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Van Schalkwyk: Opening of refurbished slave quarters at Leeuwenhof (09/12/2002)

9th December 2002


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Date: 09/12/2002
Source: Western Cape Provincial Government
Title: Van Schalkwyk: Opening of refurbished slave quarters at Leeuwenhof


The Western Cape is a place rich in history. Too often this history is reduced from a powerful multi-dimensional tapestry to the simplistic one or two-dimensional tales, which have dominated our history books for decades. The truth is that there is no colonial history separate and apart from the history of the colonised. There is no true history of slave masters without the history of the slaves. It is vital for us to embrace every strand of our history, and to explore the legacies of all communities if we are to draw from them and to learn from our past. It is time for us to unlock the narratives of our history, which have been neglected - foremost amongst them, in Cape Town and the Western Cape, is the history of the slaves.

It is estimated that over a period of about 180 years, as many as 63 000 slaves were brought to Cape Town. The first slaves at the Cape came mainly from West Africa - especially Guinea and Angola, then later from Mozambique and Madagascar. Slaves were also imported from India and the East - from present day Java, Bali, Timor, the Malayan Peninsula and China. By 1748, the number of slaves was greater than the number of Europeans in Cape Town. The effect on the Cape was remarkable - turning a small trading post into a major agricultural colony. Despite this fact, a culture of silence has dominated the contribution of our slave ancestry to the development of South Africa and Cape Town in particular. Our people, our language, and our food today all carry the echoes of the slave era. It is time that we embrace and acknowledge this chapter of our history and give it its due recognition. This is the underlying motivation for our decision to refurbish the slave quarters here at Leeuwenhof.

By the end of the seventeenth century Leeuwenhof was a farm where fresh produce was cultivated and slaves were tasked with selling the produce at the Cape market. Today it has lost its agricultural character, but not its rich and colourful history. It is our aim to make Leeuwenhof more "people friendly" - a house and a heritage for all the people of our province. Leeuwenhof must embody the rich historical experiences of all of the communities of the Western Cape and not only those of a particular segment of our province. The history of Leeuwenhof is not a white history or a black history, nor is it a coloured or an Indian history. The history of Leeuwenhof is our history - the history of the peoples of the Western Cape.

Today, we are celebrating the contribution of our slave ancestry to the rich cultural diversity of our country. Today, we are ensuring that the story of the slaves and servants of the gracious homesteads and townhouses of the Cape is not forgotten or ignored. For too long the lives of the rich and powerful figures of the past were the only points of reference in our history. It is time to recognise and appreciate the experiences of those who laboured to build our province and our country. The Provincial Government of the Western Cape is determined to bridge the divisions of our history that for so long have kept the black, white, coloured and Indian communities of the Western Cape apart. The slave quarters is part of the history of Leeuwenhof and will no longer be on the margins of its historical experience.

Slavery in the Cape was officially ended by the British on 1 December 1834. The era of slavery was a time of great suffering and human misery but it was also a time of bravery, endurance, and lessons about the strength of the human spirit. As we today open the refurbished slave quarters, it is important for us to acknowledge these lessons and to further unlock the history and potential of all our people.

Enquiries: Riaan Aucamp on 083-778-9923
Issued by Office of the Premier, Western Cape
9 December 2002


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