The memory of drowned slaves lives on in Cape Town

2015-06-02 15:37
Iron ballast recovered from the wreck (Iziko Museums of SA)

Iron ballast recovered from the wreck (Iziko Museums of SA)

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Cape Town - A memorial service for 500 enslaved Mozambicans, who were on board the Sao Jose when it ran aground off the coast of Cape Town in 1794, was held on Clifton beach on Tuesday.

The private ceremony was held at Judge Albie Sach’s house in Clifton and on Clifton 3rd beach, Iziko Museum of SA spokesperson Lee-Shay Collison told News24.

It was in honour of those who lost their lives as well as those who survived the wrecking of the Portuguese ship and who were sold into slavery.

“The divers were unable to go out to the wreck site by boat due to the weather; instead they walked into the water at 3rd beach and scattered Mozambican sand as a symbolic act,” Collison said.

The ship was headed for Brazil when it hit a rock and began to sink. More than 200 people died. The captain and crew, as well as many of the ship's human cargo, made it to shore.

The history of the vessel, and the role it played in the transatlantic slave trade, only recently came to light thanks to the Slave Wrecks Project (SWP), a global research collaboration between Iziko Museums of SA and other institutions, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Initial evidence of the wreck existed only in the form of the captain’s testimony in a court enquiry into the sinking.

After the tragedy, the Portuguese slaving family who owned and operated the ship continued their international trade.

Then, in the 1980s, treasure hunters discovered the wreck and mistakenly identified it as that of a Dutch vessel thought to have sunk in the area earlier.

It was only towards the end of 2010 that the SWP, through Iziko Maritime archaeologist Jaco Boshoff, found the captain’s account of the wreck.

Copper fastenings and copper sheathing indicated a wreck of a later period than initially thought and iron ballast – often used to stabilise slave ships – was found at the wreck site.

Researchers later uncovered documents confirming that the Sao Jose had been loaded with iron ballast and that a Mozambican had been sold on to the ship.

The first artifacts were recently retrieved from the ocean bed. Researchers used CT scan technology to identify the remains of shackles on the wreck site.

The operation will continue with the archaeological documentation of the site and more research into the slave trade.

Items recovered from the wreck will be unveiled at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum on Tuesday evening.

Read more on:    cape town  |  slavery

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