14 Roots of Origin

Apprentices, Sailors, Indentures & other Migrants derive from a range of peoples who were brought to the Cape as ‘Prize Slaves’, sailors, indentured labourers or who were economic migrants. After slavery was formally ended at the Cape, there was a crisis in the economy and new sources of cheap labour had to be found quickly by the Europeans. As a stop-gap measure, enslaved persons captured off slaver ships as bounty became the first solution to the labour problem. These were called by various names ‘Prize Boys’, ‘Prize Girls’, ‘Prize Slaves’ or ‘Liberated Africans.’ They were branded as slaves and forced to accept apprenticeships as labourers for up to 14 years before they would actually have their freedom. Many were mere children when they arrived. For them, the announcement of emancipation on 1 December 1834 and the actual discontinuation of the slavery system in 1838 had little meaning. The origins of these groups include the following:

  1. The Royal Navy was given the task of intercepting slave-trade ships using the base at Simon's Town for the task. West African sailors called ‘Kroomen’, Zanzibari sailors called ‘Sidees’ and Indian sailors called ‘Lascars’ made up the crews of the Royal Navy ships sent out to liberate the ‘Prize Slaves’. Some West Africans were allotted plots to settle in Simonstown and from these beginnings, Black Town arose. These black sailors were based in Simonstown for 100 years and are part of the ancestry of those classified as ‘Coloured’.

    The West African Kroomen, Sidees and Lascars in the Royal Navy based in Simon's Town
    & founders of Blacktown Township which was destroyed after its inhabitants were
    forcibly removed to Ocean View during the Apartheid years.
  2. White farmers followed up by importing indentured labour from the Congo, Malawi, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Mozambique. Most of these ‘Indentures’ were settled in the Drakenstein and integrated with both those who were later classified as ‘Coloured’ and the amaXhosa, abeThembu and Mfengu migrant workers. The Indentures together with the former enslaved Africans, account for the high sub-Sahara African (or Bantu-language speakers) DNA amongst those classified as ‘Coloured’ people today. Many of these migrants were in fact trafficked people who served out their lives as exploited labour to replace formal slavery.
  3. The freed slaves in the Drakenstein originated in Southern East Africa were known locally as the ‘Masbiekers’. Slaves of Zambian, Congo, Malawian, Zimbabwean, Tanzanian, Malagasy and Mozambique origin were all part of those labelled Masbiekers. These nationalities are a major part of ‘Coloured’ and ‘amaXhosa’ family trees in the Western Cape today. The indentured labourers from Mozambique were also called Masbiekers like the enslaved before them.
  4. From the 1840s and increasing in the 1870s right through to 1910 and beyond, large groups of people were brought in as indentured servants from St Helena. The ‘Saints’ as they were known were also descendants of enslaved African and Asian peoples, Chinese indentured labourers and British settlers on the island of St Helena. The Cape and Natal became attractive new homes when the St Helena economy was under strain after the opening of the Suez Canal.
  5. While distorted South African history tends to portray the first Indians to have arrived in South Africa as indentured labourers and passenger Indians of Natal in the 1860s, these were in fact a later wave of Indian immigrants who followed the enslaved ‘Lascars,’ and passenger Indian migrants to the Cape who arrived since the mid-1600s. Lascars were also amongst those who were shipwrecked on the wild coast and integrated into amaXhosa clans during the 16th to 19th centuries.
  6. African Americans started arriving in the Cape during the diamond rush and started businesses in Cape Town and Kimberley. Caribbean seamen jumped ship and took jobs in the Cape Town docks. They too married into local African communities and particularly into the population who came to be classified as “Coloured’.
  7. During the Boer War, Australian Aborigines came over with Australian troops as tracker-soldiers but were abandoned in the Cape when the Australian troops were repatriated. In 1890 the Oromo North African slaves (Abyssinia) seized from a slaver-ship were taken to the Royal Navy depot at Yemen and then brought to the Cape. These were 64 children who also integrated into ‘Coloured’ and amaXhosa communities when they graduated from Lovedale mission.
  8. Migrants and other infusions into the Cape society carry on to this day. Through our sea-ports, relationships between South African women with Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian and other seaman of many nations, produced children who are also now part of our population.

Economic immigrants from other African countries still arrive daily and take their place among us as they always have. Migrants arrive continuously from China, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Congo, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and elsewhere to this day. Each of these groups have a story to tell that one day a South African child will want to know when exploring their roots.


Tributary 7: Apprentices, Sailors, Indentures & Other Migrants of Colour
Select one of the people of Tributary 7 to read more about them.
All of these pictures are of the actual personalities, except for that of Joseph Ordersen, where his son James photo is used.
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