Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

A Presentation: Matthias Greeff’s Slaves

Posted by tahirfarrath on January 28, 2015

Slave Symposium Presentation At Stellenbosch University on 1 December 2008, by Natanja Greeff.

This document is a combination of the audio-visual slides and text that the audience saw and heard simultaneously. The text that follows after a slide in this document was read out while the audience viewed the slide on screen. A copy of this PDF file can be downloaded at

The main purpose and aim of this presentation is to set out the organisational structure of Matthias Greeff so that one can see his slaves in their proper context. Ideally one would construct an organisational chart that set out the various branches of his business organisation, together with the staff members who were employed in each branch or department, while also depicting various levels of managerial staff.

I am grateful to Francois Greeff in London for his insights into the life of Matthias Greeff. Francois holds a masters degree in Corporate Governance. It is he who conceived the idea of examining Matthias’ organisational structure and he started applying the methods of accounting and financial audit to the records describing Matthias’ income, expenditure, and assets. It was Francois who saw Matthias’ slaves as assets on a balance sheet, and he tracked the path of these assets as they were described in different documents.

Comparison of the estate inventories to the opgaafrollen reveal other discrepancies too, and the result is that I have learned to check very carefully before I accept opgaaf data as truth.

Matthias bought his slaves at rock bottom prices from the importers and wholesalers, and generally paid about 50 Rix dollars for a slave. All of these slaves were between 17 and 30 years old when Matthias bought them, and cost between 50 and 113 Rixdollars. Matthias tended to buy a group of slaves at a time, as though he needed labour for some new project or business expansion. Matthias, as far as I know, never sold a slave, except in the case of Domingo, who bought his own freedom. This of course raises the question of whether Dominga was the wife of Domingo, and whether she went with him, or whether he perhaps bought his freedom in order to rid himself of an unwanted wife!

I so often wish that I knew more about the skills each slave had so that one could match the slaves to a position or job in the business structure. I regret that I know so little about these people.

I hope that I have been able to show that Matthias Greeff had very wide interests and skills, and that his organisational structure was as complex as that of a rich man in our century.

The 70 people who are known to have been part of Matthias’ team did not all work concurrently. Generally speaking the organisation
employed the family, 3 or 4 knegte and about 20 slaves at any one time. It is important to realise that any business that has 20 or 30 staff members, then or now, is a pretty big business.

I hope that I have been able to show that slaves were a part, an essential part, of AN ORGANISATION. These slaves were more than mere farm labour. Some of them must have had special skills and responsibilities so that they could, for example, drive a wagon, lead the team of people that attended the wagon, deliver goods and collect payment for goods delivered.

Above all, I hope that this view of the context in which Matthias’ slaves operated has been useful in allowing us to better understand the role of Cape slaves generally. I have a great deal of work ahead of me in the quest to learn more about my ancestors and the details of their lives, but I have very much enjoyed showing you what I have discovered so far.

Thank you.


Matthias’ slaves are also ‘hidden slaves’ because they never appear in one document, all at one go. The only way to get a picture of them is by extracting information from many separate sources and then to create a master list of slaves by amalgamating the bits thus collected. The same process applies to knegte, and it is when the knegte and slaves are viewed together that one really gets an idea of the scope of Matthias’ organisational structure.

My first insight into the scope of Matthias’ business activities came from the inventory of his deceased estate. Here is a diagram that was constructed from the inventory.


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