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Lecture and Seminar: Prof. Dr. Bernde Grewe

African Labour for Gold Mines: Specific Features of Mine Work in South Africa before Apartheid


Course description:

In the first half of the 20th century, working in deep shaft mines was hard and hazardous. Albeit wages paid by South African mining companies were very low, more than 200.000 migrant workers from the British and Portuguese colonies north of South Africa travelled each year to the Witwatersrand to work for several months in the gold mines. Having signed a contract with a recruiting corporation, they had to live in closed compounds near the mine and accept very poor working conditions. ‘Black’ miners were often treated with brutal force and coercion. Once their contract expired they were obliged to return into their home country. Because the mines organized a deferred pay, they received the better part of their wages only at an agency at home. These specific features of labour in South African gold mines deserve particular interest: Why did so many of these workers return to the mines after a while? Why were they not able to organize themselves to struggle for improved working conditions and pay? Was there no solidarity among them? And how did the ‘whites’ manage to control such large numbers of mine workers?


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