UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

African labour in South Central Africa, 1890-1914 and nineteenth cneutry colonial labour theory MacKenzie, John MacDonald


This thesis is concerned with the mobilisation of African labour in South Central Africa and the creation of a dual economy there. The problem it seeks to examine is why a purely migrant labour system was created, in which Africans spent only short periods in the cash economy interspersed with longer periods in their own subsistence one. This problem is closely linked with the wider issues of land policy, native policy, and colonial labour theory in the nineteenth century. Using the records of the Colonial Office and of the British South Africa Company's administrations in Northern and Southern Rhodesia, together with other contemporary material, an attempt is made to examine the relationship between developments in the Rhodesias and wider colonial experience, between the Company's aims in its administration and the Colonial Office's control of it. Colonial labour theory in the nineteenth century is found to have emerged as a response to the end of the slave trade and the emancipation of the slaves, as a need to substitute for force both stimulants (like taxation) to overcome so-called tropical indolence and a modicum of land hunger to overcome excessive dependence on subsistence. This had to be balanced, however, by the need to protect the interests and rights of indigenous peoples in the face of humanitarian concern and international opinion. These considerations, coupled with administrative expediency and the desire of European settler communities for the security of social and political segregation, led to the creation of a reserves policy. In Southern Rhodesia, the absence of a genuine reserves policy during the first years of settlement appeared to lead to disastrous relations with the native peoples. The Colonial Office insisted upon the creation of reserves, and the effect, if not the intention, of subsequent Company native policy was to move Africans increasingly on to the reserves, away from European centres of employment, opportunities for marketing produce and stock, and principal lines of communication. As a result, Africans' capacity to respond rationally to the cash economy actually declined as opportunities for exploring the various avenues into it were withdrawn with geographical isolation. In consequence labour became a purely migratory experience which entailed brief periods in the essentially alien environment (accentuated by ordinance) of the town or mine location. This was accentuated also by the migration of labour into Southern Rhodesia from throughout South Central Africa and the import of indentured labour from overseas, policies pursued by an administration convinced of the inadequacy of the internal labour supply. Thus Colonial Office concern for the protection of the native interest led to the perpetuation of an inefficient and, to the African, disturbing system, which ultimately facilitated the mortgaging of Africans' social and political development.

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