In fact, there were at the height of colonial expansion, about the time of UDI, no more than 6,000 commercial farmers in a white population of about 260,000. Allowing for farmers’ families, that means about 10% of the whites were involved in agriculture then.
But rather more to the point, Cecil Rhodes did not set out to include farmers among his first settlers. He was thinking much bigger. His aim was to save the British Empire.
Rhodes wrote in his diary after a visit to the East End of London about the terrible conditions of the workers there. He saw, as clearly as Karl Marx did, that if you make people work as hard and long as many there were forced to, and pay them hardly enough to keep themselves fed and clothed, you are preparing the way for a revolution. The difference between Rhodes and Marx was that Marx saw a revolution which would give power to the working class as desirable, but Rhodes did not.
“Workers’ power” would have meant an end to the power and privileges of Rhodes and his friends, so he tried to save that power and privilege, on which the British Empire was built, by finding an escape valve for the revolutionary pressures that were building up. His answer was to give those oppressed workers a chance to become rich in “the colonies” and especially the colony he and his British South Africa Company were to set up.
I saw more recently how an oppressed and persecuted Jew from London’s East End only needs to be given a few hectares of land and some Arabs to kick around and he will become an Israeli. In the same way, a couple of generations earlier, oppressed and underpaid workers were easily enough changed into Rhodesian settlers by offering them each 5,000 hectares of land and 12 mining claims. They came looking for gold and diamonds, but they didn’t find them. They started farming because they were not going to get rich quickly from mining.
So they weren’t exactly the most professional and skilled miners. They weren’t experienced farmers either. For the first 30 years of their colony, they had to buy most of their food from the local people. If they were going to get rich by farming, they would need cheap labour to do the heavy work. People who were successfully farming their own land were not going to rush to look for jobs on the white man’s farms. They had to be forced to work for the settlers.
We know enough about the methods used to force them and don’t need to spell out all the horrors here: giving the best land to the settlers wasn’t enough if they didn’t know how to farm the land and the people they displaced were still growing enough food to sell some to them. The next stage was the hut tax, which every family had to pay, even if they were not earning money by selling to the settlers.
Self-sufficient people were being forced to work for wages, and very small wages at that.
The settlers didn’t get rich quick. Even Rhodes’ company didn’t make the profits they had hoped for. That is why they handed the colony over to the settlers in 1923.
Even by the time of UDI they weren’t rich. 90% of them were deep in debt, but the big companies that bought crops like tobacco from them were subsidising their cars, their big houses, their swimming pools and fees for their children at expensive schools. That was still cheaper than paying proper wages to all the workers. They lived like the rich, but all on credit, the ‘never-never’, going deeper into debt which made them more dependent on the tobacco and cotton companies.
So there are a few lessons in all this:
It’s not white or black who are the best farmers. Some of us remember that, during the war, if we were looking for compatriots in a strange city, we would look for a front garden with our national flower and source of sadza growing in it.
It’s not black or white who are natural exploiters. Rhodes used poor whites and made them a useful tool, a class who would get a cut of the loot, but not enough to be independent of his class, the big money men. He had no mystical belief in having a plot of land here; he only came here to be buried.
Human society is designed so that the guy at the bottom doesn’t get to meet the big villain. The ones he sees exploiting him are also exploited.
Anything Rhodes & co did to us was part of his effort to preserve and expand the British Empire. Now the British Empire is no more and we are still here, which should give us some hope.Post published in: Opinions & Analysis