On this day in 1834…

On 1 December 1834, the ‘wicked’ British Empire outlawed slavery in the Cape Colony. The trading in slaves had been banned throughout the Empire in 1807 (the Slave Trade Act 1807, officially ‘An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade’), and pressure was applied to European nations to follow suit. Moves to abolish the continued owning of slaves in the Colonies started with the Slavery Abolition Bill of 1833. This was passed by the House of Commons and by the House of Lords, coming into effect on 1 August 1834: on that date, slavery was abolished across most of the British Empire. The implementation was delayed in some territories, including the Cape Colony, where it came into effect four months later, on 1 December.

The Act apprenticed slaves to their masters for a period of four years, the idea being that this would assist them to learn trades and also to provide a transition period for the erstwhile owners, thus softening the blow. Financial compensation was also granted to slave owners, which they could collect personally in Britain, or attain by the use of an agent.

They say no good deed ever goes unpunished, and the impact of the ending of slavery reverberated for many decades to come. There are plenty of theories about what the ‘real cause’ of the Boer War was, but the banning of slavery in the Cape a couple of generations earlier could reasonably be argued as the starting point. The biggest catalyst behind the Great Trek, which kicked off in 1835, was the anger felt by those who considered it their God-given Right to own slaves, which prompted their sudden desire to escape from airy-fairy British notions of equality, justice and fairness. The Voortrekkers thus set a series of events in motion which, ultimately, led to Kruger attacking the British Empire in 1899, and all because of their disgust at the ending of slavery: it is remarkable that these hard-liners are lionised by some South Africans even today.

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