Hierarchy - A Racial Order?
| From the social
hierarchy in Cape Town in the 1700s it may at first appear that the VOC
exercised an exclusionist racial policy, of the type seen later in South
However, Europeans could - and did - marry non-Europeans,
especially in the early years when women were few. Free blacks lived among
European burghers and worked in similar occupations. The children of slaves
became slaves - even if their father was European. Simon van der Stel, was half
Japanese - this did not stop his appointment as Governor. Slaves, burghers,
sailors and free blacks mixed at the taverns, drinking together, dancing and
What mattered to the VOC was not race, but an economic order. Slaves were vital
to the cheap running of the Cape and the VOC left them in no doubt about their
servitude, and their powerless position under law, which enforced brutal
punishments. But 'senior slaves' who worked in responsible positions, received
privileges and their status compared favourably with that of VOC soldiers - who
were European, but less important in the economic order.
The VOC did not create a hierarchy based on race but one based on economic
considerations. But they nevertheless did create and enforce a hierarchical and
discriminatory society, which categorised people into groups, and enshrined in
law different privileges and punishments for them. Their approach created a
certain mind-set that was to effect all South Africa and established a
precedent, that law may be used to structure and control society for economic
gain and political power.
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