The government of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape was in
the hands of the Council of Policy under the chairmanship of the Commander,
later the Governor. Initially, the Council consisted of three members, but in
1685 the membership was increased to eight.
Other members were the Secunde who was vice - governor and
vice - chairman of the Council. The Fiscal was the prosecutor in criminal cases
and the Chief of the Garrison was the Commander of the Castle and assessor
member of the Council of Policy. The Dispensor's task was provision of and
supervision over supplies while the Magazine or Store Master and the Factor
also had seats on the Council.
The key figure was the Secretary, who as an executive
official, was not initially a full member of the Council, having no vote.
When visits were received from high officials and ships'
captains they had seats on the Council of Policy which then became known as the
Broad or General Council. Until the Court of Justice was established in 1656,
the Council of Policy was the only governing body and was invested with
legislative, executive and judicial authority.
Other government offices such as the Orphan Chamber (1674),
the Landdrost at Stellenbosch (1685)
and later other magistrates' offices, in due course took over
some of the duties of the Council of Policy. This body, however, fulfilled
virtually all the most important governing functions to the end of the Dutch
The Council of Policy legislated for the administration of the
country, issued instructions on all kinds of matters, imposed taxes, made
appointments, granted land, heard petitions and managed all military and naval
The government's functions were therefore centralised in the hands
of a non - representative body - a situation that gradually led to increasing
unrest and discontent which by the end of the Company's period had evolved into
widespread resistance by the colonists (the Cape Patriots).
Towards 1791, the once powerful Company had an enormous burden of
debt and was faced with economic ruin. Two members of a commission from the
States General, Nederburgh and Frykenius, came to the Cape in 1792 to try and
salvage the deteriorating situation but succeeded only partially in doing so.
The British fleet which arrived in Simon's Bay in June 1795,
and the subsequent military action, led to the formal surrender of the Cape to
the British commanders on 16 September 1795.