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Dutch king and queen confronted by protesters

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima meet protesters at the Iziko Slave Lodge before formal programme. Picture: Shakirah Thebus/Cape Argus

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima meet protesters at the Iziko Slave Lodge before formal programme. Picture: Shakirah Thebus/Cape Argus

Published Oct 23, 2023


Cape Town - Despite an initial amicable welcome by a handful of protesting descendants of aboriginal people outside the Iziko Slave Lodge, the King and Queen of Netherlands were hurriedly escorted out of the venue as more than 100 protesters gathered over the devastating role of the Dutch in South Africa’s colonial past and its continued impact on indigenous communities.

The protesters were upset over why the monarchs did not pencil-in a meeting with first nations people during their three-day state visit.

The official state visit by Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima at the invitation of President Cyril Ramaphosa was a first by the monarchs.

Before arriving in Cape Town, they met with Ramaphosa for official talks at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Thursday.

The state visit took place from October 18-20 and marked a second visit by a Dutch monarch since former Queen Beatrix visited at the invitation of president Nelson Mandela in 1996.

“We have come to South Africa to listen and to exchange ideas on your concerns and on everything we share. We will do so with an open mind and honest intent.

“We share a history which for over a century and a half was marked by colonialism, abuse of power and slavery. Its traces are still visible and tangible in many places,” King Willem-Alexander said during opening remarks to Ramaphosa.

The visit to the Iziko Slave Lodge was to reflect on this past, he added.

Built in 1679, the Slave Lodge is the oldest surviving slave building in South Africa and was used as a slave lodge until 1811. Today, it serves as a museum managed by Iziko Museums of South Africa.

It was within those walls wherein the Dutch East India Company (VOC) slaves were confined. These slaves laboured on public works and Company outposts. They worked for the VOC and were never sold, according to a museum exhibition.

The VOC and Dutch West India Company (WIC) played a massive role in the colonial slave trade. Hundreds of thousands of people were trafficked by the VOC and its employees between 1620 and 1795. In total, the Netherlands enslaved and sold more than a million people.

After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, there were two slave rebellions at the Cape in 1808 and 1825.

Slaves living in the Cape were emancipated on December 1, 1834 but they were not freed and until 1838, they were apprenticed to their former owners without pay.

The programme at the museum was titled: “Slavery at the Cape – Reflections on the Dutch Colonial History in South Africa”, and included “Slavery: Ten True Stories of Dutch Colonial Slavery” and Tamaaf, an immersive theatre production by Sylvia Vollenhoven and Basil Appollis with performances by Garage Dance Ensemble, Garth Erasmus, Joylin Phillips and Dianna Ferrus.

Currently showing at the museum is the exhibition, “Who were the Enslaved? Commemorating lives under enslavement at the Cape of Good Hope.”

It is estimated that between 7 000 and 9 000 enslaved were kept in the Slave Lodge over a period of 132 years.

While they were leaving, the protesters hurled abuse at the monarch as they scurried to get to their vehicles.

“We’re speaking of 371 years of cultural genocide. The extent of that you cannot equate, you cannot put a value to it. The fact that that monarch has come to this country and shown total disrespect as a dispossessor. Not even giving acknowledgement to the first nation people,” Chief Tania Kleinhans-Cedras said outside the museum.

There had been upset around the initial group of protesters who had gathered and met with the monarchs as well as allowed into the venue as the person was not mandated to speak on the group's behalf.

Castle of Good Hope CEO Calvyn Gilfellan said: “When the king made an announcement or an apology for enslavement on July 1 in the Netherlands, we were a bit disappointed because the enslaved people of the Cape and the indigenous people of the Cape were not included in that apology.”

Gilfellan said that when the monarch’s entourage heard of the protest, it was arranged that they would then first briefly speak to the protesters.

He said what was needed was a genuine apology, with some calling for a development fund to be established.

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