at the Cape
| To protect and assert
their control, the VOC maintained a local militia and a garrison of soldiers at
the Cape, mainly of German origin. The rules developed by the Company in India
and Batavia (now Jakarta) were applied in the Cape. They were designed to
instill a sense of subordination in the local population.
The extent of the regulations is illustrated by the rule that
no-one could marry without the Company's permission - and slaves not at all.
There were dungeons at the Castle; Robben Island also served as a prison. VOC
justice also included hard labour, torture and two gallows.
The gallows were permanently situated in view of the jetty, on
the main road into the town. The application of law and punishment was chiefly
geared to maintaining Company rule and protecting VOC interests. The law was
discriminatory and there was particularly harsh treatment for disobedient
In other ways the power of the VOC was impressed upon the burghers of Cape
Town. The castle was a solid symbol of VOC dominance. VOC warehouses lined the
shoreline, emphasising their sole right to trade with ships.
There was also a close emphasis upon rank. In church, pews were
allocated to VOC officials in strict hierarchy. Grand and highly orchestrated
processions, in strict order of precedence, were held to mark events such as
the arrival of the VOC fleet from Batavia. There were even regulations related
to dress. Only high officials could wear velvet while junior officials could
wear silver or gold shoe buckles. Slaves were the least privileged - they could
not wear shoes.
|VOC and Shipwrecks
| Perhaps the most revealing and disturbing example of the
VOC's cold priorities occurred at shipwrecks. Sudden and violent storms in
Table Bay were a threatening feature of the Cape. Even anchored ships could be
driven onto the rocks and several lost in a single storm.
Three ships were lost in 1692, one in 1694 (with 17 chests of
treasure); two in 1697; ten in 1722 (600 men perished); three in 1728; nine in
1737 and so on. The loss of 'precious keels' was a serious concern for the VOC,
but also the security of the cargo aboard.
Thus, when ships began to fire their guns in distress, the
first order of successive Governors was to set up gallows on the beach. Anyone
attempting to go onto the shore would be summarily hung. This was to protect
any treasure washed up on the shoreline from looting. Thus the population of
the Cape could not go to the aid of drowning sailors (although there are some
tales of great heroism nevertheless). Company rule put profits before human
|The Mole Project at Mouille Point
| With the threat to their ships posed by winter storms, the
Company sought ways to protect shipping at the Cape, and they required the
local people to help shoulder the bill. In 1743 the VOC enforced special taxes
and heavy requirements upon the population to finance and assist the building
of a mole to create a harbour at Three Anchor Bay.
The local population objected that the project was impossible,
and they could not afford it, but this was ignored. After four years of heavy
work the mole extended only 120 metres, and was broken down every winter by
storms. Experts said it needed to be 700 metres long, and very thick and high
to be effective. The work was finally abandoned in 1751 - to the relief of the
local population. Today only the name of the area remains, 'Mouille Point'.
Use the Back Key in your browser to return to
© www.capetown.at 2008. You may print this
article for personal use; if for reproduction please acknowledge
'www.www.capetown.at.co.za'. You may not use this material for any electronic
media except with written permission. www.capetown.at accepts no responsibility
for inaccuracies or the work of service providers.
· Culture ·
Use the Back Key
in your browser to
return to subject