John A. Hobson

Imperialism, A Study


Chapter IV
Imperialism and the Lower Races

The Labour Policy of Transvaal Mine-Owners

This policy is most succinctly stated in the language of the President of the Chamber of Mines, at Johannesburg, in his annual address for 1898:–

“I consider that one of our chief aims should be to get a class of labour that stays, and in that direction I should consider it a distinct advantage if we had been allowed to establish at a short distance from here some huge location where the natives could live with their families, but having no other means of earning their livelihood except by working in the mines, they would have secured a supply of skilled labour constantly available.” (Cd.9345, p.31)

Here is the mining policy in a nut-shell. Natives are to be induced to come from a distance “with their families.” At present they leave these families behind, and when they have earned enough money go away with it, and resume their tribal life of agriculture. But if they can be got to bring their families, they will have broken their tribal ties, and however much they may afterwards regret their action and desire to return, they will have given hostages to fortune; they cannot carry off their families, trek many hundreds of miles, and resume the old tribal life. In their new location they are not to be allowed land to cultivate, but are to be kept in an economic condition, which allows them no option but continuous work at the mines. These “location” natives will no longer work three or six months, and go away with their wages as heretofore; the conditions named above, supported by a rigorous enforcement of the pass law, will oblige them to stay all their working life in the service of the mines. Here is one great advantage of the location over the compound. Another advantage hardly less important is that by this location system the mines will “breed” their labour on the spot, young Kaffirs ripening in reliable crops every year to meet the growing demands of the labour market, with no option of turning to any other market or of making a living off the soil.

No wonder the location policy is popular among mine owners and managers. This is the scheme which is approved by all the witnesses before the Industrial Commission. Mr. Albu “would not recommend the compound system,” because “it would hurt the industrial community” (p.25); but says, “I think if the natives had their locations here, and had their wives and families, they would make this place their home.” (p.24)

Mr. Way, mine manager, when asked,” Can you suggest any plan by which a permanent supply could be relied upon for the Rand, skilled principally?” replied: “The only way is to give natives facilities for family life. We do it to a certain extent on the George Goch, and we get into considerable trouble for doing it. We have a location upon our lower claims, and I have boys who have their wives and families, who have been working at the mine for the last eight years. If locations could be established somewhere in the neighbourhood of the mines – within walking distance – so that the natives could bring down their wives and families, I think you would have a far greater supply than you require.” (p.43)

Mr. S.J. Jennings (p.46), Mr. Brakhan (p.184), Mr. Kenny (p.376), Mr. W. Hall (p.429), the other mining witnesses examined on this subject, all endorsed the location policy, the last named giving his opinion as follows:–

“As to the Kaffir, he cannot be made to become a progressive and reliable employee under the unnatural condition in which he is now held. That he should have at least a temporary home, within no great distance from the mine centre, to which he could inexpensively retire after his engagements on mine service are over, and with the end of returning to mine work, seems to me to be absolutely essential to the end in view; or else he must be carried by rail, at a merely nominal rate, practically to and from the country of his birth.” (p. 429)

This last passage indicates a new “economy” of the location system. The demand for labour on the mines has been, and will continue to be, irregular, and subject to swift and sudden fluctuation. It is therefore important for the mine-owners to have upon the spot “a far greater supply than you require,” in Mr. Way’s words, so that you may get your increase quick and cheap when you want it, and may force it “inexpensively” to retire into unemployment when it is no longer wanted.

One other economy is subserved by the location. The miner will be forced to spend all his earnings, not merely in the country, but on the spot, in shops owned, rented, financed, or otherwise controlled by the mining companies, or by the members of those companies in some other business capacity.

The advocacy of the location system is, however, not confined to the mine-owner. The clergy and missionaries, who profess the deepest concern for the “elevation” of the natives, are divided between advocacy of the compounds and advocacy of the location. While the Rev. J.S. Moffat is persuaded of the beneficial moral influences of imprisonment in the Kimberley compound, the Rev. J.M. Bovill, rector of the Cathedral Church, Lorenzo Marques, champions the location. In his instructive book, Natives under the Transvaal Flag, he states the case as follows:–

“Let native reserves or locations be established on the separated mines, or groups of mines, where the natives can have their huts built, and live more or less under the same conditions as they do in their native kraals. If a native found that he could live on the Rand under similar conditions to those he has been accustomed to, he will soon be anxious to save enough money to bring his wife and children there, and remain in the labour district for a much longer period than at present is the case. It would be a distinct gain to the mining industry as well as to the native.” (p.59)

This may be taken as a characteristic utterance of the sham philanthropy of the professional harmoniser of God and Mammon. For Mr. Bovill, who displays throughout his book an intimate acquaintance with the mining industry, must be well aware of the falsehood which is contained in the words we have italicised. These natives are not intended to live “more or less under the same conditions as they do in their native kraals," where their life is entirely agricultural and pastoral. On the contrary, it is, as we said, clearly recognised that they must not be allowed to work on the land, but must work in the mines for wages. In the location Mr. Bovill would not even leave them property in their own huts.

“Huts could be erected on a mine, or group of mines, at a very small cost, and I am sure that the natives would be quite willing to pay a monthly rent if they were properly housed. Their huts, of course, would be the property of the mines, built on ground belonging to the mines, and under the supervision of the mines, much as our miners’ houses are in some of our colliery districts.” (p.61)

In order to complete the picture of economic servitude, it is right to understand the wage system under which these Kaffirs will work. Mr. Bovill does not trouble to explain this, but the admission of mining witnesses before the Industrial Commission and subsequent events supply the lack. When Kaffirs with their families are “induced” to settle in these locations, and to live in huts supplied by mining companies, not only must they work for wages in the mines, spending those wages in rent for their huts and for goods purchased from the mining companies, but they must work for whatever wages their employers choose to pay. They will have no voice whatever in determining their wages; no power of bargain will be left to them. Their wages will be fixed, not by competition, but by the dictation of a complete monopoly. For years past the policy of the various mining companies upon the Rand has been to adopt a fixed tariff of wages; this has been from the first a chief object of the Chamber of Mines. The 30 per cent. reduction of wages in 1897 was successfully carried out by joint action, and Mr. Albu, when asked, “Is there competition among the mines with regard to the wages?” replied, “I don’t think so at the present moment.” To the further question, “Is it in the power of the mining industry to regulate the wages of Kaffirs?” he answered, “To a great extent it is, provided that the Government assists us in bringing labour to this market” (p.14).

Since 1897 the amalgamation of mining interests has proceeded apace, and the virtual supremacy of the Eckstein group greatly facilitates joint action. Before the war great progress had been made in common action as regards both Kaffir and white wages, and there is a plain recognition of the necessity of dealing with the native labour question by united co-operation with the Government. How clearly this need was recognised four years ago appears in the evidence of Mr. Wm. Hall, who put the matter thus:–

“In short, the mine managements must work together in this matter. For that purpose they must be organised as one institution, and every mine management must be in it. This could only be effected under a law of the Republic. The details of the law should be presented by the representative Chamber of Mines. The operation of it should be wholly in the hands of the organisation created by it, under general supervision – not absolute dictation – of the Government. By some such means only can I see the way at all clear to handle the Kaffir labour problem of the future of the Rand.” (p.428)

Before the war the fact that so much labour must be brought from a distance at great expense, and the difficulty of getting and keeping enough Kaffirs made it difficult to prevent mine managers from contravening secretly the regulations of the Chamber, and trying to entice away the labour from other mines, a selfish policy, facilitated by the loose administration of the pass law. With large native locations, a fixed population of native families, and a rigorous pass law, the wages schedule will be strictly adhered to, and natives will have to work for the mines adjoining their location at wages dictated by the Chamber of Mines. The special laws under which they will live would render strikes or other organised labour action impossible, while their utter dependence on the mines for a livelihood and their inability to leave the neighbourhood will make all effective resistance to reduction of wages ineffectual. The natives upon their locations will be ascripti glebæ, living in complete serfdom, with no vote or other political means of venting their grievances, and with no economic leverage for progress.

Last updated on 12.11.2006