Oscillating migrants, 'Detribalised families' and militancy: Mozambicans on witbank collieries, 1918-1927

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Shula Marks argued that, by the early twentieth century, a working-class consciousness had developed among African migrants employed in the main mining areas of South Africa. Evidence from Witbank, the country's premier coal district, lends support for this proposition, and suggests we should qualify recent contentions that migrants 'exhibited a distinct unwillingness to join an uprooted proletariat'. Indeed, by 1926, 25 per cent of Witbank's African colliery workers had established new homes close to their work, and it is likely that, had it not been for regulations that prohibited collieries from accommodating more than 15 per cent of workers within married quarters, this figure would have continued to expand. Moreover, even non-settled workers revealed a degree of class consciousness, participating in a wave of strikes in 1918 and 1919, which, in one instance, demanded 10s. per day and justified this by reference to the wages of white miners. Given that the collieries preferred to employ at least some 'stabilised' workers, the article also rejects, as oversimplified, structuralist explanations of the migrant labour system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-525
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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