Siyabonga Nxumalo is a PhD candidate at University of KwaZulu in the Department of Historical Studies with an interest in farm workers experiences and land issues.
The untold story of the marginalized: The social history of the experiences of farm workers in Umvoti area, KwaZulu-Natal, c. 1960s to the 1990s
During the apartheid era, law played a crucial role in structuring black and white lives in terms of accessing resources and jobs. Farm workers were among the most exploited people. They worked long hours and were underpaid. Working conditions were severe. Some were forcibly taken to work in farms if they broke notorious laws of apartheid. People who lived in farms found it more difficult during apartheid to access basic services in their black Group Areas, such as schooling. As a result, African people who resided on farms received little if any education. This then allowed farm owners to obtain labour easily. The division of labour and distribution of unequal wages between gender was crucial in farms during apartheid. The apartheid state served as a playground to exhibit imperial notion of masculine and feminine identities. Women were denied African male labour, instead they were burdened with households’ chores to perform in white farms. Apartheid intrusion into African societies added new dimensions to the differentiation between the sexes. They also devised a strategy of controlling households in which a family head could move in a farm with his family but in return they had to work as labourers. The removal of Africans from white farms during the 1960s became increasingly high because of the Bantu Laws Amendment Act, No-42, 1964 and this caused a lot of hardships to farm workers. Inkatha was influential in suppressing African workers so that African people can be easily be accessible to white farmers as labourers. Also, by repairing the disciplinary structure that will reconstitute “traditionalism.” So, in terms of this initiatives, the white authorities in Natal, who had regarded Zulu nationalists’ identities as a threat to white interests in the 19th century, were beginning to see them as an instrument to be co-opted in defence of government and capitalist interests. They therefore seized an opportunity to revive them – albeit in a modified form, to give Inkatha a new lease of life and make it a bulwark against the thrust of emerging radical black community and working-class politics. This study focuses on the lives of farmworkers in the Umvoti region of KwaZulu-Natal. I chose this area in part because of my attachment to it. Growing up in the area, I used to observe members of my family and other locals waking up at dawn waiting for trucks to take them to work. Their struggles have been marginalized in the historiography and this article will help to give voice to them, but beyond that contribute to the emerging literature on farmworkers and their place in the political economy of South Africa. Thus, this study seeks to understand their experiences.
Affiliation: University of Kwazulu-Natal