It is hardly known in India that there was a considerable importation of slaves from Asia to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company and its employees. Some of the slave trade was from India.

This aspect of history is little known even in South Africa.

The slaves from Asia were the ancestors of the Cape Malay community, an important group among the "Coloured" people. It is mostly Muslim. The Cape Malays are noted as artisans.

Information on the extent of the slavery from India is scant, and further research needs to be done.

In 1677, 93 "Tuticorin" slaves were sent to the Cape from Southern India.[1]

The Cape slave population was 36,169 in 1834.[2]

Of the 1,075 slaves manumitted between 1715 and 1791, 9.5 percent were from Bengal and 3.5 percent were from the coasts of India (Coromandel, Malabar).[3]

From the names of adult free blacks in the Cape, it would appear that those from the Indian sub-continent constituted about 31.7 percent in 1705, 21.5 percent in 1735 and 20.0 percent in 1770.[4]

The ethnic composition of the 240 adult free blacks in 1770 (as reflected in their names) was as follows:

Ceylon                        3.3 percent

Bengal                       13.3    "

Indian coasts and other

Indian                      6.7    "

Macassarese Buginese         10.4    "

Other Indonesia              12.1    "

(The rest were from Madagascar and Africa).[5]

The sample is small and more research will need to be done. But if the sample is representative - and since Cape Malays are descendants of slaves of Asian origin (not African), almost half were from the Indian sub-continent - mainly Bengal and southern coast where the Dutch were operating - and one-fourth from Bengal.

Dr. Abdulla Abdurrahman, the most prominent Coloured leader for the first thirty years of this century, was the grandson of a freed slave.  He had Indian ancestry.

In addition, there have been many Indians among the Cape Coloured, as a number of Indians who moved to the Cape registered as Coloured.

H. O. Ally, chairman of  African People`s Organiza­tion in the Cape around 1903, was an Indian. He moved to Transvaal and was an Indian leader.

Barney Desai, an Indian from Johannesburg, moved to the Cape around 1960 and became President of the Co­loured People`s Congress, allied with the ANC. He later joined the PAC.

In short: (1) Indians in South Africa are not set­tlers from 1860, but have been there much longer, almost as long as the whites.  (2) Descendants of Indi­ans contributed to the freedom movement not only in the Indian community but also in the Coloured community.

All the above needs further research.


Richard Elphick and Robert Shell, "Intergroup Relations: Khoikhoi, settlers, slaves and free blacks, 1652-1795" in Richard Elphick and Hermann Giliomee, The Shaping of South African Society, 1652-1840. Middletown, Connecti­cut: Wesleyan University Press, 1989.

In the Cape: "Three of the first interracial marriages (1656, 1658 and 1659) were between white men and Bengali women. Bengalies continued to be the favourite pure-blood marriage partners in the seventeenth century, but Cape-born women, many of whom were likely of mixed ancestry, rapidly overtook their Asian counterparts. On the basis of Hoge`s Personalia, Heese has found 191 Germans who, between 1660 and 1705, married or lived with women who were not pure-blood Europeans; of the 191 women, 114 were Cape-born, 29 were Bengalis, 43 were from other Asian regions, and only 5 were Madagascans or Africans." (page 197)

Of the 1075 manumitted slaves in the period 1715-1791, 9.5 percent were from Bengal, 3,5 percent were from Coromandel and Malabar coasts of India and 2.6 percent from Ceylon. (51 percent were Cape-born, so that origins are given only for the 49 percent).  (p.207)

The percentage of slaves manumitted was very low in the Cape - only 0.165 percent of the slave force per year between 1715 and 1791. (page 206). The rate of manumission was higher for Indian and Indonesian slaves than for others. Many of owners who manumitted the slaves were free blacks. (p. 208).

Table of origin of owners manumitting slaves: Of the 611 owners who manumitted slaves in the period 1715-1791, 72. 2 percent were Europeans; 8.5 percent were from Indian sub-continent. (page 209)

End Notes

[1] James C. Armstrong and Nigel A. Worden, "The slaves, 1652-1834" in Richard Elphick and Hermann Giliomee, The Shaping of South African Society, 1652-1840. Middletown, Connecticut, USA: Wesleyan University Press, 1988, page 116.

[2] Ibid. p. 109

[3] Richard Elphick and Robert Shell, "Intergroup rela­tions: Khoikhoi, settlers and free blacks, 16552-1795" in ibid., page 207

[4] Ibid. p. 220.

[5] Ibid. p. 220.