Slavery is abolished at the Cape

Monday, 1 December 1834

On 1 December 1834, slavery came to an end in the Cape Colony. The move to abolish slavery in the Colony came a year after the Slavery Abolition Bill of 1833 was passed by the British House of Commons and by the House of Lords. Although the Bill was passed in August 1833 it came into effect on 1 August 1834. On that date slavery was abolished throughout the vast British Empire, with a few exceptions. One was the Cape Colony, where it was delayed for four months until 1 December. The Act apprenticed slaves to their masters for a period of four years. This enabled them to learn trades and afforded a transition period for the owners. A certain amount was granted as compensation to the owners, which they had to collect personally in Britain and was in some cases barely enough to pay for their expenses.

The abolition of slavery and the way in which it was enacted was one of the contributing factors leading to the Great Trek (starting in 1835) from the Cape Colony. Piet Retief, in his famous manifesto to the Grahamstown Journal, wrote: “We complain of the severe losses, which we have been forced to sustain by the emancipation of our slaves, and the vexatious laws, which have been enacted respecting them”. Though the abolition of slavery has been historically treated as the main cause of the Great Trek, there were other equally compelling reasons for the settlers to leave the Cape Colony.

Further reading list:

• Potgieter, D.J. et al. (eds) (1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa. Cape Town: NASOU. v. 9, p. 659-660.
• South African History Online (2011). ‘Early Trading Systems' in Classroom: Grade 7 [online]. Available at [Accessed 25 November 2011]

Last updated : 28-Nov-2017

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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