oa Historia - From periphery to core : the treatment of Cape slavery in South African historiography

Volume 37 Number 2
  • ISSN : 0018-229X



Cape slavery has long been a neglected area of study in South African historiography. G.M. Theal largely ignored slaves in his formative historical writing, arguing that they were 'mildly' treated and thus historically of minimal importance. This set the pattern for later work, whether that of liberals, Afrikaner historians, or radicals, all of whom had different concerns in explaining the origins of racism in South African society. In the last decade, however, a number of studies of Cape slavery have significantly advanced understanding of the pre-industrial Cape. These have been influenced by a variety of factors: the need to correct historiographical neglect, to explore class and race in Cape history, and to apply insights gained from slave studies in other societies to the Cape. This article surveys the development of the study of slavery at the Cape, and highlights important features of older and newer literature. It also argues that continuities between the pre-industrial Cape and later South African society are more significant than previously acknowledged.

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