Cape Town

South Africa

Since the Cape of Good Hope was the point at which the VOC ships passed one another on their outward and homeward journeys, in 1652 a staging and provisioning post was set up there by Jan van Riebeeck. After some years the town began expanding rapidly since ships sailing under different flags also began using the VOC facilities. Farms sprang up around the settlement to support this expansion. Besides VOC employees and large numbers of Asian and African slaves, the population consisted of free entrepreneurs and craftsmen who carried on a flourishing trade with the numerous seafarers. The refreshment station at Table Bay was never intended as a profit-making venture for the VOC. The Cape could only become self-supporting with the aid of a large population of white farmers. Until the late 17th century the European population was confined to the area between Cape Town and the first mountain ranges of the south-western Cape, an area of roughly 70 by 100 kilometres. But after 1720 they began to spread out across the interior. Between 1720 and the end of the 18th century the colony grew to roughly ten times its former size, while the white population increased from 2,000 to 15,000. Cape Town was established by the VOC as a provisioning and staging post. Its purpose was to supply the Company's ships with fresh produce. There was also a hospital. To minimise costs the VOC kept the settlement as small as possible. Farms around the settlement supplied the VOC with meat, dairy and agricultural produce, including wine, at fixed prices. During the 17th century some of the livestock was acquired through barter with the Hottentots (the Khoi-khoi and San tribes). Later, the white colonists took up livestock farming too. As the European population expanded, they drove the Khoi-khoi and San tribes from their lands. These tribes lived by hunting and cattle farming. From around 1775 the eastern colonists clashed with the Xhosa as both sought to lay claim to fertile summer pastures. The Commander in Cape Town was based at the Castle of Good Hope from where he represented the interests of the entire colonised area of southern Africa as well as the island of Mauritius while a settlement existed there between 1638 and 1710. In the 18th century Cape Town was raised to the status of a governor's province until it was captured by the British in 1795.