Sunday, January 17, 2016

A History of South Africa: Social and Economic - CW De Kiewiet

Land, climate, and conflicting peoples: these have been the foundations of South African social and economic life. CW De Kiewiet's history, first published in 1941, recounts attempted, imposed, but ultimately unattainable separations within South Africa. Early colonization sought to make the Cape a way-station for trade between Europe and Asia - seeking to abstract this outpost of economy from its environs. Later Dutch settlers wished to remain at a distance from Cape colonial administrative strictures. As the Boers headed to the hinterlands they wished to found their own society, free of natives and imperial requirements. The Transvaal and the Orange Free State wanted independence; liberty to govern themselves and the natives. The Boers did not, however, wish to shake themselves loose of the land, but to inhabit it and dispose of it as they saw fit. Had the lands which were later to be united as South Africa remained so resource-poor the Boers may have gotten their wish.

Whether for good or for ill gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in surpassing abundance in 1886. This was not California gold - the kind available to the solitary miner with his pan in a stream. The gold of the rand ran in deep, diffuse veins. Vast economies of scale, huge labor forces, and uncountable tons of dynamite, shovels, pickaxes, trolleys, and beams were needed to extract the gold and make it pay. In hordes they came to work the fields, both black and white. The Tshona, the Zulu, the Khoi and the Xhosa; Boers, British, Germans, Australians, and Americans. Soon these latter ones, foreign whites, the Uitlanders, outnumbered Boer citizens, but remained devoid of political rights. Who was to be responsible for these Uitlanders, and who would ensure their rights? The companies? The Cape? The republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State? The Boers were adamantly defensive of their culture and livelihoods - to grant equality to the Uitlanders would be to lose their identity. There was no question of the natives.

Witwatersrand would prove to be the richest gold field in the world, bringing the world to South Africa. Economy brought together all of that which had been previously kept asunder. With the invasion of the world new environments and new communities were built. The contact of men with one another, between people and the soil, and the slow collision of different communities in regards to the land and their neighbors composes the early history of South Africa. The story of one comprises the story of many.