Today is the 366th anniversary of Jan van Riebeeck’s landing at the Cape. For better or for worse, van Riebeeck’s arrival had a profound impact on how Cape Town – and the rest of South Africa – would develop.

Van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape with three ships, and the intention to set up a refreshment station for ships passing by on their trade route. According to, he had been warned by his Dutch bosses NOT to colonise the area, as his only job was to provide food and water to ships from the VOC (Dutch East India Company).

But soon afterwards, the Dutch and English became engaged in a naval war, and van Riebeeck was instructed to urgently complete construction of a fort in the Cape. From this fort, the Dutch settlers farmed some food and bartered for meat from the local Khoisan people who lived in the area.

Despite the original intention not to establish a colony, in February 1657, the Dutch issues permits to 9 servants to start private farms in the Cape. They became known as the Free Burgers, and they farmed the banks of the Liesbeek River to provide wheat during a shortage. The Khoisan people refused to work as laborers for the Dutch, so the Dutch shipped in slaves from Batavia (now Jakarta) to work on the farms.

When van Riebeeck left the Cape ten years after his arrival in May 1662, the Dutch colony in Cape Town consisted of 134 officials, 35 Free Burghers, 15 women, 22 children and 180 slaves.

Twitter users had a field day observing the anniversary of van Riebeeck’s arrival, which marked the beginning of colonialism in South Africa.

Many people noted the irony of former president Jacob Zuma appearing in court on corruption and fraud charges on the anniversary of van Riebeeck’s arrival.


If van Riebeeck was a hipster:

Picture: Twitter @OliverOuDier

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