The Dop System and Slavery in Cape Vineyards

The South African wine industry is built on a disturbing history of slavery, inequality, and discrimination. The industry dates back to 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck, commander of the Dutch East India Company, first settled in the Cape province and introduced vine cultivation to the region.[1]

At the time, the land was sparsely occupied by the native Khoisan who were involved in pastoralism, hunting, and gathering. The introduction of viticulture set the province on a different trajectory, especially after its wines became famous and their demand rose. Over time, labor shortages led to the introduction of slaves from different regions to aid in the process of winemaking. Relationships between farmers and slaves led to the rise of the dop system, which became institutionalized in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries and whose impacts are still felt today.[2]

The dop or ‘tot’ system was a practice whereby farmers gave slaves and workers wine as part of their payment. It’s a system that emerged after the Dutch East India Company established a slave society at the Cape of Good Hope. Van Riebeeck wrote to the company’s authorities in the Dutch East Indies to bring slaves to carry out manual and hard work and to replace the Dutch.

The Dop System

Winery workers treading red wine

Consequently, in 1657, he released nine company servants and granted them ownership of as much land as they could cultivate. However, there were no workers to aid in the farming of the lands. The following year, the first slaves arrived from Angola and were put in charge of tending to the vineyards.

Vineyards in the Cape colony expanded following the creation of new settlements in the modern-day Stellenbosch District from 1679 to 1699.[3]

This expansion further raised the demand for slaves. Insufficient slave imports led farmers to devise methods to keep their slaves and Khoi workers working. The Khoi were free of enslavement due to their economic practice of rearing livestock. The Dutch East Indies Company barred their enslavement as the exchange of cattle was advantageous to them. While the Khoi also provided labor in vineyards, they were autonomous and could leave at any time at their own convenience.

Therefore, their labor was unpredictable, proving troublesome for vineyard owners. Besides, slaves would also escape, further depriving farmers of critical labor. These outcomes forced slave owners and farmers to devise methods to keep slaves and workers.

Some methods employed in keeping slaves and workers included retaining slaves’ and workers’ wages, holding the Khoi’s children hostage to lure them back, and seizing their livestock; fugitive slaves could also be severely lashed as a way to deter future escapes.[4]

The employer-worker relationship soon became paternalistic, institutionalizing slavery. By the end of the 18th century, the slavery institution had grown to the point of forming the core part of the colony’s economy. Alcohol consumption had risen among workers, and farmers offered wine to slaves during the morning, with breakfast at midday with lunch, and in the evening. The practice was well established by the start of the 19th century. It was later referred to as ‘tot’ or dop system.

Social control

The dop system was well established by the start of the 19th century. It had become usual for farmers to provide cheap wine to workers and slaves as payment for their labor.[5] However, as drunkenness and degeneration increased, new legislation was enacted to regulate alcohol consumption.

The relationship between employers and workers significantly changed after the British empire abolished slavery in 1834. Former slaves left their sites and went in droves into Cape Town, seeking an easier life. Abolition of slavery led to labor shortage as former slaves and workers sought to lead different lives.

As former slaves and farm workers flooded Cape Town, drunkenness and idleness increased. Farmers petitioned the government to enact new laws forcing the idle and vagabonds to seek work. The century saw a series of laws regarding alcohol consumption and labor rates.

These were intended to control labor on farms and other working areas. Payments were offered in 2s, including wages and wine. Workers were also offered wine up to six times a working day. The issue of alcoholism attracted new legislation and it also became a tool for social control. Meager wages and addiction kept workers in a system of debt to their employers. As a result, workers could not take matters of their lives into their own hands.

Stereotyping

The immediate withdrawal of the dop system without alternative rehabilitation measures plunged workers into a cycle of debt as they spent their meager wages on purchasing wine and beer. Addiction and involvement in violence by workers led to the development of stereotypes.[6] In the Western Cape, the “coloreds” were considered inherently alcoholic. Western Cape’s rural centers had higher rates of alcoholics than urban centers. The dop system became part of the cultural dimension. Besides, it contributed to the liquor legislation in the 20th century regarding farm workers and wine consumption. Even after the dop system was banned, stereotyping hindered efforts to eradicate it from the South African population.

Health Services Struggle with the Dop System Impacts

The heavy effects of alcoholism, especially in the Western Cape, South Africa, reflect the dop system’s effects. Despite adopting reforms to end the dop system, its institutionalization has made it difficult for both workers and employers to completely abandon it.[7]

Of note is that very few farms still give workers wine in lieu of wages. The practice’s impact is also felt in other sections of the agricultural industry, having become a problem for the whole of the health sector. While the dop system was outlawed in the 20th century, alcoholism remained a significant challenge for the local health system.[8]

These challenges continued, leading to the continued struggle of the health services industry in managing them. The dop system’s effects included high rates of Fetal Alcoholic Syndrome, child and adult malnutrition, and tuberculosis.[9] These cases were particularly prevalent in Western Cape, the largest wine-producing region in South Africa.

Read also: Angola: The Wine Industry during Colonial Period

Health services continue to struggle with the health and social effects of alcoholism, such as increased gender-based violence, child abuse, and family disruptions even today. Nevertheless, several non-governmental organizations have been founded, especially in Western Cape, to help residents fight the problem. A challenge is the developed complexity of the dop system’s impacts. Alcohol was, for a long time, the go-to resort for recreational purposes.

This Day in Wine History

6 April 1652 – On this day, Jan Van Riebeeck landed in Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope. Van Riebeeck, at the time commanding the Dutch East Indies Company, introduced viticulture to the Cape. He developed the first settlements in the Cape province where sailors travelling to Dutch East Indies could dock and stock up on their provisions before continuing on their journey. Van Riebeeck founded the slave society responsible for manual work, including tending to vineyards. He later became the colony’s governor and under his reign, slavery burgeoned, leading to the expansion of vineyards. His dealings formed the root of the dop system as later, slaves were given wine as part of their payments, a practice that continued even after slavery was abolished in 1843.

28 March 1658 – On this day, the first slaves were brought to the Cape of Good Hope from Angola. The Cape region’s development is rooted in slave labor provided by captured slaves from different territories. After van Riebeeck established the first settlements in the Cape, he wrote to the Dutch East Indies Company’s officials to send slaves “to do the dirtiest and heaviest work instead of the Netherlanders.”[10] The practice ventured into all agricultural sectors over time. Since viticulture was the major source of income for the company and its officials, most slaves worked in vineyards. Slaves were brought from other parts of Africa and the Dutch East Indies. Slavery continued to be practiced until it was finally abolished by the British in 1834.

1 November 1809 – On this day, the Caledon Proclamation was decreed by the Cape colony Governor.[11] The proclamation restricted the movement of the Khoi by forcing them to have a fixed place of abode. The Khoi were livestock keepers and would often unpredictably move from one place to another. This proved a challenge for Afrikaner farmers who depended on their labor on their farms. The Khoi were forced to take on a fixed place of abode and had to obtain a pass from local officials or their master to move to another place. The proclamation provided that masters had to, in turn, offer specific services such as lodging to their Khoi servants. Therefore, the proclamation led to increased Khoi workers and stability on the farms where they worked.

Want to read more books? Try this book

Enslaved- The Sunken History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade Slavery in South Africa- Captive Labor on the Dutch Frontier

References

[1] Gavin Williams, “Slaves, Workers, and Wine: The ‘Dop System’ in the History of the Cape Wine Industry, 1658–1894,” Journal of Southern African Studies 42, no. 5 (September 2, 2016): 893–909, https://doi.org/10.1080/03057070.2016.1234120.

[2] Philip A. May et al., “‘The Dop System of Alcohol Distribution Is Dead, but It’s Legacy Lives On….,’” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16, no. 19 (January 1, 2019): 3701, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16193701.

[3] Williams, Slaves, Workers, and Wine: The ‘Dop System’ in the History of the Cape Wine Industry, p. 895

[4] Williams, Slaves, Workers, and Wine: The ‘Dop System’ in the History of the Cape Wine Industry, p. 896

[5] Leslie London, “The `Dop’ System, Alcohol Abuse and Social Control amongst Farm Workers in South Africa: A Public Health Challenge,” Social Science & Medicine 48, no. 10 (May 1999): 1407–14, https://doi.org/10.1016/s0277-9536(98)00445-6.

[6] London, The `Dop’ System, Alcohol Abuse and Social Control amongst Farm Workers in South Africa: A Public Health Challenge p.1411

[7] London, “The `Dop’ System, Alcohol Abuse and Social Control amongst Farm Workers in South Africa: A Public Health Challenge,” p.1409

[8] Philip A. May et al., “‘The Dop System of Alcohol Distribution Is Dead, but It’s Legacy Lives On….,’” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16, no. 19 (January 1, 2019): 3701, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16193701.

[9] Alexandra Larkin, “Ramifications of South Africa’s Dop System by Alexandra Larkin | South African History Online,” www.sahistory.org.za, July 12, 2015, https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/ramifications-south-africas-dop-system-alexandra-larkin#:~:text=Today%2C%20the%20dop%20system%20is.

[10] Williams, Slaves, Workers, and Wine: The ‘Dop System’ in the History of the Cape Wine Industry, p. 895

[11] Marianne W. Chow, “Discriminatory Equality v. Nondiscriminatory Inequality: The Legitimacy of South Africa’s Affirmative Action Policies under International Law,” Connecticut Journal of International Law 24 (2008): 291, https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/conjil24&div=14&id=&page=.

Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesTags: , , By Published On: March 3, 2023Last Updated: February 29, 2024

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