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When Slavery Came To An End

1 December marks the day when slavery was abolished at the Cape. Ingrid Jones imagines what 2 December 1834 was like.

"On this spot stood the old slave tree." The Old Slave Tree Memorial is located in Spin Street, Cape Town. It was an old fir tree that was cut down in 1916. The site is now an octagonal memorial erected on a traffic island in remembrance of the very large number of slaves that were said to be sold under the tree.

2 December 1834. Imagine being freed the day before (1 December 1834) only to wake up to the reality that you have to be a slave for four more years to be taught a trade. It reminds me of that word I began to hate so much after 1994: empowerment. You won the election, but we first have to have a transitional government to teach you the ropes.

This is what South Africa History Online writes about the day:

“On 1 December 1834, slavery came to an end in the Cape Colony. The move to abolish slavery in the Colony came a year after the Slavery Abolition Bill of 1833 was passed by the British House of Commons and by the House of Lords. Although the Bill was passed in August 1833 it came into effect on 1 August 1834. On that date slavery was abolished throughout the vast British Empire, with a few exceptions. One was the Cape Colony, where it was delayed for four months until 1 December. The Act apprenticed slaves to their masters for a period of four years. This enabled them to learn trades and afforded a transition period for the owners. A certain amount was granted as compensation to the owners, which they had to collect personally in Britain and was in some cases barely enough to pay for their expenses. The abolition of slavery and the way in which it was enacted was one of the contributing factors leading to the Great Trek (starting in 1835) from the Cape Colony. Piet Retief, in his famous manifesto to the Grahamstown Journal, wrote: ‘We complain of the severe losses, which we have been forced to sustain by the emancipation of our slaves, and the vexatious laws, which have been enacted respecting them’. Though the abolition of slavery has been historically treated as the main cause of the Great Trek, there were other equally compelling reasons for the settlers to leave the Cape Colony. Further reading list: A history of prison labour in South Africa Indenture: A new system of slavery? Ship list of Indian Indentured Labourers Slave Resistance The Early Cape Slave Trade The First Slaves at the Cape ‘Liberated’ Slaves? by Joline Young”


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