Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

The Cape Khoisan in the Eastern districts of the colony before and after Ordinance 50 of 1828

By Vertrees Canby Malherbe


Includes bibliographical references.My study arose from a wish to consolidate work begun in the 1970s concerning the indigenous people of the Cape - the 'Bushmen' and 'Hottentots' of the historical record who, properly, are called San and Khoi, or 'the Khoisan' • My idea was to build upon existing work (of others, chiefly, but also of my own) concerning their dispossession and subordination by colonists from Europe. The focus has, as far as possible, been the people themselves, with Ordinance 50 of 1828 the pivotal point. The ordinance removed certain disabilities peculiar to the Khoisan and other 'free people of colour' in the colony, and conferred equality before the law. Other researchers have explored the alleged vagrancy of Ordinance SO's beneficiaries, its impact upon wages, and the government's administration of the law. My project is to uncover all and any of the ways in which the ordinance, in tandem with some simultaneous reforms, was actually experienced by Khoisan. The hint (by L. C. Duly) that a study of 'informal processes' at the local level might yield fresh insights suggested a means to raise the visibility of the Khoisan in the colony's 'master narrative' and, in the process, break new ground. It has proved well-suited to the aim of keeping Khoisan experience to the fore without slipping around to more familiar ways of seeing whereby public policy, the interests of elites, or the application of the law insinuate themselves as principal concerns. The most important source materials used are in the Cape Archives Depot of the State Archives. These include mission documents as well as government records and correspondence. Three newspapers began publication during the period of the study (c. 1820-1835). These are housed at the South African Library, as are certain private journals, travel books, and political commentaries of the time. Valuable secondary works and dissertations, in this and related fields, are available at the Jagger and African Studies libraries at the University of Cape Town. Part I provides a historiographical review and sets out the aims and objects of the study. Part II deals with economy and government, law, custom and daily life prior to the 50th ordinance. The first year after it was law, when the Khoisan, officials and colonists tested its provisions, is the subject of Part III. Part IV carries the account to 18 34-35 when a draft vagrant law shook the Khoisan, and war brought havoc to the eastern frontier. The final section draws together certain themes - self-perceptions and identity, acculturation and the status of traditional lifestyles, the Khoisan's 'ancient' and (new) 'burgher' claim to the land, to mention some. The study concludes that the power of Ordinance 50 to transform the lives of those it proposed to liberate (the Khoisan, principally) has been inflated - more strikingly by those who have looked back on it than by its beneficiaries and their mentors at the time

Topics: Historical Studies
Publisher: Department of Historical Studies
Year: 1997
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.