Monday, December 01, 2008

1 Dec 1838 Emancipation of slavery ! / ?

This is one of the most important dates in the South African history: 1 December 1838. This was the day when slaves, imported from various parts of the world to South Africa to provide the labour for grain and winefarms in the Cape, were finally emancipated, after at least 180 years of slavery in the Cape. But did it end there ?

Of course, legally these round about 36 000 slaves, were freed. They are the ancestors, with the settlers mostly from the Netherlands, Germany and France, of those who eventually were called Afrikaners, but most of all, of the 'bruin mense', the 'coloureds' or like some call themselves the 'people of mixed descend'. Whilst for most part of South African history, the Afrikaners denied their slave ancestry, recently, especially since 1994, more and more come out of the closet, owning up to their mixed descend, their coloured-ness. A history was constructed, told, taught and written to erase this from their memory and helped to forge a white identity, based on a mythological genetic purity, descending solely from the original settlers. A case in point is the fact that people would not be aware that Simon van der Stel, after which Stellenbosch was named, was actually of 'mixed descend', he was coloured.

Culturally, the birth of the Afrikaans language is part of the heritage of slavery as well as 'typical' Cape and Afrikaner cuisine, literature and songs. The bitter schism and eventual political and legal tearing apart of this vibrant community, also called apartheid, led to hard lines drawn arbitrarily on law-books, but also in the hearts.

So, in a sense, we have not yet broken those invisible shackles. I just found a website, iAbolish on slavery today and they make the point that slavery is not history. Today, we find trafficing, debtslavery sex slavery, etc. The point of World Aids Day is to remind us of a new form of shackles, where communities are gripped by this invisble master, yet also a new struggle for freedom, for healing.
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