Transcending History: Cape slavery and tourism

  • Posted on June 21, 2010

The story of my life ‘really’ began at the 10th episode, 9 episodes were blurred; mostly unspoken. The real Lucy, I later discovered, did not know, never learned, was never taught or told so could not be proud of her identity or culture. I was never told that Afrikaans was an African language, that I have African predecessors, that my hair was kinky because I have African grandmothers and grandfathers or why it is that I do not speak Xhosa. My mother never acknowledged her Khoi and San ancestry, she rejected ‘black’ people, I was never black .  Surely this meant there were many more people separated from their histories. The Cape Town telephone directory would give you some indication as to the huge extent of mixed descendents living in Cape Town. The names are endless: Abrahams, Adams, Cloete, Tys, Uys, Van Sitters, Davids, Manuel, Fredricks, Diedricks, Van De Merwe, Van De Spuy, Van Delen, Marias, Phillips, Williams, Solomons, Patricks, Cupido, Papier, Oosthuyzen, Ajam, Aaron, Mathys, Louw, etc. Only a fraction of people are aware of these historical bonds and events which are mostly located either in academia. The average man is unaware of their biological (DNA) and historical links to slavery.

Researching the history of slavery revealed a side of me such that I would sometimes mirror the sentiments and emotions of the stories I uncovered.  I read and relived many times, the results being painful.  Challenging personal issues for me became clearer as I read the stories of my forefathers and foremothers.

Little did I know then that I would be embarking on a journey so profound that it would take me to Robben Island in search of Madagascan slave, Masavana’s grave who in 1766 led a successful rebellion on a Dutch slave ship called the ‘Meermin’ (Mermaid) near our southern coast. Masavana was never charged, was abandoned and died on the island. I did not find his grave. Many there are unmarked, unknown to the Cape’s and South African history.

The challenges in our communities are a regular topic of newspaper and television reports and continue to provide absorbing conversation around issues such as racism, unemployment, drug abuse, crime, illiteracy, and job creation. The absence of knowing who I am and where I come from is enacted in my every day life; on the trains, taxis,  cinemas, I frequently feel a tenseness, an intolerable feeling and questioning of, ‘who are you? who do you think you are?’ These current issues should be aligned and their thread with our historic past and heritage (e.g. racism, domestic violence, alcohol foetal syndrome and its relation to the dop system on farms, farm evictions) should be more widely known. Museums would be the prime institutions to help create such awareness. Active public discussion and participation around these issues should be driven by community representatives, government, and non-government, private and concerned citizens of Cape Town. 

The effects and affects of Apartheid on the people of South Africa should be reflected across all racial borders. That the so-called oppressor (white Afrikaner) and everyone who benefitted from it (i.e. other Caucasian people), were forced to support a system which they did not necessarily agree with or believe in. Even the stories of those who believed in the institution of apartheid should also be told to get a better understanding of our collective past. This point of view will contribute to healing and thus reconciliation.

Cultural tourism plays a fundamental role in fostering social cohesion, nation building and reconciliation. Through cultural tourism we will see how the other parts of our nation live. This cultural tourism should not merely reflect one part of our nation’s people. It should include the sum of our entire communities, i.e. ‘African’, Mixed-race (coloured), Caucasian, Indian, Hindi, etc. I founded Transcending History Tours with the aim of beginning the work just described. Through ethical tourism we will understand our diversity without ignoring the obvious tensions between races in Cape Town and our country and where these tensions come from so that ‘black’ communities (the mixed race group or coloured), which have some of their roots in Khoi and San as well as those enslaved communities brought to the Cape, are given recognition and status.

South Africa and its people’s socio-economic situation is a direct effect of our past. We can only start to understand these issues in their totality once we know the root of the problems. These challenges are my inspiration and drive me to continue to recollect. I am an African.

Transcending History Tours

Transcending History Tours (THT) is an innovative closed corporation which offers a refreshingly new Cultural Heritage tourism experience. It is a member of Cape Tourism, vigorously promoting Cape Town as a prime tourist destination, unique in its historical diversity and culture. Its core function is conducting and hosting walking tours to cultural slave heritage sites within and outside the City of Cape Town. These tours include the enactment of the life of slaves at the Cape during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries with reference to present day Living Heritage sites. My personal interpretive tours offer insight into slavery at the Cape, and engage with topical issues in museums and other sites of memory. They also offer engagement with Human Rights issues.

THT researches history through mapping and recollecting the heritage of slavery at the Cape. THT then transforms the information available in books from the National Archives, Reference Library, Iziko Museums Social History Resources Centre on Church Square, Community Researches into tours, talks, exhibitions and events.

THT engages with youth leaders, community representatives and Iziko Museums’ Education and Public programmes through actively facilitating Cultural Heritage and Identity Workshops. It also collaborates with artists to reinterpret the history of Cape Town to local and international tourists. We also re-narrate the transformed history of slavery at the Cape to filmmakers, and national and international production companies to experiment with ways of reaching a wider and varied audience. 

THT focuses on:

•  Personalised stories of Cape Town’s slave heritage.
•  Hosting local community artists in Museums and visa versa and aspires to strengthen these ties.
•  Customer Service Orientation training to Museums and community development activists to establish their own Museums.
•  THT partners Iziko Museums Education and Public programmes to assist the institution in raising awareness of Slavery at the Cape, making museums more relevant.
•  Maintaining links with the Tourism Industry to bring about a socio -economic shift from the City to the townships and other neglected areas.
• THT conducts ongoing research on the history of Slavery at the Cape and uses this in telling the story to both local and foreign visitors.

Lucy Campbell has more than ten years experience in museums and heritage sites. She holds a postgraduate degree in Museum & Heritage Studies from the University of Cape Town. She is also a registered tour guide and holds a certificate in Cultural Site Guiding from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Graduate Centre for Management. Her tours echo her own journey of self-discovery.

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  • Coffeebeans Routes regularly uses the services of Lucy and THT and can highly recommend her. Her approach, her breadth of perspective, the sense of context that she provides is out of the ordinary. We wish her all the best in growing the business.

    By Iain Harris on 28/06/2010
  • A beautifully written piece.

    By Melissa Britz on 14/07/2010
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    By bagonhand on 28/07/2010
  • Would love to see more of these interwoven stories of identity and place incorporated into our heritage sights ! This beautiful and personal piece of writing celebrates the art and power of storytelling. Lucy is a story teller that is able to extend beyond that of sharing historical facts to that of broadening and opening perspective, inviting personal reflection - linking past to present! Cross-Cultural Solutions South Africa wishes her great success and would highly recommend her services!

    By Luann Hatane on 29/07/2010
  • inviting personal reflection - linking past to present! Cross-Cultural Solutions South Africa wishes her great success and would highly recommend

    By abercrombie jacket on 19/09/2010
  • Your views are really great and tourism is great to any country to earn income and explode thir countries in many terms and condition.
    Wine Farm Accommodation

    By Jay Desouza on 21/09/2010
  • I´ll recommend this to all I know that is going to visit Cape Town. Knowing you is knowing that this will be very exciting and interesting! So long, Lucy, till I come back here.

    By Liv Marie Austrem on 18/10/2010
  • You have made an amazing impact on every group I brought on cultural history tours including historians from our university. You were rated very highly in our evaluations. This new adventure seems fun, exciting and informative. Tell our story, Lucy.

    By Leon Rodrigues on 19/10/2010
  • A voice in the distance - is what surfaces for me.  What would it do for a people a nation if they could visit those missing threads of who they are, through their past.  Are we too scarred to join this lonely voice so that I can look at myself authentically and not through others who are not like me.  Let this voice be heard, Lucy - for me.

    By Richard Heslop(I think) on 22/10/2010
  • Thank you for this amazing work. You are a blessing to so many!

    By Maggie Andersen on 11/11/2010
  • I just the PBS documentary on this story.  Thank you for the enlightenment on yet another chapter of the brutal, inhumane, and shameful book of slavery.

    By Edward Lawrence on 11/11/2010
  • Thanks for this fascinating story.  I had flipped channels on the television last night, and was about to turn it off.  “Secrets of the Dead” on PBS (our Public Broadcasting System) has interesting, but depressing programs, and I was about to put a CD into the CD player and skip television altogether, but I kept this on, and it got more and more interesting, as I kept with it.  I did not turn it off.

    I’ve never been to South Africa, but know something about it.  Maurice Dludla was a friend of mine in Chicago in the 1960s.  He said he had “committed the crime of studying accounting”, because he was of a wrong race to study accounting in apartheid South Africa.  He earned a degree of Bachelor of Science in Business, with major in accounting, from Roosevelt University of Chicago in 1967. 

    More on me is that I have an Irish name, and all my ancestors seem to have originated in the Netherlands, Ireland, Great Britain, or Germany.

    Here’s a www site for more on this PBS program which I saw last night on TV here in Austin, Texas.  Thanks to all who worked on it, and to Masavana and others who are an inspiration to this white Texan.

    I searched for:  pbs.org secrets of the dead Madagascar
    A link, to an online video, is here:


    Thanks again.

    John Keohane
    Austin, Texas, United States of America

    By John Keohane on 11/11/2010
  • A few years ago I’d have to pay soonmee for this information.

    By Servena on 04/08/2011
  • I’m from Madagascar and live here in Europe… only 2 hours from Amsterdam. I’ve discovered this story today and I was a little bit astonished. I know now that the slavery was a reality in my country and I would like to suggest you a book called “Les Naufragés de l’île de Tromelin”… It’s about Madagascan slave and the white crew were stranded on the reef of the island of Tromelin. This story happened in 1761.

    By Francis on 23/09/2011
  • We are only as “mixed” as the rest of the population of God’s Earth, because no-one can claim to be of any “pure” race. Even the anthropological terms (e.g. Caucasian or Caucasoid) are collectives of many anthropological sub-groups. In the South African context, however, the terms “mixed” is all-too-readily placed squarely on the head of the “coloured” racial group, because it serves to divorce them from claiming their First Nation Indigenous status. Remember, the “coloured”, as Lucy very correctly points out, are direct descendants from Khoi, San/Boesman and slaves (as well as other forced mixes), and acknowledgement of their Khoi/San/Boesman ancestory, albeit a percentage, would force the so-called democratic government to acknowledge their automatic right to the land as well as this country’s resources. So, sister Lucy, it’s not in the interest of the “powers” to support the type of work that you (or I) do, but you deserve the highest honour and respect for your ongoing endeavours to redress the heritage landscape. Our country (and the world) needs a bit of honesty, and our people need a lot of healing. Keep keeping it real, Sister.
    Ron Martin, Chair: S A First Peoples’ Museum Foundation.

    By Ron Martin on 08/11/2011
  • I was ignorant about the existensce of
    Massavana, the hero until I read your
    Piece Ms Lucy. I have to say the knowledge
    Inspired my soul. For diasporic and mixing of
    Earth’s people, I inderstand why we should
    Know where we came from. However, I’m
    Above all a Earth Man; born on the planet Earth
    And I therefore poke fun at slavery,  hate, love,
    Misegination, oppression and the. Other little
    Mean things that we we do to each other- at least I
    Know who I am.  “Who am I”  But me- a
    Yellow man ‘tis plain as two & two make
    Three. On Mummy’s side Granny’s Irish
    And Grandpa’s an African-German-Jew.
    NOW… on mi Daddy’s side ‘o the branch
    Things get really screwed b’cause his Moms’
    A merry English maid and his Grandad…
    Whose name was Busha Clark who was borne
    To Jamaica by way of Bristol and who at a
    Frisky ninety in a musthy lusty fit, hid ‘neath
    Some:  “I’m sick,”  pretense’  stole mi Granny’s
    English PUM with a stab of his stiff ‘ol pointy
    ‘las—- leaving me here brown and yellow
    A fake Jamaican mutt straight out of an English slutt

    By Vernon Lawson on 30/12/2011
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