South African novelist and historian Daniel (Dan) Sleigh was born on 3 November 1938, on a farm, Geelbeksfontein, near Langebaan in the Western Cape. He was born to Francis and Susanna; whose fathers were both ship captains. Sleigh would follow a similar path to his grandfathers, when he enrolled in the South African Navy after matriculating from Vredenburg High School, Western Cape.
During his time in the navy, he travelled across Mombasa, Kenya and south of the Prince-Edward Islands along the Indian Ocean. After completing his service in the Navy, he went onto work as a bank clerk at Barclays Bank and a barman at Saldanha Hotel. He previously worked as a fisherman and truck driver. From 1960 until 1962, Sleigh studied to become a Physical Education teacher at the Paarl Training College. He taught at Mariental High School in Namibia and the Marist Brothers College in Rondebosch.
In 1969 he completed a BA Degree in History and English at the University of South Africa (UNISA). By 1983, he had obtained an MA (cum laude) and in 1987 a PhD in History at Stellenbosch University. Sleigh was interested in the Dutch Seaborne Empire (1602 -1795), with a specific focus on the first Dutch colonial period at the Cape and the influence of maritime services on indigenous communities.
He took on several roles within the field of education and retired in 1996 as the Head of the Centre for Conservation Education and finally Provincial Co-ordinator for Conservation Education for the Western Cape Education Department. Following this, he worked at the Cape Archives where he transcribed the Dutch East India Company/Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) archives into a world wide database.
Due to his academic background, Sleigh participated in a series of academic and public lectures as well as radio shows and made appearances on numerous television programmes. In 2003, he was the editor and translator for the Van Riebeeck Society series and the editor of the Castle Military Museum series on Cape Military history. Sleigh currently works as a freelance researcher and consultant on Cape History for companies such as the Department of Arts, Culture and Technology in the Western Cape, the Blaauwberg municipality and the South African Resources and Heritage Agency (SAHRA) to name a few. Sleigh is also affiliated with a number of conservation and cultural organisations such as the VOC foundation, Society of Archivists and Simon van der Stel Foundation amongst others.
Sleigh is widely known for his writing and publications which are in Afrikaans. In 1974, he published a poetry book called ‘Duif oor Water’ and novels ‘Eilande’, ‘Afstande’ and ‘Wals met Matilda’. He has also written books with a historical focus such as ‘Jan Kompanjie: Die wêreld van die VOC, 1980’, ‘Die Hugenote, (with A. Grant and R. Mayo) 1988’, ‘Ruiters teen die Ryk, 1979’ and ‘Die aanslag op die slaweskip Meermin,1766 (with Piet Westra), 2012’ amongst others. For his literary work, he has won several awards such as the South African Literary Award, South African Academy medal for History and a Life Achievement Award to name a few.
Sleigh has certainly paved the way for many aspiring writers in South Africa. In 1966, he married Dewetia Hendriksz, an artist and art lecturer at the Cape Town Teachers College and Ruth Prowse Art Centre. Together they have a daughter, Jean. Dewetia sadly passed away in 2006.