File picture: Andrew Ingram/ANA Archives

On August 30, 1729, a fit and productive male slave named Jephta of Batavia, 30, succumbed to his turbulent emotions and stabbed his unfaithful lover Maria of Ceylon in the kitchen of their affluent master’s residence in what is now St George’s Street.

In those days, male slaves predominated and competition for female partners was intense, leading to frustration, jealousy and violence – passions which most owners chose to ignore.

Johannes Heufke (1669-1739) was born in Hamburg and one of three brothers who came to the Cape in the late 1600s. He married his first wife Alida Botma in January 1699 and prospered. In 1709, he acquired the farm Welgelegen at Mowbray (known today as the site of Mostert’s Mill). He later obtained the farm Kloovenburg at Riebeeck Kasteel, where he kept a foreman and a complement of slaves.

Jephta was a relatively new and possibly disruptive arrival in Heufke’s household, having been purchased from Servaas Jacobsz for 120 rixdollars four months previously.

He freely confessed his crime without coercion, declaring that he didn’t care if he were broken on the wheel (tortured to death).

According to evidence presented to the VOC’s Council of Justice, he was unhappy because Heufke had ordered him to join the workforce on Welgelegen. He returned to town the same day, headed for Heufke’s house and drowned his sorrows in his master’s wine store.

Having called Maria and upbraided her for being unfaithful, he followed her into the house and held her captive. When she escaped, he stabbed her twice in the chest with his own sharpened knife, causing her to fall. She got up, however, and fled to safety in the street.

Maria survived, so Jephta escaped the death penalty. He was sentenced to a lesser (but highly symbolic) punishment on October 13. 

The executioner was ordered to expose him to ridicule with a rope round his neck under the public gallows and then tie him to a stake with the knife he had used to stab Maria above his head.

Next, he was to be severely scourged on his naked back and branded, followed by 10 years’ labour without pay in chains on the public works. He was also required to pay the fees and expenses of justice. However, as slaves had no money, those costs devolved upon their owners.

Heufke, a wealthy burgher, Company official and farmer who owned a lucrative liquor monopoly, refused to pay the bill and instead gave Jephta to the VOC. The Company was always in need of robust, healthy slaves to dig, quarry, build and portage, and the offer was accepted.

Slave competition for sexual partners was further complicated by the prior claims of owners and their families (including Heufke), as we shall see next week.

* Jackie Loos' "The Way We Were" column is published in the Cape Argus every week.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus