From the book: All That Glitters by Emilia Potenza
Life in Southern Africa changed greatly because of the discovery of diamonds (1867) and gold (1886). As with the Industrial Revolution in Britain, there was a very different way of life before the mineral discoveries.
For most of the 19th Century almost all people in South Africa lived off the land. They farmed for themselves and their families making nearly everything they needed. Societies that rely on themselves in this way are known as subsistence societies.
There was also trade between groups. African societies had traded with one another for many centuries. From as early as 100 AD there is evidence of coastal trade with Arabs who were travelling south from the Persian Gulf. These traders came as far south as Sofalaand Inhambanein Southern Mozambique. Trade routes existed between these ports and the South African interior. The people of Southern Africa traded ivory and gold in exchange for beads, ceramics and cloth.
From the 15th century when the first Europeans arrived in South Africa, Africans had also traded with Europeans. Trading increased during the 19th Century as Africans traded amongst themselves, as well as with the British, the Boers and even the Portuguese in Mozambique. They bought weapons, ploughs, guns, horses and some consumer goods such as blankets from the Europeans. In turn, they sold grain, cattle and hunting products such as ivory and skins.
Poor though the people were, the consumption of salt and sugar, tea and coffee, soap and candles and the use of buckets and spades ultimately became habits. By 1870 there was scarcely a person was not in some degree a consumer of manufactured goods. Most of these came from Britain and other places.
Adapted from A History of South Africa by C.W. de Kiewiet, 1941.
Who was in control in the 1860s?
South Africa is a very large country. It is about the same size as Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands put together. In the 1860s different things were happening in different parts of the country much like today.
In the 1860s, a country called South Africa did not exist. There were many scattered communities in an area called Southern Africa. Some of these communities were independent they were not controlled by other people. Others were controlled by colonists either the British, or the Boers, who were descendants of the Dutch.
Getting the bigger picture
Maps are important tools for the student of history. A political map of an area can tell a great deal about the period of time under study. It shows many features that people have created in an area, particularly cities. A political map also shows the borders between countries, provinces or districts.
Part 1:Background information and source material on the Transvaal
Trekker (Boer) parties went to the Transvaal as part of the Great Trek in the late 1830s. With guns, they managed to conquer the African chiefdoms they came across. Eventually, they had their own country free of the British, with enough African people to satisfy all their labour requirements. But this didn't last for long.
Although the Trekkers had been able to overpower the African chiefdoms because of superior weapons, they struggled to hold on to what they had taken. They tried to control the indigenous people by making it illegal for Africans to own guns or horses and forcing them to carry passes signed by a government official or employer.
The Trekkers stuck together while they were on the move. However, once they decided to settle, they began to spread out around the Transvaal. Many owned large farms. At the same time, the African chiefdoms like the Tsonga, the Venda and the Pedi lived in more concentrated settlements which became a threat to the Boers.
In response, the Boers formed an alliance with the Swazi in 1846 against one of the larger chiefdoms in the eastern Transvaal, the Pedi. In return for their support, the Swazi expected the Boers to help them in the event of a Zulu invasion.
While Africans still had access to the land, they resisted working for the Boers. It soon became difficult for Boer farmers to obtain enough African labour. This led to a fairly widespread practice among the Boers of exchanging or kidnapping young. African children and keeping them as unpaid servants until the age of 25. Many children were also bought from the Swazi. These children were 'apprenticed' to Boer farmers or ingeboek . They became known as inboekselings.
Although the Boers came into contact with the Tsonga, the Venda, as well as the Pedi in the north-eastern part of the Transvaal, the focus below is on the Pedi.
The passage that follows describes a Boer settlement in Schoemansdal (Limpopo Province) in 1855:
The town is laid out in rectangular form and streets are of good breath. They are kept beautifully clean and furrows of clear water run on either side. There is a neat thatched church with considering seating accommodation. The Sabbath is mostly religiously observed. The people lived mainly on bread and meat, while coffee is consumed at all hours of the day. The number of dwelling houses is 278, which shelter about 1 800 souls”¦the imports of the town include lead coffee and sugar. The exports consists of beans mealies”¦. Also spirituous liquors, honey, dried fruits, tanned hides, salts, rhinocerous horns”¦butter, cheese, etc.
- Why did the Pedi need guns from the 1850s onwards?
During the 1850s, the Pedi lost much of their cattle through raids. Their land was threatened by Swazi, Zulu and Trekker communities in the Northern and Eastern Transvaal in this period of shifting frontiers.
The Pedi needed guns to defend themselves, their land and their cattle. Other African chiefdoms like the Zulu and the Basotho, for example, got large number of guns through trade with colonial markets. But the Pedi had limited possibilities for trade as the big markets were far away in places like Grahamstown, Elizabeth, Durban and Cape Town. The Pedi could therefore not get large numbers of guns through trade.
From unpublished notes on The final fall of the Pedi Kingdom by Barbara Johannesson, 1994
- How did the Pedi obtain guns?
The success of the Pedi in fending off Zulu and Boer attacks in the early 1850s and their growing power in the late 1860s and 1870s was due to the increasing number of guns that they obtained. In 1862 the Pedi army was made up 12 000 men, of whom a third were equipped with guns. These guns were acquired by means of a system, which had its roots in 1840s.
By 1862 hundreds of Pedi men travelled from the North-Eastern Transvaal to the Cape Colony each year to become labourers on white farms or dock workers.
With the money they earned they bought guns and ammunition before returning home. It became expected among the Pedi that each youth, on reaching maturity, went to the Cape Colony for one or more years.
The main concentration of Pedi labour appears to have been around Port Elizabeth because of the flourishing wool trade.
Adapted from The Land Belongs to Us by Peter Delius, 1983.
- Why would African men not work on Boer farms?
- How did the inboekseling system solve this problem?
As Boers took over more and more land, they found they needed more labour. Most adult African men still had their own land; they therefore had no need to work on settler farms. In the short term, the need for labour was solved by the inboekseling system. This system allowed Boers to keep homeless black children as unpaid inboekselingsuntil the age of 25 if they were boys and 21 if they were girls.
This was nothing short of slavery. In 1868 the Transvaal newspaper, De Republikein, spoke out against 'whole wagon loads' of children being continually hawkedaround the country. There were men, both black and white, who had become traders in children, kidnapping them in raids and selling them to Boers for domestic labour.
Adapted from Working Life by Luli Callinicos, 1987.
- How did the Boers get hold ofinboekselings?
- What jobs did inboekselingsdo in Boer households?
Boer commandos carried out a series of raids on African homesteads in search of this black ivory of thousands of children. According to the Boers, most were orphans but often they were made so by the killing of their parents.
Inboekselingswere welcomed by Boer households as they carried out a number of different jobs. Some were used as herdsmen, voorleirs (ox-wagon leaders), diggers of irrigation canals, constructors of dam and kraal walls and the builders of Boer houses. Inboekseling was responsible for the construction of the first church at Rustenburg.
Adapted from Illustrated History of South Africa: the Real Story by C Saunders et al (eds), 1992.
- What methods did the Boers use to get hold of children?
The children who were incorporated into a Boer society as inboekselingswere captured, bartered and bought for a cash. Most of the children obtained by Boers in the Eastern Transvaal in the 1850s and 1860s involved some form of exchange.
This did not take away form the force and violence used in the process of making children inboekselings. Since the Boers were often too weak to seize children themselves, they began to rely on others to do the job for them.
Adapted from The Land Belongs to Us by Peter Delius, 1983.
- How did the Boers capture children to use as labourers?
Although reports of children being seized and sold as inboekselingsare common, descriptions of the manner in which they were captured are rare. One of the fullest accounts available is contained in the life history of Mozane recorded in the late 1860s. While the events described took place in Natal in the late 1830s, they probably are similar to what happened later in the Transvaal.
Part 2:Background information on Natal
The British annexed Natal in 1843. After the British took over about half the Boer population left the colony. By the 1860s there were about 4 000 Boers left in Natal. The remainder of the settler population was made up of about 7 500 men, women and children who had come from England and Scotland between 1848 and 1851. This meant that the white population of Natal was mainly English-speaking, not very familiar with the country and had very little knowledge about how to farm.
There were roughly 300 000 Africans living in the Natal at this time. Most were subsistence farmers who had some access to land. Despite taxes that had been imposed, African farmers could afford them by selling off their surplus grain or cattle. As a result, many could choose whether or not they wanted to become labourers on white farms. For most, this was not an attractive option and so they withheld their labour.
This in turn created a labour shortage for white colonists, particularly those involved in the cultivation of sugar cane. There was a great increase in the demand for raw sugar at this time, which led to the development of the sugar industry in Natal. The labour shortage became so serious that an attempt was made to solve it from 1860 onwards by importing labourers from India. The form that this labour took was known as indentured labour. It will be explained in more detail in the sources that follow.
Before each source, there are one or two questions. These questions will help you to focus your reading.
- How did settler families make a living in Natal in the 1860s?
The circumstances under which they lived determined the way of life of the Europeans in Natal. They became for the most part traders and forwarders of goods to the interior republics. There were planters and farmers among them, and the Dutch-speaking colonists to be agriculturists and cattle breeders. But more than half of the English-speaking settlers were townspeople who lived in the two towns Maritzburg and Durban, and a large portion of the remainder occupied villages along the trade routes.
Adapted from South Africa by G.M. Theal, 1929.
- Where in Natal were Africans farming in the 1 860s?
- Why could Africans in Natal at this time avoid working for white farmers?
In the 1860s, Africans living in the reservesoccupied just over 2000 000 acres, lived onmission landsof 174 000 acres. It was estimated that no less than 5000 000 acres of Natal land owned by colonists or companies was occupied by Africans in the 1870s. The total area of Natal at this time was about 12000 000 acres.
African farmers were able to produce enough crops for trade, they therefore had no need to work on the unattractive terms offered by white farmers and planters. Taxes and rents paid out of sale of foodstuffs. Forty years later an early settler remembered that, in the 1860s if we wanted supplies we would take awagon and oxen and go into the location or district where the natives were. We used to buy corn for our supplies from the Natives.
Adapted from The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry by Colin Bundy, 1988.
- Where did African farmers get their labour from?
- In what way can wives be regarded as rural assets?
The survival of the tenants depended on their ability to use and control their own family's labour for more intensive agriculture. Women and youths as well as men were expected to work. This gave African tenants a competitive edge over white families, where it was not easily accepted that women and children should work.
African families tend to send only sons who were not essential to the farm work to become migrants. Fathers tried to control the wages of the sons, or to ensure that cash was used to buy solid rural assets such as cows, ploughs and wives.
Adapted from Twentieth-century South Africa by William Beinart, 1994.
- What laws were introduced to try to force Africans off the land?
While the homestead system remained viable, there was no reason for Africans to seek work on white farms, although attempts to force Africans onto the labour market included the introduction of a hurt tax, a marriage tax and even a law that no male was allowed to appear in Pietermaritzburg unless wearing trousers. All these laws meant that people needed money.
Adapted from Illustrated History of South Africa: The Real Story by C. Saunders et al. (eds), 1992.
- What led to the growth of the sugar industry in Natal?
During the course of 19th Century the demand for raw sugar increased dramatically in many countries throughout the world. The emergence and development of sugar industry in Natal owed something to these wider influences. The demand for Natal sugar by other countries provided the largest market for locall growers until the development of Kimberley and the Witwatersrand mines in the later decades of the country.
Throughout the existence, the controlling power in the sugar industry has been in the hands of white settlers and their descendants or successor.
Adapted from The Natal Sugar Industry in the Nineteenth Centuryby P. Richardson, (in putting a plough to the ground), 1986.
- What is indentured labour?
An indenture is a type of a labour contract. Long ago people without money or skills agreed to work for a master craftsman in return for being taught the trade. These apprentices could work for as long as seven years without a proper wage so that they could themselves qualify as a master craftsman.
As time went on, people signed indentures for other reasons than to learn a skill. Many people indentured themselves in return for the chance to emigrate to leave the country where they were born and to settle elsewhere. This followed on the heels of the age of exploration. While the nations of Europe were acquiring colonies, the idea arose that people who were unemployed at home should be resettled where their labour could be used.
Britain was the first country to practice indentured emigration on a large scale. During the 17th and 18th centuries, thousands of poor men and women indentured themselves to persons who paid their passage money to the British colonies in North America. When they arrived there, they worked as servants for a small wage (or no wage at all) for a set number of years. If they survived, they were free to farm or to start a business of their own. Adapted from Not Slave, Not Free by Candy Malherbe and Uma Mesthrie, 1992.
- What did the process of producing sugar involve?
- Why did the settlers in Natal feel entitled to Indian labour?
The settlers in Natal knew that the British government and the government of India had agreed to supply Indian indentured workers to other colonies. As a result, the settlers began to hold meetings and present petitions in favour an immigration scheme. The demand for Indian labour grew, and in 1860 the first Indian indentured workers arrived at Durban. Among them were Hindus, Malabars, Christians and Muslims.
Adapted from Not Slave, Not Free by Candy Malherbe and Uma Mesthrie, 1992
Conflict over land and labour
In the 1860s different groups in South Africa were in conflict over land and labour. At this time, however, they were still fairly evenly matched. Small numbers of Boer forces armed with guns held their own against much larger numbers of African soldiers, armed with assegais and other kinds of weapons although with an increasing number of guns.
This balance was upset when Britain sent in troops to support the British settlers against both the Africans and the Boers. What made Britain decide do this? Read the next unit to find out.