Contesting borders: Foreign farmworkers and labor recruitment in South Africa's Mpumalanga area (1930s-1960s)
(University of Michigan)
Paper short abstract:
In the 20th century many migrant farm workers arrived in South Africa from other parts of southern Africa. This paper investigates these border-crossings, exploring how migrants’ relationships to law, social networks and the state helped them construct claims around labor, livelihoods and belonging.
Paper long abstract:
Cross-border migrant labor has been a central feature in struggles over political and economic power in Africa. In the case of South Africa, there is a detailed historiography on the links between the apartheid regime, migrant labor and the development of capitalism. Over the course of the 20th century, thousands of migrant workers from Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi arrived in the north eastern region of South Africa and worked on white-owned farms, in addition to the mines. However, we know little about their role in shaping contestations over labor, land and belonging in the South African countryside. This paper explores those contestations by focusing on the dynamics of control and evasion that characterized the position of foreign farm workers in South Africa. It traces the exchanges that took place between government institutions and farming interests, and how these debates animated policy and action. Like black South Africans, workers from South Africa's neighboring countries found themselves under intense surveillance from the state. Yet even as the state tried to classify black farm workers according to blanket criteria, workers redefined their identities through escapes, document forgeries and petitions for recognition of their claims to belonging. Intermediaries of different kinds - labor recruiters, cross-border transporters, political activists, and family and friends in border towns - played a key role in this process. This paper investigates how migrant workers' relationships to law, social networks and the state helped them construct claims around labor, livelihoods and belonging.
Migration and "in-between" Logistics: Recruiters, Agencies, Brokers and Transport Workers