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Evans-Pritchard Lectures - Managing African labour: between developmentalism and apartheid, 1946-1960

Dr Benedetta Rossi


Tuesday, 10 May - 5:00pm



Policies focused on development responded to the colonial state's need for cheap labour when compulsory recruitment and conscription were finally outlawed. The creation of colonial development funds financed by European tax-payers was not simply a move away from purely extractive colonial policies; it also made possible the continued exploitation of African workers behind a rhetoric of ‘community development’, ‘human investment’, and ‘voluntary participation’. Developmentalism depoliticized the labour question in Africa by foregrounding generic calls for ‘African’ or ‘human’ development, and shifting the emphasis away from the inequalities within workers. Concurrently, the post-1948 era in South Africa was marked by the institutionalization of racial criteria in the management of labour. Under the apartheid regime the Native Affairs Department classified labour racially as ‘African’, ‘Bantu’, ‘Xhosa’, or ‘Zulu’. The enormous significance of apartheid in South African history pervades regional labour historiography. By contrast, slavery left few traces, mainly circumscribed to the Cape Town region. While in western, eastern, and northern Africa race mattered as a symptom of possible slave origin or as evidence of continuing enslavability, in Southern Africa former slave status mattered as evidence of the more culturally salient category of race. This lecture compares and contrasts different regimes of labour management in the middle of the twentieth century. It discusses examples of how slave descendants negotiated their status and opportunities in distinct discursive contexts: from colonial development projects to southern African pass systems.