Miscegenation in South Africa
Cahiers d’études africaines
Volume 1, Number 4 (1960)
Pierre L. Van Den Berghe
University of Natal
A number of related factors make the Union of South Africa an ideal object of investigation in the field of miscegenation. The exceptionally virulent brand of racism that has developed in South Africa since the beginning of the 2oth century was accompanied by an increasingly morbid fear of miscegenation unparalleled in intensity anywhere else in the world. As consequence of this miscegenophobia South Africa went further than any other country in recent times in prohibiting by law all sexual relations whether marital or non-marital between whites and non-whites. Finally the South African government in its concern over bastardization provides the social scientist with the best data on inter-racial marriage and concubinage of any country known to the author.
The history of miscegenation in South Africa is as old as the first permanent Dutch settlement at the Cape in 1652. In the first few decades, some instances of marriage between Dutchmen and christianized Hottentot women took place as well as extensive non-marital relations between masters and female slaves. In the 1670’s, an estimated 3/4 of all children of female slaves had white fathers. With the rise of colour prejudice in the latter decades of the 17th century, legal unions of whites and non-whites became rare. A 1685 law prohibited marriage between white men and slave women; some legal unions of white men with free women of colour continued to take place, but with decreasing frequency. Miscegenation however, continued to flourish in the form common to most slave societies namely institutionalized concubinage between white men and non-white women.
The salient fact in the early history of miscegenation in South Africa is that while intermarriage became rapidly condemned, extra marital relations between white men and women of colour were not only tolerated, but even looked upon with amusement The slave lodge of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape was wide-open brothel of which Mentzel gives an interesting account:
“Female slaves are always ready to offer their bodies for trifle; and towards evening one can see string of soldiers and sailors entering the lodge where they misspend their time until the clock strikes 9… The Company does nothing to prevent this promiscuous intercourse since, for one thing it tends to multiply the slave population and does away with the necessity of importing fresh slaves. Three or four generations of this admixture for the daughters follow their footsteps have produced a half-caste population—a mestizo class—but a slight shade darker than some Europeans.”
Among the European bourgeoisie, interracial concubinage was also common:
“Boys who, through, force of circumstances have to remain at home during these impressionable years between 16 and 21 more often than not commit some folly, and get entangled with handsome slave-girl belonging to the household. These affairs are not regarded as very serious… the offence is venial in the public estimation. It does not hurt the prospects; his escapade is source of amusement, and he is dubbed young fellow who has shown the stuff he is made of.”
British visitor to the Cape in the beginning of the 19th century tells that slave girls were routinely assigned to the bedroom of white guests to enliven the latters’ nights. Slave girls were “loaned out” to Europeans by their masters:
“Female slaves sometimes live with Europeans as husband and wife with the permission of their masters who benefit in two ways: the cost of upkeep of the slave is reduced through the presents she receives from the man, and her children are the property of her master since children of female slaves are themselves slaves… In this manner the slave population is always increasing.”
Similarly, the whites interbred extensively with the nominally free Hottentots. Vaillant estimates the number of Bastards (for such was the contemporary designation of white-Hottentot half-breeds) in 1780’s as 1/6 of the inhabitants of the whole Cape Colony. In the first half of the 19th century, entire communities of Bastards settled along the Orange River where they established autonomous “states”. The offspring of these white-slave and white-Hottentot unions, as well as interbreeding between slaves and Hottentots gave rise to the people known today as the “Cape Coloureds”.
In this early period then, miscegenation was not only common but sanctioned so long as it took the form of concubinage between higher-status men and lower-status women. There was no trace of feeling of horror against miscegenation per se. The main concern of the dominant white group was the preservation of its superior status, and the latter was left unthreatened by master-slave concubinage. Intermarriage on the other hand, entailed measure of social equality and was consequently opposed…
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