From the book: Women and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945 edited by Cherryl Walker

On 19 September 1937 a violent collision rocked Vereeniging's Top location. It occurred after a detachment of police conducted an afternoon raid for unauthorised visitors and illicit beer. A crowd of 200, who had previously gathered in the square for 'traditional dancing was soon swollen by 1 000 to 1 800 more when the police converged on the square, driving location residents ahead of them. As the police swarmed into the square 'women started shouting' and stones suddenly pounded the police hurled from the crowd. In the ensuing melee two parties of police were cut off from the main we and were fiercely attacked by the angry mob. By the end of the afternoon two white constables lay dead and four other policemen seriously injured. Dozens of other demonstrators and police nurses less serious wounds, while 70 location residents ended up in the goal (CAD, NTS 6671, File 87/332: 49-53, 83,115,128,142,374).

The Vereeniging riots, as these clashes came to be called, gave a sharp jolt to both local and central 'native administrations' and sent of unease running across many sectors of white public Protest meetings were held in dozens of rural areas in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal (Rheinallt-Jones, 1938:18), liberal and missionary opinion stood aghast (ibid. South African Outlook, 1.10 1937 282-3), while Prime Minister Hertzog professed to see in them at least a partial confirmation of 'the ominous prediction of an approaching clash which began to take root among the European population following on the many instances of robbery and other violence committed during the last few months by natives on Europeans (Rheinallt-Jones, 1938: 18-19). The widespread attention attracted by the episode led to the appointment of a commission of enquiry to investigate the causes of the dash. In its report, published in October 1937, the commission singled out rough handling by the police and the provocative timing of the raid as contributory causes to the clash, but its main criticisms werereserved for what it saw as the slack control exercised over location by the Vereeniging municipality. Illegal entry into the location, the commission charged, had been allowed to go largely unchecked because of the absence of an enclosing fence and because the serious undermanning of the location police. Still more reprehensible was the failure of the location administration to make use of even those resources it had at its disposal, to control the illegal brewing beer and the massive inflow of its principal manufacturers –Basotho women. The location superintendent, the commission observed, had been conspicuously slack and inefficient in not using location police to raid for liquor, in not withholding lodgers' permits from fit husbands of female brewers, and in not using the appropriate sanctions of the 1923 (Natives) Urban Areas Act to curb the entry of Basotho women (SA, Vereeniging Native Riots Commission of Enquiry, 1937: 8-27). So alarming did it consider the scale of illegal brewing, that it reiterated the recommendations of the 1937 Police Commission of Inquiry and called for the establishment of municipal monopolies over brewing or the legalizing of domestic brewing beer (ibid. 31).

The Vereeniging riots were only one among many less publics disturbances in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging are which flared up in the late 1930s and early 1940s in response to police raiding for liquor. In a sense they stand at the juncture of two periods of black urbanisation. The mid-1930s marked the beginning of a sustained surge of black immigration to the towns that would carry on another two decades. A central feature of this process was numbers of black women who streamed out of the black white farms, many of whom could find no alternative occupation in town to the brewing of beer. Basotho women were the most conspicuous among this group, and were at the centre of numerous clashes with the police and between different sections of the black population. It is with these women that this chapter is primarily concerned. It looks first at the extent of the conflict which erupted on the Reef around the municipal monopolisation of beer-brewing in the late 1930s. It goes on to examine the role of single Basotho women in these collisions. It then attempts to explain why so many women migrated from Basutoland in this period, and concludes by examining why the authorities were unable to halt this exodus and what this meant for relations between women and men.


From the early 1930s tensions mounted in many of the Reef locations over intensifying police raiding for beer. The problem stemmed, at least in part, from a successful police crackdown on the illicit traffick-ing of various kinds of 'European' spirits and wines. After the depression of the early 1930s, returning prosperity caused the illicit liquor trade to boom. It reached its peak between 1933 and 1934, after which new legislation (the Liquor Law Amendment Act of 1934) and a police clampdown reduced the volume of the traffic to relatively insignificant proportions. Far from disappearing, however, the liquor trade simply reappeared in new guise. The gap in the market which had been left by the elimination of 'European' liquor, was filled by the wing of various brewing of various adulterations of indigenous beer, such as skokiaan and barberton, which had long been consumed in the slums and location but somewhat lesser scale. As police switched their attentions to this sphere of illicit liquor production, points of friction multiplied rapidly and scuffles and affrays became increasingly common (SA, Report of the Commission of inquiry, 1937:37-8,43,72-3).

The discontents fuelled by such raids are suggested by the high levels, both absolutely and proportionately, of liquor-related convict's. In 1936, for example, 107 348 out of a national total of 344 710 convictions secured against blacks were for liquor-related offences, compared to a 'mere' 71 052 pass law and 21 584 location regulation offences (ibid.: 69). But while the quickening tempo of police raids generated considerable friction and ill-feeling, they did not generally provoke large-scale confrontations. The Vereeniging riots were in this exceptional. The Police Commission of Inquiry of 1937 gives a clue as to why this was so. 'As the possession of liquor by a native is an offence,’ it reported, The native brewer adopts the expedient of hiding the maturing liquor by burying it in containers in a yard common to several houses or in adjacent roadways or vacant ground. If discovered, the liquor cannot be proved to be in the possession of any particular person, and when in the course of raids the police do unearth a container they can only destroy the contents while the native 'stand by and look on. The position is one of 'stale mate' (ibid.: 70).

The Vereeniging riots commission reached a basically similar conclusion. Police efforts were 'unremitting' but 'in the Vereeniging in many if not most urban Native townships and locations in the country, the result has been rather to make the liquor trade than to prevent it or even sensibly to diminish it' (SA, Vereeniging Native Riots Commission of Enquiry, 1937:16).

A new twist to the screw was given in 1938. In the previous year the 1923 Urban Areas Act had been amended to compel local authorities to establish municipal monopolies over beer, or to permit domestic brewing. The measure was part of a wide-ranging programme to slow the pace of black urbanisation, which was steadily depleting white countryside of black labour (Koch, 1983: 206-9).

The liquor clause was aimed not only at stemming the flow of black woman to the towns, by closing down access to incomes from beer brewing, but also at providing the revenue to house and regulate the much-expanded urban black population. The first objective was quickly frustrated, but the second soon proved to be spectacularly successful. After 1938 the Johannesburg City Council was able to stop subsidising the Native Revenue Account from ratepayers' pockets because of the massive revenues the municipal beer-halls produce and the same experience was reported all over the Rand (ibid. 209) Between 1938 and 1940 all of the Reef municipalities established municipal monopolies which, in the majority of cases, soon yield rich profits (SA, Report of the Native Affairs Commission, 1942, Annexure A: 19).

The municipal monopoly over beer provided a new incentive to Reef and other municipalities for suppressing the domestic brewing of beer and created fresh sources of conflict between municipal authorities and the residents of black urban locations. From 1938 to 1940 the tempo of liquor raiding mounted steadily, as the municipalities sought to root out all rivals in the trade. In the first three months of 1938 police destroyed 60 000 gallons of liquor and made hundreds of arrests in Johannesburg locations alone (Rand Daily Mail, 4.4.1938). As beerhalls were constructed elsewhere in the Transvaal the same pattern of aggressive police behaviour was repeated there as we August 1938, for example, Benoni's location superintend announced 'a war' with Benoni's skokiaan queens (ibid., 6.8.1938) in 1939). Early in 1938 Krugersdorp municipality reported a 50 per cent drop production of illicit liquor, and claimed that many 'skokiaan queens had given up brewing or had left the location (The Star, 11.1.1939) In June 1940 some 20 separate raids on Marabastad location near Pretoria netted 17 150 gallons of beer and 8 524 gallons of skokiaan (ibid, 3.7.1940). Between 1937 and 1939 the number of liquor convict the Witwatersrand climbed from 46 018 to 63 728 (Rand Daily Mail, 6.12.1940).

The heightened intensity of raiding detonated explosions all over South Africa. In Vereeniging and Johannesburg's Western Township effective boycotts of municipal beerhalls were mounted (The Star, 3.8.1939; CAD, NTS 7032, File 31/322/6: 67,85; CAD, NTS 7036, File 31/322/6, aanhangsel). Elsewhere ugly confrontations developed between location residents and the police. In February 1938 some 29 police carrying out 'the most extensive liquor raid ... in years’ in Middelburg location were attacked by 'a mob of natives' and one policeman was seriously injured (Rand Daily Mail, 21.2.1938). In April of the same year 100 Vrededorp residents retaliated against a police raiding party by belabouring them with stones and sticks (ibid., 12.4.1938). The following month several hundred Africans stoned police who were raiding for beer on a vacant plot near Johannesburg's Bantu Sports Ground (The Star, 23.5.1938). Two of the most violent centres of conflict were Benoni and Springs. In May 1938 arrests for permits in Benoni location led to a clash between a crowd of 800 men rod women and the police. One person was killed and one other was injured before the incident 'resolved itself into a factional dispute between Basotho and Zulu (Bantu World, 15.5.1937:18).

This last detail hints at the real source of the trouble. The Basotho, at least, were almost certainly visiting migrant workers from neighbouring mines. Since migrant workers were one of the principal sources of patronage sought by beerhalls all over the Reef, this was a constituency that local authorities were particularly anxious to exclude from the clientele of the 'skokiaan queens' (CAD, NTS 7032, File /322/6:69,73,125,156). Permit raids on migrants hence became a major weapon in the arsenal of the municipalities in their quest to monopolise the consumption of beer. The permit raid on Benoni location thus affected mine labourers and women brewers alike, revoking them to combine in their assault on the police.

An even more serious clash took place in Payneville location near Springs two years later. Payneville's municipal beerhall was only completed in the middle of 1938. Soon after it was opened the Springs municipality expressed its intention of emulating the Boksburg municipality, which had built a beerhall as part of a major urban complex that include eating facilities and shops (The Star, 1.1.1938, 8.8.1939). To sustain such a project the illicit brewing of beer had to be ruthlessly 'stamped out, and in the second half of 1938 the police and the location administration mounted a determined assault on beer-brewers and illegal visitors to the location. The opening shots in the campaign were fired on 14 August when 100 armed men descended on Springs location at 4 o'clock in the morning, arresting 70 women and 360 men and confiscating 1 000 gallons of illicit beer in a four-hour raid (Rand Daily Mail 15.8.1938). This was followed by a 'clean up' campaign inaugurated by the Springs Public Health Committee in September 1938, which netted 110 'unauthorised' persons in its first weekend. Twenty additional constables were drafted in from Natal to spearhead the campaign, and it was soon being reported that Payneville's 'liquor were beginning to leave the location, and that the sale of municipal beer had doubled (ibid., 15.9.1938).

Payville's liquor brewers were, however, tougher and more resourceful than the Springs municipality had anticipated, and when the twenty additional constables returned to Natal early in 1939, the trade seems have picked up once again (ibid., 30.9.1939). For the next eighteen months raiding seems to have slipped back to somewhat lower levels but in August 1940 it re-engaged higher gear. Hundreds of natives' were arrested in Payneville location and theadjacent timber plantation for beer and permit offence creating smouldering resentment among miners and brewers alike. This to out into open conflagration the following month. On Sunday, 15 September police were called into the Payneville location to stop a fight between about 100 Basotho and Xhosa miners, but as soon as they arrived the erstwhile combatants united and the police found themselves the target of attack. Women shouted 'attack the police and a general offensive was launched by hundreds of visitors and residents. So fierce was the onslaught that the police felt compelled shoot their way out/ leaving two of the crowd dead and to wounded. Six white and one African policemen were injured in the disturbance (CAD, NTS 7676, File 110/332: SNA to DNL 18.9 1940, Statements Sgt Kotze, Const. Cloete, Lieut. Pretorius, Report of post mortem examination 16.9.1940 statements Botha, Moller 16.9.1940)2

Payneville was the scene of an equally fierce confrontation in July 1945, except that this time it was a more carefully orchestrated affair. In that month the Control Board informed the Springs Council that its supply of 'kaffir corn malt' would be reduced by 55 per cent. The quality of municipal beer immediately deteriorated and the women’s leader, Dinah Maile, together with local Communist Party stalwarts decided to seize the opportunity to demand domestic brewing of beer. A boycott of municipal beer was immediately started, leading to arrests and a brief altercation between location women and the police on 9 July. Over the following two weeks daily meetings were held in the location, culminating on Sunday, 22 July in the renewed picketing of the municipal beerhall. Police action to break the picket resulted in a violently hostile reaction from the residents of the location. The police were stoned by a crowd of 3 000 men and women and were then cut off in the location after a section of the crowd broke a fence and attacked them from behind (CAD, NTS 7676, File 110/332: Acting Distr. Commandant SAP Springs to Dep. Commissioner SAP 10.7.1945, Distr. Commandant SAP Springs to Commissioner SAP 23.7.1945, Report NAM Payneville 23.7.1945). According to a Rand Daily Mail report of 23 July 1945, 'women fought as fiercely as men’ and it was only after rifles were brought from a nearby police station that the bruised and beleaguered policemen were able to shoot their way out. The casualty list resulting from the shootings made grim reading. Six were dead and twenty injured, while 15 men and 62 women (among whom Basotho women figured prominently) were arrested as a result of the affray (CAD, NTS 7676, File 110/332: Town Clerk to SNA 25.7.1945). In Springs at least the municipal monopoly of beer was taking a heavy toll.


The common thread running through most of these clashes -certainly those at Vereeniging, Benoni and Springs - is the connection between women, migrants and beer. This association goes back to the earliest days of black urbanisation on the Rand. It is now widely accepted that the brewing of beer by women was vital to family survival in the first four decades of the twentieth century, and that much of the income earned in this way was drawn from migrant labourers and domestic workers. Since black urban wages were pegged at what migrants could be made to accept it was impossible for urban families to survive on the income provided by a single male breadwinner.

Equally, since virtually all avenues of wage labour - including domestic service in Durban and most of the Rand - were closed off to black women, the brewing of beer was one of the few alternative income generating strategies that they could employ. In Johannesburg, Koch argues, the brewing of beer became 'the kernel of urban culture', while the improvised marriage arrangement of vat en sit became 'the crucial means whereby the informal production of the [slum] yards and the income from formal employment were harnessed together to provide for working class needs ‘(1983:139,162). These conclusions have been echoed in a number of other studies of the Rand as well as further afield (Gaitskell, 1981; Gilfoyle, 1983; Minkley, 1985).3

Given the centrality of brewing to black urban life, it would be easy to depict the beer riots of the late 1930s and early 1940s as valiant if family life by wives and mothers who had been driven to their end. The women's anti-beerhall demonstrations at Cato Manor elsewhere have indeed often been cast in this mould (Ladlau 1975; Yawitch, 1978). Yet the part played by women in these confrontations, as well as female roles in the wider process of black urbanisation on the Rand, was far more complex and contradictory than this. At the centre of each of these clashes was not an undifferentiated and anonymous group of black urban women, drawn at random the whole spectrum of black urban households, but clearly defined social and ethnic categories who had become increasingly conspicuous in the business of beer over the previous two decades. These groups were comprised of single women migrants from Lesotho, the eastern Free State, and southern Mozambique, who brewed professionally or semi-professionally and were frequently involved in the most fleeting and transient of relationships with men (SA, Report of the Committee to Consider the Administration of Areas Which 'Are Becoming Urbanised, 1938-9:19; SA, Report of the Native –Farm Labour Committee, 1937-9: 80).

These women were, all too often, not brewing beer to sustain a settled family life but were, rather, refugees from marriages that had cracked under the strain of rural pauperisation and the migrant labour system. Women from Mozambique were initially the most prominent practitioners of the brewing craft. In mid-1920 H. S. Cooke,the Director of Native Labour, alerted the Secretary for Native Affairs to 'the considerable number of such women residing in mine and other locations or in slum areas [who were] in almost every instance engaged in illicit liquor selling or prostitution', and recommended their forced repatriation (CAD, NTS 7715, File 53/331 (i): DNL to SNA 20.7.1920). With the support of the Portuguese Curator in Johannesburg, this was embarked upon towards the end of that year but the exercise seems quickly to have spluttered to a halt. By April 1921 the Home Native Co-operative Society of East Africa, an organisation of Mozambican migrants to the Rand which had earlier complained about the large-scale movement of Mozambican women to the Rand, was urging the resumption of the programme of repatriation and complaining of the presence of 2 000 Mozambican women at Barberton, Breyten, Witbank, the Witwatersrand, Klerksdorp, Viljoens Drift and Bloemhof (The Star, 23.4.1921).

The issue seems to have slipped briefly from view until 1926-7, when concern was once again expressed at the presence of loose Portuguese East African women' on the Witwatersrand and other industrial and urban areas of the Transvaal. By then the women's major centre of activity seems to have been Witbank and other mining towns of the eastern Transvaal, although they apparently still maintained a strong presence in Benoni. A more vigorously pros programme of deportation soon saw their temporary removal both Witbank and the Rand (CAD, NTS 7715, File 53/331 (i): C SNA21.4.1920, DNL to Dep. Commissioner SAP5.9.1927, Acting DNL to SNA 22.12.1927). By the late 1920s they were, in any case, being eclipsed if not supplanted by another group of women migrant were to dominate this sphere of activity on the Rand until the legislation of the private consumption of alcohol in 1962. These unattached women from the tiny land-locked British colony of Basutoland. It is on this group of women that this chapter concentrates. As already mentioned in chapter 7, the flight of Base from Basutoland emerged as an issue as early as the late nineteenth century. A colonial report of 1892 observed that chiefs north-western area of Basutoland were 'sore' about seeing their wives seduced into the Orange Free State, and in 1898 a full-scale rebellion was triggered by the same complaint. On this occasion a son of the senior chief Masopha seized back a 'runaway' wife from the Orange Free State, which in turn provoked a British reprisal and precipitated the Masopha rebellion (Phoofolo, 1980). A change in the characters migration may have occurred during the Anglo-Boer War. The garrison town that was established in Bloemfontein attracted worn droves, as washerwomen and also for the sexual services they could provide. The 1903-5 South African Native Affairs Commission, perhaps myopically, blamed the origin of large-scale prostitution on themilitary presence during the war, and the massive increase in the number of black women in Bloemfontein in this period may at least partly bear them out (Wells, 1982: 64).

To begin with, the majority of women attracted to the city were probably refugees from Free State farms, where agricultural production was severely disrupted by the war, but since close relations existed between Basotho on both sides of the border, which was in any case only a notional barrier to them, a number of women almost certainly slipped out from Basutoland as well. In the aftermath of the war the growing numbers of women absconding from Basutoland became an increasingly contentious issue, and an arrangement was eventually reached in 1908 whereby Orange River Colony officials agreed to deliver runaway women to the Basutoland border police. This procedure was of highly dubious legality, and in 1913, following Union, the Orange Free State administration refused to persist with it any further. The Basutoland National Council, consisting mainly of chiefs, responded by taking a leaf out of the book of the Natal Native code. In its 1914 session it proposed a law 'making it an offence for a girl or woman to leave the country without the permission of her father or husband', which would then enable men to get a warrant to secure any absconding woman's return. Despite certain reservations by the colonial authorities on the possible reactions of British public opinion, the measure was passed into law in 1915 (Kimble, 4-5).

None of these measures had any appreciable effect, at least outside of the small Free State border towns. In 1911 nearly 3 000 females were recorded as being absent from Basutoland, and this more than trebled in the following decade when a quarter of the total population recorded being absent from Basutoland consisted of women (Murray, 1982:4). To begin with, the great majority went to the various eastern Free State towns, where they greatly aggravated relations between the town council and their black urban populations. Together with the large number of women displaced or escaping from white farms, they ensured that the Free State's towns and dorps enjoyed the most balanced black sex ratios of urban centres in the country. In 1904, for example, the black population of the towns of the Orange River Colony was 56 per cent male and 44 per cent female, with the growth of female component accelerating at a much faster rate than that of men (Wells, 1982:61-2).

The female exodus from Basutoland gathered pace in the 1920s. Women flock[ed] into [Kroonstad] by the thousands, mostly from the tribal reserves' and helped to double its population between 1923 and 1931 (UWL, 'Evidence to the NEC', Box 3, File Kroonstad: 4635-6; 46469-50 4700; 4704-10; 4736-7). Bloemfontein likewise experienced a massive jump in its female population, which progressively outstripped the number of males after 1925. A great part of the increase was contributed by new arrivals from Basutoland, who soon busied themselves in activities for which they would become notorious elsewhere - liquor brewing and other 'immoral' activities (ibid.: 5118-22; 5149-51; 5230).

In the course of the 1920s large numbers of Basotho women also began moving further afield. The late 1920s saw a great surge of immigration into virtually every urban centre in South Africa, with the rate of increase of women rising far more sharply than that of men. In the late 1920s, for example, most Reef towns experienced a phenomenal growth in their female populations. The percentage increase recorded for five Reef municipalities in this period was as follows Brakpan (1921-31) 58,6%; Germiston (1921-31) 158,9%; Krugersdorp (1921-31) 99,0%; Roodepoort-Maraisburg, (1925-31) 84,7%; Springs (1924-31) 67,4% (SAIRR, 'The Urban Native', Memorandum: 11).

In a number of areas Basotho women were in the forefront of this trend. In September 1930, for example, the Director of Native Labour (DNL) was evincing serious concern in a report to the Secretary for Native Affairs (SNA) at the 'very considerable number of undesirable native women from Basutoland [who had! taken up residence locations on the Witwatersrand, notably Benoni and Nancefield. According to the Director, in Benoni location 250 or more out of 818 stands were by that stage occupied by women, many of whom hailed from Basutoland (CAD, NTS 7725 File 166/333: DNL to' 12.9.1930).4 By 1932 Brakpan was likewise 'teeming with people principally from Basutoland', while the greater proportion of the increase of Vereeniging' s female population in the 1930s was up of single Basotho women (CAD, NTS 6671, File 87/332:1 331-5; Sapire, 1987:65-7,76-8,106). These new immigrants were identified as the principal source of a variety of social centering around the illicit brewing of liquor and wide prostitution. In Benoni, Basotho women 'affect [ed] voluminous skirt with numbers of petticoats which ... [werel frequently used for smuggling liquor into the locations' (CAD, NTS File 166/333: DNL to SNL 12.9.1930). It was also 'common practice for [these] undesirable women to travel by cabs and taxis to the neighbouring mine pounds for the collection of their debts and the furtherance of rural business' (ibid.: DNL to SNA 20.11.1930). In Springs, Basotho women waited outside the mine compounds on weekends to direct miners where to get liquor, while in Vereeniging several hundred Basotho women sold vast quantities of liquor to compounded workers and miners both inside and outside the location (CAD, NTS File 87/332: 353; SAIRR, Paper read by E. W. Granger).

These Basotho brewers also seem to have engaged widely in prostitution. From the late 1920s the phrase 'Basuto women' was almost invariably paired with the opprobrious epithets 'undesirable', 'unattached', 'immoral' and 'loose'. In 1929, for example, the Native Commissioner of Benoni was already noting their propensity 'to take to immorality and the illicit liquor and beer traffic', adding that 'after a while many of them become so abandoned and unsuitable for anything that they follow a life of vice and die of disease and neglect' (Sapire, 1987: 83). Similar charges were echoed all over the Reef (SA, Report of the Native Farm Labour Committee, 1937-9: 80). Native commissioners and police were not alone in these opinions. Many Basotho men shared them as well. Author Simon Majara addressed this issue in the opening pages of his novel Liakhela. Here Majara remarks quite matter-of-factly that 'It is common to say that the women of Basotho who are all over the Republic are prostitutes' (16-17), before going on to explain why this was so. MaJara's view was not uncommon among Basotho men, and a mini genre of Sesotho literature (as indeed of African literature more generally) grew up around this theme - MaJara's 'Makotulo, Masiea's Lisebo, Matlosa's Mouna Weli Tjokosela's Mohale o tsoa Maroleng and Khaketla's Peto ea Mouna. A number of letters to the Paris Evangelical Mission newspaper Leselinyana la Basotho raised the same complaint (8.7.1936: 3; 20.2.1940:4), while some of the distaste felt by Basotho traditionalist when confronted by urban Basotho women is powerfully conveyed in a passage from the autobiography of A. S. Mopeli-Paulus, himself the son of a Witsiehoek chief:

I saw Basutho women dressed in print skirts an inch below the knee, their blouses an inch above the navel, bracelets round their legs, running in the streets, swinging their coloured blankets in the air shouting 'If you are a man, come let me tell you keep away my boy? Go to the Christians! Here is Benoni-Twatwa. We rule ourselves.' Then throwing their skirts above their and crying Take and eat' (Drum, December 1954: 65-6).

These provocative postures could have more destructive outcomes than drunkenness, debauchery and disease. Increasingly, escalating violence and crime were also associated with illicit liquor and Basotho women. Already by 1930 weekend disturbances at Nancefield were almost invariably' due to so-called 'tea meetings' given by Basotho women. In the first nine months of that year the number of cases tried Benoni magistrate's court jumped to 7 265, up from 5 900 for the same period the previous year (CAD, NTS 7725 File 166/133: DNL to SAN 120.11.1930). This prompted the Native Commissioner of Benoni to stigmatise Basotho beer-brewers as the 'root of crime' as well as cause of disease' (Cohen, 1982: 53; BMA, NEAC meeting 9.6.1952). The same experiences were reproduced all over the Reef. The sale of liquor and other services to miners in and around Brakpan location produced a situation where by 1935 'fighting and rioting is almost continuous, and lives are frequently lost' (Sapire, 1987:82). In Springs, a hapless traffic inspector was stoned by Basotho beer-brewers when he tried to arrest one of them for purveying illicit liquor while Vereeniging saw an attempt by angry Basotho women to an bush and kill the location superintendent in 1933, after he had several brewers deported to Basutoland, as well as a large-scale riot in the Indian quarter in 1936 (CAD, NTS 6671, File 87/332:14,375-7,2%

A sudden surge of Basotho women to the Rand in the latter part of the decade added further fuel to the flames. From about 1937Johannesburg experienced an unprecedented influx of Basotho women, many of whom engaged in the brewing of beer (IA, 'The Municipalisation of Kaffir Beer'). Heidelberg, Nigel, Krugersdorp, Benoni, Germiston and Vereeniging reported similar experiences (CAD. NTS 7715 File 53/331 (i), accompanied by mounting conflict over illicit brewing. Conflict intensified after the municipal monopolisation of beer-brewing, and had reached such a pitch by mid-1938 as to prompt urgent appeal from the Witwatersrand Compound Manager’ Association and Gold Producers’ Committee. Conditions on the Rand, the compound Managers complained, were now seriously ‘prejudicial to the health and efficiency of mine Native laboures as well as a menace to the Native population as a whole’. The uncontrolled supply of liquor and prostitution in these locations, the compound managers went on to assert, were the direct cause of 'considerable lawlessness during the weekends resulting in a large number casualties'. Recent clashes between ethnic groups at Venterspos Springs had led to loss of life and the serious disorganisation of mine production. In the worst collision, which took place on 6-7 August, 24 seriously injured miners had to be sent to the nearest government hospitals, while a host of others were treated for less serious injuries hospitals. All these casualties were 'directly attributable controlled supply of 'skokiaan' and 'women' (ibid. Gemmill to SNA 8.11.1930). The Native Commissioner at Krugersdorp shortly afterwards substantiated at least one part of this claim, informing the Director of Native Labour that West Rand Consolidated recently established that no less than 1 200 of its employ outside liquor dens every weekend (CAD, NTS 7715 File 53/331(i): Thompson to DNL 18.11.1938).

For the compound managers, unattached women were also having another subversive effect. Many miners were forming liaison women 'of dubious character' in the locations and no moving to settle permanently in the towns, thereby 'becoming detribalized and of no further use as mine labourers': 'Bastard families [were] becoming a serious menace, forming the class known as "Amalaita"”¦[who were] absolutely useless for mining or manual labour of any kind' (ibid). Besides suggesting the more effective implementation of the (Natives) Urban Areas Act, the Compound Managers' Association the Gold Producers' Committee made only one specific proposal the debarring of Basotho women from the Transvaal, and the deportation of all single Basotho women and those living with 'unofficial husbands' (ibid.: Gemmill to SNA 8.11.1930). The Native Commissioners of the Witwatersrand, when canvassed for their opinions, largely endorsed the compound managers' claims. Although two tried to evade direct responsibility for the situation by suggesting (quite incorrectly) that the problem of uncontrolled brewing was primarily one of the outside brickfields, freehold townships and peri-urban areas, not of the municipal locations, all acknowledged the central role of Basotho women and heartily endorsed proposals for forced repatriation (ibid.: Jenner 23.11.1938, Thompson 1938, Carinus 19.12.1938, Norden 30.11.1938, Cherrington 39).

These qualifications were enough to allow the Director of Native Labour to ignore the main burden of the compound managers' representations and slip himself gently off the hook. 'In most of the municipal locations; he informed the Secretary for Native Affairs, ‘there is no problem of control.' Outside the locations the problem would have to be addressed by excluding women who could not prove they had been married by Christian rites or customary law, and by rigidly restricting the number of tenants who could live on peri-urban farms. Taking note of his caution, D. L. Smit, the Secretary for Native Affairs, penned a reply to the General Manager of the Gold `producers' Committee which was a masterly example of evasion and inaction. The position was being 'closely watched' by the Department and ‘wherever practicable' steps were being taken to repatriate. Meanwhile the restriction of any further influx of women 'was a matter for the local authorities concerned' (ibid. DNL to SNA 20.1.1939, Smit to Gemmill 12.2.1939).

Unencumbered by the responsibility for actually having to do something about the situation, a number of government commissions enquired into a range of issues at this time took a less complacent view. Both the 1939 Farm Labour Committee and the 1938-9 Committee into Peri-Urban Areas spoke of the towns and their margins being swamped by Basotho beer-brewers, whom they roundly denounced as 'a menace to Bantu social life' and 'the greatest individual vitiating influence in the areas they frequent' (SA, Report of the Native Farm Labour Committee: 80 para 459; SA, Report of the Committee to Consider the Administration of Areas Which Are Becoming Urbanised, 1938-9: 19 para 74). The 1942 Native Affairs Commission of Enquiry into the Use and Supply of Kaffir Beer

likewise reported that The majority of women professional engaged in this traffic appear to be of Basuto origin and the evidence shows that they have drifted into practically all the larger urban centres (with the possible exception of Southern Natal) where aggregations of male labour are to be found (SA, Report of the Native Affairs Commission: 16 para 163). In the 1940s and 1950s the situation, if anything, got worse. The number of female absentees from Basutoland, which stood at 22 669 in 1939, increased to 32 331 in 1946 and 41 992 ten years later (Murray 1982:4). So large was the exodus of women in this period that the drop in the population of Basutoland, which drew so much comment after the war, could be attributed almost entirely to it. Towns like Vereeniging and Benoni were swamped by this tide of women immigrants and soon felt themselves sinking in a vast lake of illicitly brewed beer.


Both the scale and the character of Basotho women's emigration were unique. Only Mozambique and the Ciskei began to compare in either respect. How is it to be explained? Mopeli-Paulus, who was not otherwise the most sympathetic observer of Basotho urban women, offers this suggestive comment: 'Lack of land has driven the women to places like this for they once followed their husbands to the Reef’ (Drum, December 1954: 66). What Mopeli-Paulus alerts us to here is the central role of rural impoverishment and labour migrancy in this massive flight of women. It is to some of the less visible and more insidious effects of these processes on Basotho family life that this discussion now turns.

M. B. Smith of the Basutoland Chamber of Commerce identified four main categories of Basotho women migrants to South African in his evidence to the Native Laws (Fagan) Commission of 1947. First were women who had had trouble with their husbands. Seconds were widows who 'very often have a very rough time'. Third were girls who had eloped and had then been deserted by their partners fourth were women who had been properly married with cattle but had also been deserted by their husbands (UWL, 'Minute’2140-1) Other commentators suggest a basically similar breakdown (GAYE, 1980a: 42-4). With the partial exception of the first group, the women" in each of these categories were the victims of land shortage casualties of the migrant labour system. However, while each categories seems to have been present in the ranks of female from the early days of this movement, their relative importance over time, since the ravages of migrant labour exacted its toll in different fashions at different times.

In the 1890s it was 'runaway wives' who captured most attention. Where identified, these came mainly from polygynous he and it is likely that it was their status as co-wives or junior wives that prompted them to leave (Phoofolo, 1980; Kimble, 1983:14). When the Basutoland National Council proposed in 1914 that women be obliged to carry a pass signed by their husbands or fathers and chiefs in order to cross the border into South Africa, the commoner councillor Josias drew attention to their often unhappy position: 'Some will blame you, the sons of Moshesh, some of these women will say they lave no blankets, they have no homes, or they are denied conjugal rights' (Kimble, 1983: 15). Chief Maama dismissed Josias's intervention with the curt comment, Wives of polygamists will always com-plain' (ibid.), but the actions of the women themselves could not be so lightly set aside, as the number of runaways multiplied in the face of such unyielding attitudes.

As rates of polygyny declined, mainly because of increasing land shortage and poverty, the flight of wives from polygynous households made progressively less contribution to the annual exodus of women. In 1931 a Maseru court interpreter could still inform a visiting delegation from the South African Institute of Race Relations that The National Council asked that wives should be compelled to obtain passes before leaving Basutoland ... because most of the members of 'he Motional Council are polygamists and some of their wives are deserting (SAIRR, 'Notes of a discussion with native groups'),5 but majority of the population polygyny was a thing of the past. The number of men with more than one wife, as a percentage of the number of marriages recorded, declined steadily from 18,7 per cent in 1911 to 8,4 per cent in 1946 (Murray 1982:127). Here, at least, was one burden from which Basotho women were gradually freed. A second type of emigration, present from the late nineteenth century, was made up of women who eloped or were seduced and fled across the border with their lovers. In the 1910s and 1920s significant changes occurred in the practice of elopement, as it grew and won a grudging social acceptance. Young women now commonly eloped to the villages of their lovers' fathers, the payment of six head of cattle being exacted in compensation by their families from the man. This payment, called chobale, could subsequently constitute first instalment of a full bohali (bridewealth) payment (ibid.: 121-2;UWL; Evidence to the NEC’, File Rydal Mount: 4839) but in it all too often allowed marriage on the cheap and reflected ring poverty of much of Basotho society.

In the mid-to-late nineteenth century bridewealth payments in Basutoland had been raised to exceptionally high levels, as a means of entrenching idling the predominance of the Koena chiefly lineage. While marriage payments varied according to a woman's status, 20-30 cattle henceforth demanded to marry even a commoner woman (Murray, 1982: 125-8; Thompson, 1975: 52-69; Sanders, 1975: 43-59; Poulter, 1976:90-5,109). These levels were considerably higher than those, prevailing in most other parts of South Africa, and placed severe strains on the resources of many commoner homes (Wilson, 1 133-47; Sansom, 1974: 161-2; Kuper, 1982: 136, 158,167-8).8 These grew as Basotho prosperity was systematically undercut in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The latter story is sufficient well known to need only a brief recapitulation here. Land losses after the Free State war of 1867-8, population pressure as a result of natural increase and the eviction of sharecroppers from the eastern Free State farms, exclusion from markets for agricultural products, and natural epidemics and blights, all served to cripple Basutoland's previously thriving economy. Per capita incomes from agriculture dropped levels of migrancy climbed. By 1911 approximately 25 000 Basotho nationals were working outside its borders. Despite this, Basutoland’s economy retained a degree of viability until the late 1920s. Then depression and drought combined to break its back. In the 1932 drought between 30 and 50 per cent of cattle holdings were lost, and cultivation of maize was temporarily extinguished (Murray, 1982: 15)' Virtually every bit of ground cover was destroyed and choking clouds of dust filled the air. Older Basotho still date key events in their lives by reference to the all-enveloping clouds of 'red dust', and many even identify them as a turning point in their ability to win a daily subsistence from agriculture (interviews, L. Sefako; A.B.).

For young men, especially those born into poorer household level of bridewealth demanded now became increasingly unrealistic: it required half a lifetime of migrant labour to pay it off. In 1931 witnesses from Rydal Mount told the Native Economic Commissioners in Bloemfontein that abduction and seduction were rife because bohali was too high and young men preferred to pay chobale instead (UWL, 'Evidence to the Native Economic Commission’, File Mount: 4839; see also Poulter, 1976: 106). Complaints about elopement pepper the minutes of the Basutoland National Council, occasionally the same connection is drawn. In its 1938 session, example, one exasperated councillor argued that twenty head of cattle for bohali was too high. Young men without livestock were eloping with men's daughters, having children and then absconding to mines: 'people's daughters' were 'turned into dagga' which, after smoking,' was 'simply abandoned' (LA, 'Proceedings of the BNC, 1938: 304-9; see also Poulter, 1976:106).

Abandoned women were indeed an increasingly common outcome of elopement. Without transferring a large proportion of the wealth payment, men enjoyed only limited rights over their children and a much weaker bond was sustained between husband and wife. Men were encouraged to adopt a more casual and cavalier attitude towards their spouses, and were more inclined to disappear into South Africa and never return. M. F.'s experience illustrates this pattern. Born in 1917, she eloped to her in-laws' homestead in the early 1930s. After she had spent two weeks with her husband, he had a violent quarrel with his father and left to find work in the Free State. M. F. spent two years in her father-in-law's homestead waiting for her husband to return. When her father-in-law proposed a more intimate relationship with her husband she finally decided to quit. She headed first for the Free State in search of her husband, and then, when she failed to track him down, went on to the Reef (interview).

Chobeliso wives were, to some extent, a marginalised category in Basotho society. Worse off, very often, were widowed women. These were faced with two often equally unpalatable options: to be married to male kinsman of their husband (the levirate system), or to remain perpetually vulnerable to men (Gaye, 1980: 81). Those choosing the latter option often fell prey to chiefly opportunism or to the greed of their husbands' kin. A combination of land shortage and a proliferation of chiefs in Basutoland had pushed widows into an increasingly posed position in the 1920s and 1930s. Under the system of 'placing' chiefs, which had been started by Moshoeshoe, the number of chiefs had grown steadily in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, each exercising authority over a steadily dwindling patrimony. 'As one Basutoland National Council member exclaimed in the early 1930s: There are now as many Chiefs in Basutoland as there are stars the heavens' (LA, 'Financial and Economic Position of Basutoland': 48-49). Their continually narrowing jurisdiction encouraged the chiefs 'exploit more intensively their rights over the areas that remained. Fines and tribute (lira) labour for the chiefs' fields were extorted ever remorselessly, with much of the burden falling on women. Widows who lacked the protection of husbands and adult male were particularly vulnerable to these demands. Worse still, since widows were exempted from the payment of tax and the chiefs took a cut of the taxes collected in their territories, widows often found themselves arbitrarily deprived of their lands which were then allocated to young male tax-payers (Edgar, 1987:10,130; LA, Box 71, item 44;Kimble, 1983:15-18). Other pressures, including the levelling of witchcraft accusations, could be applied by jealous in-laws, until the hapless widow was ultimately forced to leave. Such women often fled to government camps in Basutoland, where they engaged in the brewing of beer; alternatively they might proceed to the Free State or the Rand (Kimble, 1983: 16-18). It is presumably to this category of hat the superintendent of Bloemfontein location was referring when he spoke of 'the Basotho woman who is ostracised by the tribe driven out', in his evidence to the Native Economic Commission in1931 (UWL, 'Evidence to the NEC', Box 3, File Bloemfontein: 5150-).

While these groups of, in one way or another, marginalised v made a significant contribution to the mounting exodus of women, by far and away the largest component of this mow consisted of women properly married by cattle and living with their children in monogamous homes. It is here that the callous destructiveness of the migrant labour system is most plain. Commonly husbands returned to their jobs in South Africa within a couple of months of marriage and were almost always away for considerable lengths of time (Gaye, 1980: 109-11, 122-3). Some never came back others returned intermittently and in the interim neglected to provide their wives with adequate support. Many women were thus condemned to live lives of profound insecurity and poverty, never know when their husbands would come home or where their family would get their next meal. The records of the only surviving district archive for the post-1930 period in Lesotho are littered with pathetic appeals of women to have their absent husbands traded down. A few excerpts give some sense of the strain under which Basotho wives lived:

Motsarapane Molapo to District Commissioner (hereafter DC), Leribe, 8 May 1954: 'I have been asked by Anna Lesaoana that husband John who has been away for the last 6 years be repatriated. She says 10 cattle were paid for the marriage.' J. D. Elliot, DC, Leribe, to Native Commissioner, Pretoria, 26 November 1955: 'I have received a report that Teboho Mpho Linakane Thaba Phatsoa is not supporting his wife and 6 children. Please persuade him to support them.' Elliot to Native Commissioner, Germiston, 23 December I have a complaint of non-support on the part of Elliot Thoahlara South African Repairs Shops, Germiston. He has been away from home for nearly 8 years.' Acting DC, Leribe, to the British Agent in Johannesburg, 7 June 1956: 'The Chief reports Moleleki Mohale has been lost on mines. His address is supposed to be the S. A. Railways and Harbours Compound, Germiston, but his wife says she has been there and he is not there. He has been missing for 10 months.'
DC, Leribe, to Manager, Eclipse Engineering, Benoni, 18 October 1958: The Bearer of this letter is Tomothea Malao, wife of Paulus Malao who is working in your firm. His wife complains her husband is not supporting her and also his children. Please persuade him to support her' (LA, Box 39, 57).

The problems experienced by the wives of absent husbands were often compounded by friction in their new homes. Upon marriage young woman was obliged to live at her in-laws' homestead was often some time before her husband established a fully separate home (Gaye, 1980:109-11,122-3). In the meantime, especially if their husbands were absent, young brides occupied an invidious position. They were obliged to observe rules of respect and avoidance (hlonepho) with regard to the senior male agnates of the husband, there were tight restrictions on whom they could meet, and they could easily be scorned or frozen out by the other women of their new home. In these new and often alien surroundings potential for conflict abounded, particularly over the distribution of the husband's remittances or the 'location of work (ibid.: 99-101, 120, 122-3). 'Me Likeleko, for example, married with cattle in 1932 and went to stay with her in-laws, where she worked in their fields. Her father-in-law 'hated her very much', and she was forced to go back to her home. Her husband allowed her to her parents' village but then began 'to beat her every day' until in 1942 she absconded to South Africa without his consent (interview). 'Me Mmatuku Ramatuku experienced similar problems. She was married in about 1940 and soon bore two children. Her husband was recruited into the Basotho contingent fighting in the Second World War and did not return for five years. In the meantime tensions mounted between Mmatuku and her mother-in-law, who WAS 'jealous of her possessions' which she bought with the money remitted by her husband. When her husband returned from the war he found his elder brother had died. Encouraged by his mother, he took his dead brother's wife and family, abandoning his own interviewed).

In every way migrant labour profoundly warped marital relations. The protracted absences of men predisposed women to extra-marital affairs. As P. M. Maguta, a Lesotho resident interviewed for this study, observes.’ Their husbands immediately left these women after marriage. These men would remain with their wife for about two or three months and would join the mines leaving the woman still young and fresh anxious for their husband'.

Extra-marital affairs in these circumstances were less the exception than the rule, inspiring intense jealousy among husbands who often resorted to beatings and abuse (interview, 'Me L.; ISAS, interviews; Gaye, 1980: 166-7,126,159-61). These pressures often so embittered relations between husbands and wive that one or other party would desert. Herein lies the background to Theko Bereng's lament to the Basutoland National Council in 1952: 'At the moment whenever we travel by train we see many women travelling to Johannesburg. I ask them myself why they are running away from the country, they tell me about the cruelty which is practised on them by their husbands in Basutoland' (LA, 'Proceedings': vol. II, 464-5).

What is the most striking about the movement of Basotho women to South Africa is the overwhelming preponderance of married women in their ranks. Occasionally unmarried women would leave, usuallythose who had been 'spoilt in the yard' (that is, had fallen pregnant but these were comparatively rare. 'Me M. P. was one such case. She fell pregnant while still at school and since she was alone with HER mother and there were financial problems at home, she decided to look for work on the Rand. Although her initial impulse for leaving was unusual, her subsequent experiences find echoes in the histories of countless other women. A friend had a boyfriend in Germiston, who wrote to tell them that it was possible to find work in South Africa. The two women left for the Reef by train in 1944 but after they had tracked down the boyfriend at his place of work, he refused to see them - evidently because he was living with another woman. The women were thereafter directed to Masakeng (Mpanza's shanty town), where they were able to find accommodation. 'Me M. P. eventually found work as a domestic worker, entered a relationship with a Nyasa man and fell pregnant once again (interview).

The part of 'Me M. P's experience which is so reminiscent of that of other married women who set out for the Rand is the attitude of the man she went to find. In many cases women who went in search of their husbands would find they had disappeared without trace interview, S. M. Majara). In cases where the husband was still at last-known place of work, he would often refuse to see his wife. I was living in a mine or factory compound this effectively closed the desperate woman from any access to him. Simon Majara claims that Makotulo, his cautionary tale of the life of a migrant Basotho woman, was inspired by observing one such harrowing scene stereotypically beautiful young Mosotho woman came to the mine where Majara worked in search of her husband, only to be spurned and sent away. Rather than return to Basutoland, she took up the life of a brewer and semi-prostitute, being much fought over by rival Basotho men (ibid.). This seems to have been the characteristics response of wives rejected in this way. Overnight, 'respectable women thus became transformed into the notorious unattached and undesirable Basotho women so reviled by white administrators at the time. Not all Basotho women migrants endured such unhappy experiences.

A number interviewed for this study succeeded in re-establishing fairly harmonious marital relations after joining their husbands in the Free State or on the Rand (interviews ‘Me R. O. T; 'Me M. M.; 'Me M. Ma; 'Me M. Me). Almost as common, was for the reconstructed marriage to collapse. Janisch an shire estimated that the average period of cohabitation of back man and women in Johannesburg at the end of the 1930s was two years and while traditional marriages by cattle were probably more durable than this, the volatility and flux of the urban environment have exacted a heavy toll on these relationships as well. The marriages

Of two of the women interviewed for this study collapsed while they were living in the towns (interview, 'Me M. Mo; ISAS, interviews BMW2), and the district archives of Leribe reverberate with complaints from indignant urban-dwelling husbands whose wives had vanished from their homes: Native Commissioner (NC), Vereeniging, to DC, Leribe, 17 November1954: 'Ntepe Jackson Mosala complains that his wife Matomasa a deserted him on 8 November 1954 when he was at work taking her 11 month old baby. There was no reason.

' Moss Friedman & Co., Attornies, Vereeniging, to DC, 25 January 1956: 'Augustus Semena states his wife and 2 children have left him and are at Peka. She has written to him refusing to go back. He wants you to order her to go to his home at Fobana Leribe and lay any charge she has against him.' NC Pretoria, to DC, Hlotse, 13 July 1954: Piet Malelane lodges complaint that his wife Christina Malelane has maliciously deserted his home and is now staying with her elder brother... in your district. 'He asks she be prevailed upon to return home as he has nobody to look after the minor children' (LA, Box 57, File 1218).

Since these files refer only to women who had gone back to Basutoland, it is clear that desertion by women was taking place on a fairly substantial scale. Urban women were refusing to submit to the demands and caprices of their men. Men were losing control of their women. The same trend is evident in relation to the state; indeed, men’s loss of control was partly premissed on the incapacity of the state to direct the movements and activities of women. It is to this t this chapter now turns.


The loss of control over Basotho women can ultimately be traced back is failure of the South African authorities to install an effective system of pass controls over South African women as a whole. The root of this failure can itself be tracked down to the campaigns against women's passes which burst out in a number of Free State towns between 1913 and 1923. In these campaigns, as Wells (1982) shows, a respectable middle-class women's leadership, linked to the equally respectable middle-class African National Congress (ANC) and African People’s Organisation (APO), played the most conspicuous role. Less visible but, if anything, even more important in provoking 'the conflict were poor, uprooted Basotho women from Basutoland and eastern Free State farms, who had been driven by a combination and family pressures to seek refuge in the Free State towns. As Wells observes, 'if was no accident that the conflict [over women’s passes] first emerged in the Orange Free State. The political

economy of the region incorporated black women earlier and more extensively than any other in South Africa' (1982:15). What Wells referring to here are the women of sharecropping families who were being extruded from Free State farms in the 1900s and 1910s. Her comment could equally appropriately be extended to Basotho women on the other side of the border, of whom she is largely unaware.

Women arriving in the Free State towns in the 1900s, who were not already members of middle-class families, had two basic options they could work as domestics, or they could engage in informal income generating activities such as beer-brewing, petty trade or prostitution. Herein lay the source of the women's agitation. From the Anglo-Boer War onwards, most Free State towns experienced persistent shortage of female domestic labour. Women either refused to present themselves for such low-paying work or were unreliable and undisciplined, flitting between jobs. The reasons for their ability to withhold labour varied with their social class. Women from the more prosperous oorlams (deracinated groups that grew up on Boer farms) and Baralong families were freed very often from the economic compulsion to seek work and could devote their attention to their families and their homes. Women from poorer, farm-labouring stock or from Basutoland, on the other hand, engaged in a whole range of informal sector activities in order to escape domestic work.

The first pass laws were thus framed with the related objectives suppressing beer-brewing and prostitution, and forcing women onto the domestic labour market. As more and more Basotho women flooded into the Free State towns and the domestic labour persisted as acutely as ever, local pass laws against women were enforced with renewed vigour. In Bloemfontein, Winburg Jagersfontein their application was particularly indiscriminate and severe. In contrast to Heilbron and Kroonstad, where married were exempted from pass controls, the police harassed staid middle-class matrons as well as younger unmarried women. A sudden particularly strict enforcement in May 1913 provoked the first resistance to women's passes. Its leaders, as Wells (1982) stresses women from middle-class Baralong, oorlams and colour holds, and it was their efforts, along with the political and propaganda campaigns of the APO, which secured first the relaxation controls over women, and then the exclusion of women from provisions of the 1923 (Natives) Urban Areas Act. Without this leadership it is highly unlikely that this concession would have occurred, but this should not blind us to the context out of which the anti-pass movement emerged. It was this early large-scale proletarianisation of women which provided the context for the first women's anti-pass campaign, and it was this, in turn, which shaped the application of the pass laws for the next thirty years.

The accelerated influx of women to the Rand in the latter part of the 1920s led to renewed efforts to give the existing influx control legislation more bite. A 1930 amendment to the Urban Areas Act provided for the issuing of special permits to African women, conditional upon their joining a husband or father who had two years of continuous employment in the town, while the 1937 revision provided that a woman entering an urban area for the first time should have certificate from the authorities of her home district granting permission to leave (Wells, 1982: 258, 261-5). The 1930 amend-turned out almost immediately to be a dead letter. Several witnesses told the 1937 Vereeniging Riots Commission how easily this provision was evaded. As Albert Mduli put it, Basotho women came to Vereeniging and 'got a man around the compounds' in order to get a lodger’s permit (CAD, NTS 6671, File 87/332; see also evidence of J. M. Simpson). When it came to policeman G. C. van der Merwe's turn to give evidence, his frustrations bubbled over: 'We have made apian to get them out of the location', he told the Commission, 'but each one of them has a man, and you can do what you like, but they have got a man.... Unless I could show you 2 or 3 previous convictions you could not get them out. If you arrest a girl with the name Maria, tomorrow she is Jane. Consequently, unless you go to court and swear there are previous convictions you cannot get a sentence imposed' ibid.: 150-1).

R. W. Norden, the Native Commissioner of Johannesburg, put the matter a little more dispassionately. Since irregular unions could be claimed as customary marriages, women could not be expelled under the habitually unemployed' clause of the legislation (17(i)(a)), or for having sufficient honest means of livelihood (section 17(i)(b)). Deportation orders were difficult to secure even if the marital status of women in doubt, and where attempts to check this were made, women frequently resented chiefs’ certificates that were forged or simply unintelligible (CAD, NTS File 7725 File 166/333: NC to Chief 13.9.3937; CAD, NTS 7715 File 53/33] (i): Norden to DNL 30.11.1938; CAD, NTS 6671, File 87/332: 336, 88). A further hedge arrest under Section 17 was for a 'single' woman to get a job as domestic in a white suburb, take up residence with a man in the location, and then engage in beer-brewing while taking in the occasional load of washing as a cover (CAD, NTS 7715, File 53/331 (i): NC Benoni to DNL 4.1.1939, NC Germiston to DNL 23.11.1938; CAD, NTS 5166/333: DNL to SNA 12.9.1930). Action under subsections (c), (d) and (e) of Section 17 could only be contemplated if the woman had a criminal conviction or had been convicted more than once for the illicit of brewing and selling of liquor. Convictions here were equally hard to obtain. 'Kaffir beer' was exempt from this provision till 1938, and women seldom allowed themselves to be convicted more than once. Aside from routine techniques of evasion, beer-brewers became increasingly sophisticated in their manipulation of the law. In Benoni, for example, 'reprehensible' solicitors 'raised innumerable difficulties to frustrate the efforts of officers of law. Where all else failed, woman-facing conviction would simply estreat bail, and slip away to some other location (CAD, NTS 7725 File 166/333: Johannesburg to Chief NC 13.9.1937, Const. Snijman to Add. NC Vereeniging 22.9.1937, NC Heidelberg to Chief NC 30.9.1937, Barrett and Robinson to SNA 2.2.1931). Once convicted, offenders might still escape deportation. The hardpressed police on the Rand frequently lacked the time 'to search the voluminous records of the Reef courts', and as result convicted women were free to resume their 'undesirable again (ibid.: DNL to SNA 19.10.1937, Norden to Chief NC13.9.1937). Even once all these hurdles were cleared, other traps lay in wait for the unsuspecting Native Commissioner. Beer-brewers had to have somewhere to be deported to, and those not born on the Reef would simply refuse to disclose from which home district they DNL to SNA 12.9.1930, 20.11.1930). The frustrations felt by many numbers officials over their inability to deal with 'undesirable' women led a number to contemplate more radical solutions. Major Cooke of the Native Labour Department went so far as to the recommend to the Native Economic Commission:

There certainly ought to be [a labour colony] for women, because of the difficulties of dealing with a dissolute woman now is that she will not disclose the place from which she comes - which is the term used in the Act. Unless there is some other means of dealing with her, when it comes of giving her the alternative of going back to the place to which she belongs, or being confined to a farm colony, then she makes no bones about disclosing where she does belong to. Similarly in regard to procedure about immigration Act, a woman may obviously be a Basuto... but she will allege she comes from Ficksburg or somewhere in the Free State and the Administration has the greatest difficulty in establishing whether she comes from the side of the border or the other side (UWL, 'Evidence to the NEC; Box 7 File Johannesburg: 7296).

Cooke's call was reiterated a number of times in the course of the decade as the rising tide of women and illicit liquor broke decisively through the banks of control (CAD, NTS 7725 File 166/333: NC Johannesburg to Chief NC 12.1935, Acting DP to SNA1.19 DP to SNA 11.6.1937, NC Far East Rand to DNL 13.9.1930, DNL to SNA 17.10.1930, 20.11.1930, Sec. Justice to SNA 4.3.1931). Owing to shortages of funds a female section at the Prison Farm Labour Colony at Leeuwkop was not established until July 1937. However, even then similar problems bedevilled its operations. It was as difficult as ever to get convictions against 'undesirable' women, while the Supreme Court preferred warnings to immediate incarceration on the prison

farm. As a consequence, over the next fifteen years the section often had as little as two inmates and sometimes none, and never housed more than fourteen at the same time. The Prison Department displayed predictable irritation at this low occupancy rate, especially since they had been bombarded with requests for the facility for over a decade, and the section's activities were first suspended in November 1951 and finally closed in mid-1954 (ibid.: Acting DP to SNA 15.4. 1942, DNL to SNA 30.4.1942, Chief NC to SNA 11.2.1954, DP to SNA 18.3.1954, Gen. Circular 34 of 1954 issued by SNA).

The only alternative means of preventing Basotho women's entry to the Rand was to control their movement at source. This was attempted by both the Basutoland and the South African authorities, sometimes in unison, sometimes unilaterally. One of the earliest efforts was the Basutoland law of 1915 in terms of which no Mosotho woman was allowed to leave Basutoland without a letter signed by her husband or father and endorsed by her local chief and an officer of the 'colonial administration (Kimble, 1983: 9, 13-16). The system proved immediately ineffective. Women wishing to evade these pass control could obtain a document to cross to the border towns of Ladybrand or Ficksburg, purportedly for shopping or medical purposes and then simply entrain for the Rand (interview, 'Me M.; LA, Proceedings').

Attempts to breathe new life into the law were made after complaints by the South African authorities in the second half of 1930 about the 'steady migration of unattached Native women from Basutoland to the Witwatersrand where they form[ed] a most undesirable which ma [de] a living by smuggling liquor into the locations and compounds and by immorality'. 'Crime' and 'disturbances' were the direct outcome of their activity, and the Basutoland authorities were requested to stem this flow at source (CAD, NTS 7725 File 166/333: SNA to GS 8.10.1930). Three months later the Government Secretary of the Basutoland administration was able to report that by arrangement with the Paramount Chief, all Basotho women would in future from leaving the territory unless in possession of a certificate from their local chief confirming that they had the permission bands or parents to travel to the Union (ibid.: Foord GS to SNA 15.12. 1930, 2.1.1931). This was the 1915 proclamation revived and it had as little effect. Shortly afterwards the Secretary for Native Affairs was once again complaining to the Basutoland authorities that-travelling passes were being issued indiscriminately to Basuto women to visit or find absent husbands on the Reef. The Government Secretary again assured the Secretary for Native Affairs that would discourage this practice but only then revealed the limits of his powers. A major problem, he confessed, was the absence of colonial legislation restricting the movement of Basotho women, while the 'extensive nature of the border' made it easy for them to evade any proposed prohibition (ibid.: SNA to GS5.3.1931, GS to SNA 24.2.1931, 24.3.1931). A further loophole was identified after a fresh batch of complaints in 1934: there was virtually no control over women visiting the border towns of the Union, from which they could entrain to the Reef.

The only solution proffered by the Basutoland government was that the South African Railways be instructed to refuse the issue of tickets to women not in possession of permission to proceed (ibid.: Acting GS to SNA 25.8.1934). They were conspicuously unresponsive to this appeal. Their General Manager replied that 'even if ‘practical’ they could not justify such action in view of the large number of women permanently resident in the Free State, whose movements were unrestricted by law (ibid.: Watermeyer to DNL 3.10.1934). The alternative of closing the border to Basotho visitors to border towns seems not to have been canvassed at all. An altercation which erupted some twenty years later probably provides the answer why. In September 1955, Secretary for Native Affairs Eiselen instructed the Native Commissioner for Ficksburg to apply the provisions of Section 1 Act 25 of 1945 to Basotho citizens. This required that women wanting to enter South Africa obtain a pass from the Basutoland District Commissioner, who in turn was required to get the permission of the Native Commissioner or magistrate of the place to which the woman were intending to go. A howl of protest went up from the Ficksburg Chamber of Commerce which was threatened with a dramatic fall in custom, and the Minister quickly backed off, claiming that the Native Commissioner's interpretation of his order had been an 'unfortunate misunderstanding' and that 72-hour visitors were always meant exempt (LA, Box 65:? to DC Leribe 13.4.1956, Eiselen to Sec Commission 8.12.1955, DC Leribe to GS 22.12.1955, DC Majara to all chiefs 9.11.1955). The ban would, in any case, probably not have made much difference. Even a pass to visit Ficksburg was superfluous if the Caledon River was not in flood. As Councillor Lepolesa reminded the 1952 session of the Basutoland National Council, 'women [could] just cross the river and go to the railway', thus making a mockery of the existing system of pass controls (LA, 'Proceedings': vol. II, 461-2). Women feeling they needed added security could simply go to nearest farmer over the border. By the mid-1940s, and presumably earlier, 'some of the smaller farmers [were making] a kind of business of endorsing passes for women', for which they charged 2s 6d (UWL, 'Minutes': vol. 3, 2114).

The 1937 amendment to the Urban Areas Act represented a further attempt to regulate the movement of women. As in 1930 however there was no proper mechanism of enforcement and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the government was chary of any effort at compulsion following the resistance of the late 1910s (Wells, 1982:258, 261-5). Women migrants were in any case quick to spot loopholes in the law. As the Native Affairs Manager of Benoni recorded ruefully in 1946, 'the average native has now got wise to the date of promulgation and when questioned he readily answers he came here before 1938'. In his view 'to all practical purposes the 1938 amendments were useless and obsolete' because women were not required to carry passes, which made prosecution 'extremely difficult and complicated' (BMA, NEAC minutes 11.1.1946, 9.4.1946). If anything, efforts to control the movements and activities of women diminished in the course of the Second World War, as the South African authorities the operation of the pass laws in an effort to ensure the loyalty of blacks, and this allowed Basotho women to flood into South Africa on an unprecedented scale. Not until the 1950s and early 1960s would effective measures be taken to curb this wholesale emigration, by which time generations of Basotho women were securely ensconced on the Rand.


The absence of state control over the movement and activities of Basuto women seriously weakened the hold that men could exercise over them and created new tensions between the sexes. Across the African communities of the Rand, Basotho women acquired a reputation for being promiscuous and fickle. Questioned by the Vereeniging Riots Commission in 1937, Albert Mduli remarked: 'They do not stick to the man through whom they get their lodgers' permits. When a woman thinks she has sufficient money, she drives the man away and gets another (CAD, NTS 6671, File 87/332).

Sotho migrant S. Pelanyane likewise recalls: 'Women at that time were enticed by money. If you had money you could have as many woman as you wanted' (interview). The same stereotype recurs in the pages of Sesotho novels. Simon Majara writes in Liakhela, 'When a man is not bringing money home he is left and she goes to a new man (17) Of course what was promiscuity for Basotho men often represented independence for Basotho women. This independence seems in many instances have been consciously asserted, and drew its strength from two principal sources. The first was Basotho women's experience, abandonment and neglect. The second was the independent income that could be earned from brewing and prostitution. Most of Basotho women migrants had come to South Africa in a last desperate effort to save their marriages and find their men. Once finally rejected, many seem to have resolved never again to become wholly dependent on men. Beer brewing and other informal income generating activities provided this opportunity. Women made a pointof keeping this money - which in the 1950s could amount to a week - for themselves; with this they could support their independently of men. Thus one woman interviewed, M. F., saved money because 'in the end she knew she would come back to Basutoland'. Like most other brewers she also joined a mahodisane, group (a rotating credit association). Three women participated in-group, paying £10 a time, which provided the necessary insurance against misfortunes like illness, arrest or deportation (interview). The grasping hands of men were kept well away.

A certain section of Basotho women were, nevertheless, on any reckoning, promiscuous. The experiences that had brought them to the town seem to have bred in them immensely contradictory attitudes and emotions. Despair and depression about the collapse their marriages mingled with exhilaration at the new freedom of the towns. Men were alternately solicited and rejected, their company invited, their authority spurned. This behaviour and these attitudes were in a sense distilled in the famo dances that many urban Basotho women attended. Coplan writes: According to numerous eye witnesses, the famo was almost defiantly suggestive. Women made shaking and thrusting movements with their shoulders hips and bosoms, while lifting their flared skirts. The dancers wore underwear but instead 'had painted rings around the whole area of the sex, a ring they called "stoplight"....' Men dancing alongside or seated against the walls chose the women they wanted and took them into the back for intercourse (1985:5)

Maliehe Khoeli describes famo in similar terms: 'When women dance they jump and twist, lift their dresses about their waists and expose their underwear. Then men would come and produce their sexual organs which they called picks' (interview). M. R., a beer-brewer in Apex squatter camp near Benoni, likewise recalls: 'Women would dance around men, then lift up their dresses so that men would have sight of the panties or even their private parts.... Men would obviously be enticed. There would be hush-hush business taking place. Some would vanish as couples. Others would stand in the corners of houses in the dark It was "Thagiso” (interview). P. M. and C. Maguta, who lived in Benoni location in the early 1940s, remember miners from neighbouring mines outbidding each other to buy dances with these women, a practice which could easily degenerate into fights (interview).

Coplan describes famo as 'a cathartic moral comment on social problems' and cites the experience of Adelina who attended famo in Vereeniging and Kroonstad. She explained: When I was deeply depressed and worried, in order to express myself and feel contented ... I went to the shebeen to sing these things I had gone [to town] to visit my husband and I found him but we were separated. I suffereda lot because of that. So I had to go to these places and get some joy out of life burden myself. Others came for similar reasons, and to share their feelings with others (1985:101).

Basotho men did not necessarily submit tamely to this provocative behaviour by women. Individual reactions would often involve assaults-on women by their male partners, but there was also a more collective form of response articulated through the Ma Rashea gangs. This had an almost schizophrenic character. On the one hand the promiscuity of women seems to have been taken by gang members as justification for their simply seizing women by force. Simon Majara records in Liakhela: 'If they find a man walking with a beautiful woman they say "Here is the woman I have been looking for;" then they take her by force and sjambok her until she submits' (45). Ex-members of the Ma Rashea confirm the practice. Ex-gang leader Maliehe Khoeli recalls that The Russians used to say, "This is my wife of years that I have been looking for,'" adding that he himself prohibited the practice if the couple had been married by cattle (interview). Khoeli's attitude was nevertheless not shared by many Ma Rashea. When ex-member Nthodi was asked whether such treatment of women was an expression of moral censure against irregular marriages, he gave the purely instrumental reply that it was simply because Basotho women in towns did not enjoy the protection of a chief or male kin (interview).

On the other hand women living with Ma Rashea men were expected to conform to an entirely different code of conduct. If one absconded with another man she would be recaptured by the gang and mercilessly beaten. Again Majara writes: 'They seized women, if your wife had gone with another man because of his wealth or something you could get them to go and get them back. By so doing they stopped prostitution. Many women began to stick to their husbands despite riches and wealth' (1972: 60-2). 'Me M. R. provides a somewhat different emphasis but makes a similar point: 'It wouldn’t be defection as such, but I suppose love would be the cause, or at times 'a woman is not satisfied with the way she is being treated by the man.' Once caught: 'YOU will be ordered to take your belongings with you, and they will chase you all the way while beating you. At times you reach home dead. These men were terrible' (interview). S. Pelanyane he reprisals in even more chilling detail:

She got beaten up by all the members. You see, I would be tightened with a band on my waist so that it tends to have a tail and be ordered to run and she runs after me and I must make it a point that she doesn't catch up with while running. They would be beating her up so as to catch up with me and I wouldn’t stop whatever. If I did I would also be beaten. But I had a whistle with me. If I felt she had had it I would then blow it and that would be an order to stop (interview).

Men went to extreme lengths to establish control over women, and still all too often failed. The efforts of the central government were likewise abortive until it resorted to draconian legislation to impose' passes on women and deport illegal women migrants in the 1950s and 1960s. Only then was the rebellion of Basotho women temporarily and incompletely quelled.


This chapter has attempted to weave together a number of connected themes. It demonstrates that particular areas of southern Africa contributed disproportionately to the flow of women to the Rand. It suggests that this pattern was the product of the uneven impact of proletarianisation and labour migrancy and the specific constitution of the internal structures of the societies concerned indicates the intimate connection between these groups of women and the illicit brewing of liquor, and focuses on the late 1930 time when the municipal and central authorities attempted some control over the process of black urbanisation by control brewing of liquor. The chapter suggests that control over proved unattainable in this period, mainly because they were obliged to carry passes, and that this freedom was the direct past struggles over passes and the potential for large-scale resistance revealed in other, contemporary collisions with women. Lack of governmental control over women in both Basutoland and South Africa also weakened the control of Basotho men over Basotho women, and had important repercussions on Basotho migrant culture in the towns.