Underdevelopment and class-formation: The origins of migrant labour in Namibia, 1850-1915

Moorsom, Richard
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In Namibia the evolution of the principal stages of colonial exploitation was telescoped into a 2O-year period under German rule. Only in the 1890s was over, half a century of "informal colonialism", whose chief agents were intinerant traders and missionaries, reinforced by German military intervention. Yet by the outbreak of the Great War, most of the land in southern and central Namibia had been expropriated, some of it already settled with immigrant farmers, internal resistance crushed, and the Namib diamond deposits and Tsumeb copper, today still the territory's main mineral resources, put into full production by international mining capital. None of the sectors of capital which developed during this period had more than a marginal interest in the human resources of the country except as labour-power; and its recruitment, distribution and control was from the start a principal function of colonial administration. However, because of the particular historical conditions of that first phase of colonialisation, the forcible separation of subsistence agriculturalists from their means of production was never completed; and the level of recruitment from the ranks of the dispossessed consistently failed to meet the aggregate labour demand of colonial capital. The closing of this gap with contracted migrant labour, and the latter's long-term reproduction, was therefore the central motive for the conservation of the remaining areas of subsistence production by both German and South African administrations. It is with this section of the Namibian working class that I am concerned in this paper.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented September 1975
Migrant labour. Namibia