Early History 1500-1800

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South African Labour history

There are different ways to tell every story, and the same is true of history. For instance the story of the gold mining industry has often been told as the story of 'progress' - modernisation , technological achievements, an expanding economy: It is most often related to as the story of the 'Randlords', men like Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Barnato. Told that way, the story shows how they were able to gain fabulous wealth - and, at the same time, shape the future of a country.

The same story can be told a different way, as in this. We tell it as the struggle for survival of those whose hands made the wealth, the workers who came to Egoli. Some of these workers were white, and this is their story, too. The great majority were black. When gold production began, their lives were drawn into a system. The system developed until it affected every part of their lives, from the cradle to the grave.

Extract taken from the introduction to Luli Callinicos' book 'Place in the city'

We have made links to the various resources within the SAHO site and library to tell the history of Labour in South Africa. Please click on the archive tab to view a full list of resources including links / timelines / books / articles.

"Bound To Strike Back"

Those who became migrant labourers on the mines also experienced violent changes in their lives. These changes were brought about by separation from their rural homesteads, being treated as second-class citizens, working in very dangerous conditions, living in cramped compounds without any privacy and earning low wages.... read more

"Labour Laws and Unions 1920's"

Laws on labour passed by the two South African governments in power in the 1920s &http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/governence-projects/labour-history/#8212; Smuts&http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/governence-projects/labour-history/#82... South African Party and the National-Labour Pact Government &http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/governence-projects/labour-history/#8212; had certain aims in common. They were intended to control conflict between workers and their employers, and to regulate worker organisations... read more

"The Development of the Trade Union Movement 1930's and 1940's"

During the 1930s and 1940s attempts at organising workers into trade unions became more widespread. Some were more successful than others.

In 1930 the South African Trades and Labour Council (SATLC) was formed. Between 1930 and 1955 it was the largest body of trade unions in South Africa. It was made up of... read more

"Land and Labour during Apartheid"

Land and labour are two very important elements of the economic development of a society, and the way they are used will influence how the society develops. In South African history there has always been the fight for ownership of land and the need for cheap labour. Government policies over the years have tried to solve this problem in different ways... read more

Last updated : 13-Apr-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 21-Mar-2011