Original Research

Speaking for the slave: Britain and the Cape, 1751-1838

M. Lenta
Literator | Vol 20, No 1 | a454 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v20i1.454 | © 1999 M. Lenta | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 April 1999 | Published: 26 April 1999

About the author(s)

M. Lenta, Department of English, University of Natal, Durban, South Africa

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Abstract

Postcolonial studies has asked the question "Can the subaltern speak? ", but has focused less strongly on the strategies by which the subaltern is prevented from securing a hearing. The textual and social strategies used to prevent Cape slaves in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries from voicing their plight have been neglected, though both pro- and anti-slavery lobbyists were eloquent. To present the slave as one whose inferiority rendered him incapable of pleading his cause was a device of the pro-slavery group; to pretend that consultation was impossible was another, though people who offered this defence were often surrounded by slaves. Others, accepting and profiting from the inequalities of a class-stratified society, were unable to perceive any but the extreme experiences of an unfree condition as constituting injustice. Anti-slavery campaigners were rarely in favour of the slave's being consulted: they preferred to condemn their political rivals, the slave-owners. Abolition found many of them searching for arguments to maintain the inequalities of society, and especially to prevent former serfs from securing a hearing.

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