Dutch in South Africa

Dutch in South Africa
Dutch in South Africa

The year 1652 marks the beginning of the Cape Colony, which started with the founding of Cape Town by Dutch commander Jan van Riebeeck, who worked for the Dutch East India Company, known in Dutch as the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC). The colony was situated halfway between the so-called Dutch East Indies and the Dutch West Indies.

The early 16th century saw the start of many European nations, such as Spain and Portugal, pursuing the sea route rather than the land route to India and establishing a colonial global empire outside continental Europe. From the late 16th century, the Netherlands was a preeminent naval power. The Dutch founded the VOC trading company as early as 1602.

They reigned supreme at sea, and dominated global commerce by the second half of the 17th century. This epoch coincides with the cultural flowering known as the Dutch golden age with such figures as the philosopher Baruch de Spinoza, the mathematician and physicist Christiaan Huygens, and the painter Johannes Vermeer.


In 1647, while exploring a route to India, a ship named Nieuwe Haerlem ran aground in Table Bay. The survivors, including possibly the captain, Leendert Janszen, with some crew remained onshore for about a year to look after the shipment.

Only 12 months later, a Dutch ship returned Janszen and his crew to Europe. Upon disembarking in Holland, Janszen wrote a feasibility report called Remonstrantie to the Council of Seventeen of the Dutch East India Company, in which he recommends the founding of a station where ships can resupply before sailing onto India.

Jan Anthoniszoon van Riebeeck was later appointed by the VOC to establish the station and eventually founded Cape Town in 1652, which soon opened South Africa to white settlement. The town’s purpose was “to provide fresh water, fruit, vegetables, and meat for passing ships en route to India as well as build a hospital for ill sailors.”

The development of Cape Town was slow at first, owing to crop failures and organizational chaos. Van Riebeeck advocated the introduction of more workers to save the colony and encouraged importation of slaves. Though the VOC did not send slaves for five years, captains on passing ships gave Van Riebeeck some in the meantime.

In 1654, the first Cape-based slave expedition was sent to Madagascar and Mozambique and three years later the first group of slaves was brought to the Cape from Angola and West Africa to meet the needs of the construction of a solid station.

Starting in 1655, Van Riebeeck’s exploration outside Cape Town eventually led to a war between the small colony and the local Khoikhoi (named Hottentots by the whites). The Khoikhoi were a pastoral people, inhabiting the coast of the Cape of Good Hope until the arrival of European colonizers. When Van Riebeeck left the Cape in 1662, the settlement had more than 100 colonists.

The Netherlands lost many of its colonial possessions to the British when the motherland surrendered to French conquest led by Napoleon, and more territory annexation to the French from 1795 to 1814. Subsequently Great Britain seized the colony in 1797 during the Fifth Anglo-Dutch War, and annexed it in 1805.

The Dutch colonists who remained after the British took over are now known as Afrikaners. Their language, Afrikaans, is derived from a creolized variety of a colonial dialect of Cape Dutch, influenced by both indigenous Khoikhoi peoples who speak the Khoisan language and the imported slave population.