Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

The Reclamation: British Re-invents Slavery

Posted by tahirfarrath on January 15, 2010

For the ex-slaves, and the Khoisan servants, the reality of freedom was very different from the promise. As a wage-based economy developed, they remained dispossessed and exploited, with little opportunity to escape their servile lot.

Increasingly, they were lumped together as the “coloured” people, a group which included the descendants of unions between indigenous and European peoples, and a substantial Muslim minority who became known as the “Cape Malays” (misleadingly, as they mostly came from the Indonesian archipelago).

The coloured people were discriminated against on account of their working-class status as well as their racial identity. Among the poor, especially in and around Cape Town, there continued to be a great deal of racial mixing and intermarriage throughout the 1800s.

In 1820, several thousand British settlers, who were swept up by a scheme to relieve Britain of its unemployed, were placed in the eastern Cape frontier zone as a buffer against the Xhosa chiefdoms.

Some became fierce warmongers who pressed for the military dispossession of the chiefdoms. They coveted Xhosa land and welcomed the prospect of war involving large-scale military expenditure by the imperial authorities. The Xhosa engaged in raiding as a means of asserting their prior claims to the land. Racial paranoia became integral to white frontier politics. The result was that frontier warfare became endemic through much of the 19th century, during which Xhosa war leaders such as Chief Maqoma became heroic figures to their people.

The Colony of Natal, situated to the south of the mighty Zulu State, developed along very different lines from the original colony of settlement, the Cape. The size of the black population left no room for the assimilationist vision of race domination embraced in the Cape.

However, Britain’s reconstruction regime set about creating a white-ruled dominion by uniting the former Boer republics (both by then British colonies) with Natal and the Cape.

Indentured Labour

Indentured labour was instrumental for avoiding labour shortages that might be suffered by farmers as a result of freed slaves returning to their societies of origin. Freed slaves could be indentured for five years after being freed and slave children and destitute children without custodians could also be indentured until they reach the age of 25 (twenty five). The rationale for indenturing children of slaves was that it would offset the cost incurred by farmers for raising them. The productive value of labour extracted from these children was not taken into consideration. As a result, the aim of indenturing slaves was to ease the transition from slave labour to free labour. That is, it was a substitute for slave labour.

One of the few recorded histories of an African in America from early court records is that of “Antonio the negro,” as he was named in the 1625 Virginia census. He was brought to the colony in 1621. At this time, English and Colonial law did not define racial slavery; the census calls him not a slave but a “servant.” Later, Antonio changed his name to Anthony Johnson. Negro John Punch (1640) was one of the early cases that made a racial distinction among indentured servants.

Over the first 50 years of the 18th century, the number of Africans brought to British colonies (in Northern America and the Carribeans, etc.) on British ships rose from 5,000 to 45,000 a year.

The Coolies

Between 1860 and 1911 some 140 000 Indians arrived in South Africa as indentured labourers. (Let alone, those in the Pacific, Fiji, Mauritius, Trinidad and even Malaysia, etc.) By 1904, African resources in South Africa still proved inadequate to get the mines working at pre-war levels, over 60 000 indentured Chinese were brought in.  The Cape Malays for some reason called the Indian Muslims “Babis”. The word Babi in Malay means pig or pork, and is unbecoming for a Muslim to speak about others in this way.

Qulii is a Hindu word for day-labourers (perphaps hired or bonded labour). In Chinese, it literally means “use of bitterly hard strength” or a term for contruction workers in Indonesia. There is a Gujarati tribe known as the Kulii and this word in Tamil means wages (possily cooly wages), but a servant in Urdu and Turkish. Its use was also applied to unskilled workmen, dock workers or porters and carriers as an ethnic nickname for people of Asian descent. The English used it to describe workers of low-status class (even though encouraging the use of cheap labour) and is today considered as a racial slur towards Asian people regardless of their professions or socio-economic standing.

In Ethiopia, however, the word is not seen as a slur for Arab workers. Strangely, West Indians of East Indian descent (a brown person) who calls themselves a coolie may often think highly of themselves, sometimes highly racist or culturist when it comes to discriminating against people. However, racism directed against Indians from their host countries fall under the rubric of Indophobia. After the 1968 Committee on “Africanization in Commerce and Industry”, Idi Amin used this propaganda to justify a campaign of “de-Indianization”. This eventually resulted in their expulsion within 90 days from Uganda and ethnic cleansing of Indian minority. But Cu li in Vietnamese now means a person who works a part-time job, mostly used as  slang by overseas Vietnamese students. Generally, the term still refers to a poor labourer or immigrant worker that will do any job for a small amount of pay.

For more meanings of the word Coolie, click on the following link:

The Kaffir or Kaffers

The word Kaffir was used in English, Dutch and, later, Afrikaans, from the 16th century to the early 20th century. It described all black people in the region, excluding of course the San and Khoi Khoi. During the 20th century, the word gradually took on negative connotations (including the Arabic word for unbeliever) when speaking about or to a people who survived the worst form of Racism and subjugation to the lowest pay as manual labourers. (Also, how many among the Couloureds, Malays, Indians and Chinese learnt this behaviour from the Whites and are still subjecting the indegineous people with such treatment?) The term is regarded by most as highly offensive (in the same way as “nigger” is in other countries). Use of the word has now been actionable in South African courts since at least 1976 under the offense of crimen injuria: “the unlawful, intentional and serious violation of the dignity of another”.

It is not clear whether the Portuguese name Cafrinha was derived from English “Kaffir” after the English took over Sri Lanka. The British colonists brought Kaffirs to fight against Ceylonese armies in “kaffir regiments”. Kaffirs are very similar to the African populations in Iraq, Iran and Kuwait, and known in Pakistan as Sheedis and India as Siddis. However, Sri Lanka Kaffirs were originally Muslims and these Kaffirs are proud to be Sri Lankans and do not consider it as a racist word.

Indentured servants

Indentured servitude was a method of increasing the number of colonists, especially in the British colonies. Commoners, most of whom were young men, with dreams of owning their land or striking it rich quick would essentially sell years of their freedom in exchange for passage to the colonies. (Among the convicts population of Ausralia were convicts as young as 10 years of age. Convicts, prisoners of war, vagrants and orphans were also forced under British programs to rid England of undesirables and to populate the labour-starved settlements. In many instances children were given in bondage for debts owed by the parents.)

Unlike slaves, an indentured servant was a labourer under contract to an employer for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for their transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities. Although similarities exist, indentured servitude was not the same as the apprenticeship system by which skilled trades were taught.

Like slaves, servants could be bought and sold, could not marry without the permission of their owner, were subject to physical punishment, and saw their obligation to labor enforced by the courts. But unlike slaves, servants could look forward to a release from bondage. If they survived their period of labour, servants would receive a payment known as “freedom dues” and become free members of society. Female indentured servants in particular might be raped and/or sexually abused by their masters.

Modern indentured servitude takes the form of illegal immigrants paying their passage by long work-hours in harsh conditions, often at subsistence pay rates to support themselves. Workers generally from India and Pakistan are forced to pay people for the promise of work in the Emirates. Once they enter the country their passports are taken from them and they are not told when they will get them back.

Servitude or Employee?

Indentured servant – “You are here to do whatever I tell you, when I tell you to do it!” Employee – “You are here to do the job we hired you to do, under the conditions set out when we hired you!” One is all amount total control, the other is about fulfilling a specific, pre-determined arrangement. These two very different ideas often get confused, which is one of the main reasons that people have so much trouble in some workplaces, Managers, Bosses, Supervisors, CEO’s, etc when they think that  Employees are seen as Indentured Servants. Everything has always been about one thing… how to make the most amount of money with the least amount of expenses. (Otherwise, you will loose out to the competition and battle to survive in the marketplace without cheap labour.)

Migrant Labour

Today, countries encourage immigration to fill the “skills gaps” and labour market shortages with most qualified migrants finding only low-paid jobs that are not filled by local labour. Some migrants will also willingly do “menial but essential jobs”, considering these as a means to “a better life” and the escape from conditions back home. Other legal and illegal migrants will then turn to and be abused in the disposable labour market as a way of surviving the dilemma.

At some stage, migrants will be blamed for rising crime, stealing jobs from the locals, cultural pollution, overloading school and social systems and not carrying their share of the tax burden as if they are second class citizens. Colonialism and forced colonial imperialism are now long lost and forgotten as migrants are the first to be made redundant over the locals.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: