The Slave Lodge in Cape Town, South Africa, is a unique monument that remains as a testament to how colonialism worked.
I was in South Africa sometime back and spent a few days in Cape Town. Cape Town is an interesting city with its rich diversity.
And during my trip, I took a (free) walking tour of some of the streets and came upon this building, the Slave Lodge. Unfortunately, I could not go inside because I was part of the tour and time constraints did not allow me to take a visit to it later.
Slave Lodge History
This Slave Lodge was formally established in 1679 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a granary. But it soon became a so-called ‘slave lodge’. It housed hundreds of men, women and children – all slaves owned by the VOC. They were brought from the Dutch colonies in Asia and well as other parts of Africa.
But unlike some of the other slaves or indentured labourers, these people were not brought to toil in the plantations. Rather, their positions were as gardeners, cooks, housemaids etc.,
The status of their titles, however, had no connection to their living conditions. Documents suggest that their lives were much more terrible than those of slaves owned by private slave owners.
The slaves were stripped of their names, and were instead called by the time of the year they arrived or the region they arrived from.
The building did not have windows, but just slits on the walls. One of the Dutch officials who visited the lodge reportedly commented that it was so dark even during the day that he had to use a lantern.
Many died of malnutrition and illnesses.
The British colonial government took over the building early part of the 19th century and turned it into a government office. It was also renamed. Some of the slaves were sold off by the governor and the rest moved elsewhere. In 1828, those surviving and remaining slaves were released from slavery.
The Slave Lodge Today
The building was used as various government offices and in 1998, the government renamed it as Slave Lodge and it is part of the South African museum system.
There are diaries and letters and other material from the slaves that shed light into the lives of them then.
And there is record that despite the hardships, the slaves developed a sense of camaraderie and even held religious events.