THEY lit bonfires to celebrate their freedom and the end of nearly 200 years of slavery.
And last night, 180 years later, their freedom was commemorated.
The nearly 40 000 slaves who worked day and night to build this city by hand were honoured during a commemorative walk through the city.
Ushering in Emancipation Day, today, around 300 people from different communities in Cape Town embarked on a night walk through the city, starting at the Strand Street Quarry and ending at the Castle of Good Hope.
On December 1, 1834, 38 427 slaves at the Cape of Good Hope brought to the Cape from countries including Angola, Mozambique and Madagascar were emancipated.
“We are all of slave decent. You, me, my neighbour. Once upon a time, we were slaves,” Rahmah Mclean, 49 from Lavender Hill said.
Mclean, of Malaysian and Indonesian decent, vowed to always remind her children about the past.
“My children will know where they come from. They will know the struggles their family faced so that we can enjoy the freedom we do today,” she said.
Chischene Julius, archives manager at the District Six Museum and one of the organisers of the walk, said slaves were considered to be “tools” to their white owners.
“They had undergone tremendous physical and mental abuse.
“Men were forced to work long hours without any rest and women were raped and assaulted all the time,” Julius said.
Slavery was abolished by the Slavery Abolition Act, which became law in 1834.
On December 1 of that year, the slaves burned bonfires which lit up Table Mountain and Signal Hill, announcing the end of slavery in the Cape.
But their joy was soon dampened. Even though slaves were declared free on paper, they had to continue working for their masters as apprentices for another four years.