GDP in the Dutch Cape Colony:The national accounts of a slave-based society

Number: 
30
Author: 
Fourie, J and van Zanden, J. L.

New estimates of GDP of the Dutch Cape Colony (1652-1795) suggest that the Cape was one of the most prosperous regions during the eighteenth century. This stands in sharp contrast to the perceived view that the Cape was an “economic and social backwater”, a slave economy with slow growth and little progress. Following a national accounts framework, we find that Cape settlers’ per capita income is similar to the most prosperous countries of the time – Holland and England. We trace the roots of this result, showing that it is partly explained by a highly skewed population structure and very low dependency ratio of slavery, and attempt to link the eighteenth century Cape Colony experience to twentieth century South African income levels.