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.
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