The substitutability of slaves: Evidence from the Eastern frontier of the Cape Colony

Forskningsoutput: TidskriftsbidragArtikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift


The substitutability of the economic institution of slave labour is often
assumed as a given. Apart from some capital investment to retrain slaves for a different task,essentially their labour could be substituted for any other form of labour. This paper questions that assumption by using a longitudinal study of the Graaff-Reinet district on the eastern frontier of South Africa’s Cape Colony. We calculate the Hicksian elasticity of complementarity coefficients for each year of a 22-year combination of cross-sectional tax datasets (1805–1828) to test whether slave labour was substitutable for other forms of labour. We find that slave labour, indigenous labour and settler family labour are not substitutable over the period of the study. This lends credence to the finding that slave and family labour were two different inputs in agricultural production. Indigenous labour and slave labour remain complements throughout the period of the study even when indigenous labour becomes scarce after the frontier conflicts. We argue that the non-substitutability of slave labour was due to the settlers’ need to acquire labourers with location-specific skills such as the indigenous khoe, and that slaves may have served another purpose, such as for artisan skills or for collateral.


Enheter & grupper
Externa organisationer
  • Stellenbosch University

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Ekonomisk historia
  • Internationell Migration och Etniska Relationer (IMER)


TidskriftEconomic History of Developing Regions
StatusE-pub ahead of print - 2019 dec 19
Peer review utfördJa