HISTORY: Who Jan Van Riebeeck was and how he and his descendants introduced corruption to southern Africa KossyDerrickBlog KossyDerrickEnt

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Wednesday, April 6, 2022

HISTORY: Who Jan Van Riebeeck was and how he and his descendants introduced corruption to southern Africa

Van Riebeeck was an employee of the Dutch Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC or Dutch United East Indian Company). The VOC a state-owned company tasked with exploring, colonising and exploiting faraway lands for the benefit of the Dutch state and its people. (Read More Here).


When Van Riebeeck was stationed in Vietnam as the head of the trading station there, he started selling animal skins on the side for some pocket money. This was illegal, so when he was caught, he fled to the Netherlands before he could be dismissed.

On his way back home, Van Riebeeck passed by what they later named Table Bay to pick up some Dutchmen who had been shipwrecked and were living there for about a year. These men told him stories about the fertile land, abundant fish, livestock, fresh water and firewood in the are.

Upon arrival in Europe, Jan had a document detailing the advantages of setting up a replenishment station in Southern Africa. He was at pains to convince VOC officials that Africans did not eat people as it had become common talk by Europeans passing there. 'Nonsense,' he said.

Van Riebeeck further explained that the Europeans who were killed on the shores of Africa were killed because they were stealing cattle, not because the indigenous people were trying to eat them.

JvR and his companions looked to convince the VOC executives that they needed a station with what they said was "a good commander who treats the indigenous people politely and who pays for everything that is bartered from them, and to treat some of them with a bellyful of food."

So, in late 1651, Van Riebeeck was redeployed to the Southern African coast by the VOC to build a refuelling and provisions station for European ships travelling to Southern Asia. 

Van Riebeeck's crew arrived back in "Table Bay" on April 6, 1652. However, contrary to popular Boer folklore, they did not arrive on that date as permanent settlers, nor was it their first time there. However, this was when grand corruption was introduced to Southern Africa...

Now, in the 1650s, the Cape settlements were not sufficiently developed bureaucracies for real corruption as we know it today. Still, JvR engaged in activities that set in motion acts of land and resource dispossession of indigenous peoples for the benefit of his employers.

For real corruption, you have to fast-forward to the 1700s with Adriaan Van Der Stel, the VOC Governor in the Cape. He was the son of Simon van der Stel the founder of the town of Stellenbosch.

Van der Stel was accused of the following: 
-Using violence to obtain one thousand cows
-Spending weeks at a time away from his office, compromising the security of the colony
-Buying wine from poor farmers at a very low price & selling it to foreign ships at an enormous profits.

-Threatening bakers to buy his wheat at high prices
-Soliciting bribes in return for title deeds
- Not allowing tree felling for wood or fishing in the best spots
-Using company employees on his lands & vineyards
-Owning land, even though VOC employees were forbidden from it.

Van der Stel dabbled in nepotism too. His brother, Frans who was a farmer, "was in the habit of requiring [other farmers] to plough his land, to convey his produce to town, & perform other work for him, under threats that if they did not he would see that they should regret it."

Van der Stel was further accused of intentionally keeping the people poor, "[pumping] them dry, and [exposing] them to the danger of ruin" because he believed that "a poor community is easily governed."

In 1706, a ship was sailing from Indonesia to the Netherlands and docked at Van der Stel's post for replenishment, and it was here that the ship's captain was handed a letter to the head office in Amsterdam with a formal complaint about Van der Stel's numerous corrupt acts.

Van der Stel was in trouble, so he made a plan: he summoned all the male inhabitants of the colony to his house; Africans, Europeans, former slaves, ex-convicts, artisans, labourers, fishermen, and farmhands and gave them all the food, drink and tobacco they could consume...

The attendees were required to sign a letter saying Van der Stel was "[a] person of all honour and virtue in his whole conduct, government, intercourse, and treatment. That he always set, and always has set, a splendid example of modesty, of zeal for the public welfare..."

Because the signatures Van Der Stel had managed to gather were mainly of people of low standing and would not hold much weight in Amsterdam. So, he and his henchmen resorted to violence and threats of violence against the wealthy Europeans who had laid a complaint against him.

One of Van der Stel's henchmen was named Beelzebub by the wealthy European settlers. Beelzebub went from farm to farm trying to persuade the wealthy European landowners to sign Van der Stel's document. One witness had this to say about Belzebub:"First [Beelzebub] tried to induce them to sign by promises, and afterwards with fierce threats. During the time he was so overcome with wrath that he became livid in the face and was shaking as he read out the document. A ruffian stood guard at the door, which he had locked."

n the end, Van der Stel was able to collect 240 signatures, with many, if not all, of the signatures of wealthy men being fakes. As Historian George McCall Theal put it: "Not a few of the respectable names found on that extraordinary document are certainly not genuine, for they appear with a cross, though the men they professed to represent could write letters and sign other papers as well as the Governor himself could do".

Still, 240 signatures were not enough, so Van der Stel resorted to more extreme measures. Before dawn on Sunday 28 February, he committed what was described as "an act of extreme violence, contrary to all law and justice."

Beelzebub, barged into one of the complainant's house, "without a warrant or any legal authority whatever, with a strong-armed party he surrounded the house of that [farmer and] arrested him, sent him a prisoner to Cape Town, searched his house and carried away his writing desk."

In the desk he had confiscated, Van der Stel found a draft of the complaint the farmers had written to the VOC’s board of directors in Amsterdam, including the identities of most of the people who had assisted in writing the complaint against him.

Belzebub and Van der Stel detained and tortured the complainants for many months. Four of the farmers managed to escape to Amsterdam to make their case against the Van der Stel. In the end, Van der Stel was called back to the Netherlands where he was summarily dismissed.

Even after he was dismissed, Van der Stel walked away a wealthy man with millions in today's money.

In short, corruption in southern Africa was introduced by Jan van Riebeeck, solidified by the likes of Van der Stel and perfected later by Paul Kruger and his descendants today.

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