Agriculture, farm labour and the state in the Natal Midlands, 1940-1960

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis analyses agrarian development in the Natal Midlands during the 1940s and 1950s. Based predominantly on archival and primary sources, it seeks to provide some empirical evidence in an area where such information is sorely lacking. The first chapter briefly analyses the national agricultural economy in the 1940s before turning to the Natal Midlands. The importance of urban factors in fuelling the post-war boom is examined, as is the way in which different groups of farmers reacted to these developments. The second chapter discusses the position of farm workers. The system of labour tenancy is considered and stress is laid on the various tensions within the system which became prominent at this time. The use of the courts and the police in helping farmers control their workers, informal methods of control and labourers' resistance are also examined. The next chapter discusses the severe farm labour shortage and shows how it emerged from the tensions within labour tenancy and the increasing urban opportunities seized by farm workers. Attention is also paid to the farm labour policies of the pre-apartheid state and these are compared with the policies demanded by organised agriculture. The final chapter examines these processes during the 1950s. The effect of the slowdown in agricultural growth is discussed as is the limited success of the apartheid state's farm labour policies. It is suggested that the key to understanding the state's lack of success lies in differentiating between different categories of farmers. The agricultural crisis in the late 1950s and its effects are also analysed. Finally, it is suggested that the key determinants of agrarian development are accumulation and struggle rather than state policies.

Bibliography: leaves 204-212.