The Dutch East Indies Company had power in the Cape Colony of South Africa from 1652 to 1795. Under this rule, imported slave women and Indigenous Khoikhoi women were enslaved, despite the Khoikhoi being legally considered free. The purpose of this article is to synthesize the current research on the topic, and to bring a gendered perspective to Cape bondage. I show how gender, race, and origin influenced slave experiences and lifestyles. I present the environmental, social, and economic contexts that led to the start of slavery in the Cape, as well as the historical context that led to Khoikhoi enslavement. Despite the legal distinctions between slave and free, both groups lived under slave-like conditions, yet had unique experiences. This is shown through diverse examples of female slaves working in the domestic sphere, and Khoikhoi women working on farms. Additionally, I analyze the different treatment of female slaves and Khoikhoi women during the smallpox outbreaks in 1713, 1748, and 1755. Slaves and Khoikhoi both worked as washerwomen, which offered more freedom and a counternarrative to domesticity. Overall, it is concluded that although both these groups of women were enslaved under Dutch rule, each were responsible for different types of work, and received different treatment.

Published: 2019-05-15