Kimberley's closed compounds: a model for Southern African compounds

Turrell, Rob
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While it is by now conventional wisdom that the compound 'provided the framework for the total exploitation of ... black workers', (1) it has often been assumed by historians that the late nineteenth century closed compounds at Kimberley provided a superior material and social environment to their imitators on the Rand and in Southern Rhodesia (2). This assumption has been based on diamond mine owners' claims to have created an attractive social microcosm in their compounds, in which African workers were forced to spend their non-working lives for the duration of a contract. Moreover, the mine owners argued that it was these model social welfare compounds that compensated for a worker's loss of freedom. And it was a measure of the validity of their claim, they continued, that the mines never went short of labour and thus did not need to resort to labour recruitment, (3). This view of model diamond compounds in the 1880s and 1890s is a mine owner's myth. In the areas of accommodation, diet and health care, early Kimberley compounds were not markedly superior to the standards found in early Rand and Southern Rhodesian compounds. Van Onselen has compared conditions in these latter two mining regions and shown that, of the two, Rhodesian compounds were worse.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 13 September, 1982
Miners. South Africa. Kimberley, Migrant labor. Housing. South Africa, Miners. Housing. South Africa