The Making of Poverty in South Africa
By Bethuel Setai
Published by SAPES Trust (1998)
FORMER South African president Pieter Willem Botha once said: “The fact that, blacks look like human beings and act like human beings do not necessarily make them sensible human beings.
“If God wanted us to be equal to the blacks, he would have created us all of a uniform colour and intellect, but he created us differently: whites, blacks, yellow, rulers and the ruled.”
Botha’s sentiments do not only reflect his way of thinking but a worldview that has been adopted by Europeans to justify their continued interferences in the affairs of Africans.
Western literature has advanced the theory that blacks are second class citizens who need guidance from whites for them to succeed.
In the book, The Making of Poverty in South Africa, Bethuel Setai explores how whites exploited black South Africans during the colonial period.
Attracted by the vast natural resources in South Africa, strategies were put in place by whites to siphon the resources.
“The British developed a long-term strategy to achieve their goals — a strategy with an external face and internal agenda; a strategy that was ruthless and cruel, selfish and exploitative, financially profitable and socially destructive; an economic strategy cloaked as protection of vulnerable, British subjects in a foreign land,” writes Setai.
The strategies prejudiced blacks.
Their birthright was taken from them.
Whites benefitted at their expense.
With gold mining one of the profitable activities in South Africa, the British had to displace the Boers and blacks who had been mining.
So as to enjoy the benefits of gold mining without any interference, again strategies were put in place to benefit the British.
“To maximise their profits from the gold mines, the British needed three things to occur; the establishment of a stable, efficient Government and peaceful environment; assurance of a constant and abundant supply of cheap labour and implementation of an effective revenue generating system,” writes Setai.
To ensure continued progress in the mines, the British relied on cheap labour from the blacks.
Blacks were worked to the bone while whites enjoyed the fruits of their labour.
However, Setai notes it was not easy at first for the British to get blacks to conform to their ways.
Despite being on the disadvantaged side, blacks put up stiff resistance.
They did not easily give up on their birthright.
“The Africans also were an impediment,” writes Setai.
“They were not subservient enough to willing(ly) become cheap labour for
others,” he adds.
Land was another natural resource that attracted the British to South Africa.
Again, through repressive laws, the land was forcibly taken away from blacks.
“As a result of the British land settlement policies, the British settlers acquired most of the fertile lands while the Boers retained only a fraction of them,” writes Setai.
“The Africans were left with the barren lands, most of which came to be called native reserves. These reserves were unproductive and most Africans were forced to work in the mines and industrial districts, mainly as migrant (labour).
“This migrant work style forced them to shuttle between the reserve(s) and the cities throughout their work(ing) life.”
Life at the farms was unbearable.
Blacks were reduced to third class citizens.
“African labourers received few fringe benefits,” writes Setai.
“Laws gave the farmer overwhelming power over the farm worker. These laws denied the worker the right to complain, the right to strike, the right to decent working hours, the right, the right to a meaningful vacation, and the right to due process under the law.”
Living conditions for blacks at farms were unbearable.
“In most cases the housing provided for them was inadequate- small, claustrophobic huts without cooking or bathroom facilities,” writes Setai.
“The cooking fire had to be made out in the open air; nearby streams relied on for water; and the open bush as a lavatory.”
These injustices that resulted in black South Africans rising up against colonial rule.
Just like fellow Africans in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique, they took up arms and revolted against whites.
Their protests did not go to waste as independence was won in 1994 in SA.