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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 June 2015

Stellenbosch University
Lund University


Because information about the livelihoods of indigenous groups in Africa is often missing from colonial records, the presence of such people usually escapes attention in quantitative estimates of colonial economic activity. This is nowhere more apparent than in the eighteenth-century Dutch Cape Colony, where the role of the Khoesan in Cape production, despite being frequently acknowledged, has been almost completely ignored in quantitative investigations. Combining household-level settler data with anecdotal accounts of Khoesan labour, this article presents new estimates of the Khoesan population of the Cape Colony. Our results show that the Khoesan did not leave the area as a consequence of settler expansion. On the contrary, the number of Khoesan employed by the settlers increased over time, as the growth of settler farming followed a pattern of primitive accumulation and drove the Khoesan to abandon their pastoral lifestyle to become farm labourers. We show that, in failing to include the Khoesan population, previous estimates have overestimated slave productivity, social inequality, and the level of gross domestic product in the Cape Colony.

New Economic Histories
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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We thank Anton Ehlers, Di Kilpert, Robert Ross, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Dieter von Fintel, Nigel Worden, seminar participants at Stellenbosch University and Lund University, the staff of the Cape Town Archives Repository, and four anonymous referees of this journal for helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this article. We are grateful to Economic Research Southern Africa (ERSA) for financial support and for publishing an earlier version of this article as Working Paper No. 425, and for a research grant from the Southern African-Nordic Centre (SANORD). Authors' email:;


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47 Worden, Slavery in Dutch South Africa, 66–7. One mud is approximately 1 hectolitre.

48 Ibid. 67.

49 Ibid. 65.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid. 68.

52 Ibid. 67.

53 Ibid. 65–7.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid. 67. One leaguer is approximately 582 litres.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid. 83.

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66 The sources for slave incomes are discussed in Fourie and von Fintel, ‘A history with evidence’.

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71 To keep our estimates as close as possible to those of the original, we add only the new Khoesan population estimates to the denominator (population size) and keep the numerator (output) constant.

72 Fourie, ‘The remarkable wealth’.