. The second group also came from West Africa. On 6 May 1658, 228 slaves from Ghana arrived at the Cape on board the Hassalt.

These two groups were the only slaves who came from West Africa. The Cape Colony was part of the Dutch East India properties and governed by the Dutch East India Company, better known as the VOC. The VOC and Dutch West Indian Company had an agreement that the VOC would limit its slave raiding to regions east of the Cape.

The slave trade to the Cape was controlled by the VOC. Burghers were not allowed to trade slaves in their country of origin. The VOC send out slavers to buy slaves and bring them to the Cape Colony. These slave expeditions went mainly to Mozambique and Madagascar. 

VOC-sponsored slave voyages, 1652 ­ 1796

Region 1652 – 1699 1700 – 1749 1750 1795 Totals
Madagascar 12 9 12 33
Mozambique, East African coast, Zanzibar 5 5
Delagoa Bay Several Several
Dahomey (Ghana) 1 1
Totals 13 9 17 39

Source: Jim Amstrong & Nigel Worden in R. Elphick & H. Giliomee (eds). 1989. The Shaping of South African Society 1652 ­ 1840. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman, p. 112.

Number of slaves delivered to Cape by VOC sponsored voyages, 1652-1796

Region 1652 – 1699 1700 – 1749 1750 1795 Totals
Madagascar 1069 779 977 2820
Mozambique, East African coast, Zanzibar 974 974
Delagoa Bay approx. 280 approx. 280
Dahomey (Ghana) 226 226
Totals 1290 approx. 1059 1951
approx. 4300

Source: Jim Amstrong & Nigel Worden in R. Elphick & H. Giliomee (eds). 1989. The Shaping of South African Society 1652 ­ 1840. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman, p. 112.

A second source of slaves were the VOC’s return fleets from Batavia and other places in the east which sailed around the Cape on their way to Europe. VOC officials could not take their slaves with them when they returned to the Netherlands, because slavery was not allowed in the Netherlands . Many of these officials sold their slaves at the Cape because they could get a better price for their slaves at the Cape than in the East Indies. Foreign ships on their way to the Americas from Madagascar also sometimes sold slaves at the Cape.

The Indian subcontinent was the main source of slaves during the early part of the 18th century. Approximately 80% of slaves came from India during this period. A slaving station was established in Delagoa Bay (present-day Maputo) in 1721, but was abandoned in 1731. Between 1731 and 1765 more and more slaves were bought from Madagascar.

In 1795, the Cape Colony became a British colony before it was returned to the Dutch in 1802. During this first period of British rule, South-East Africa became the main source of slaves. This trend continued with the return of the Dutch who continued to buy slaves from slave traders operating in present-day Mozambique.

The sea journey

The VOC sent slavers to Mozambique and Madagascar. The main purpose of these expeditions was to trade slaves. In those days, travelling by ship was very uncomfortable and unhygienic for ordinary people. It was even worse for slaves, who had to be kept confined.

It was costly to bring slaves back to Cape Town. Firstly, enough food had to be taken along for all the slaves for the journey. That would have been expensive, even if the slaves were not fed adequately. Many slaves died of illness during the journey. We know for example that 70 slaves out of 250 died on the Amersfoort.

Secondly, the slaves had to be guarded. Slaves could rebel and try to take control of the ship. Some slaves also committed suicide by jumping overboard rather than face a life of slavery. As described in this extract from the journal of the Schuijlenburg (Rijksargief, VOC 10 814), returning from Madagascar.

24 Oct. 1752: It was discovered in the morning that 13 slaves were missing from the hold… some were found who stated that the others jumped into the water during the night in an attempt to swim to land, but it must be assumed with the stormy seas that they have drowned.


16 Nov. 1752: Some of the slaves attacked the sailor who went to give them food, and came up out of the hatch, but they were forced back and hand and leg chains were secured on them all. The leader was then questioned, but he refused to say anything, so some of the younger slaves were interrogated who said that there had been a plot amongst the slaves to massacre all the Europeans and to escape. It was decided to severely punish the leaders as an example to the others.

Arrival at the Cape

Many people believe that the slaves who werebrought to the Cape were kept in the Slave Lodge on the corner of present-day Adderley and Wale Streets in Cape Town before they were sold under the Slave Tree behind the Slave Lodge. However, we know that the Slave Lodge was not used to keep slaves who were to be sold to private buyers and we are not sure that slaves were sold under the Slave Tree.