|Child Labour in South African Wool Farming, c. 1870-1960|
|Child labour has been an important part of the development of South African agriculture since the days of slavery. Primarily black and coloured children have been utilized as cheap labour on white-owned farms. When slavery was abolished in the 1830s the white farmers came to rely on the labour tenancy system, in which a black tenant exchanged his family’s labour for land. This meant that farmers could only gain access to the labour of children through their parents. Control over the family’s labour was an essential feature of traditional African societies, which farmers profited on. The incorporation of pre-capitalist structures into capitalist production was therefore a vital part of farming in South Africa.
This paper will mainly focus on how these pre-capitalist labour relations were affected in South African wool farming by the increasing connection with core areas of the capitalist world-economy, such as Great Britain. During the period in question, South African wool was largely transported to the British textile industry and was therefore an intricate part of production there. Through the wool commodity chain the children in South Africa were thus connected to industrial production in other parts of the world and contributed to profits in that end of the chain as well as in South Africa.
Children of labour tenants had been used as shepherds but increased capitalization and new farming methods in the first half of the 20th century transformed tenants to cash wage labourers and diminished the demand on shepherds. The involvement in capitalist production thus altered the semi-feudal relationships in South Africa and at the same time changed the relations between black children and their parents. As tenancy became outdated, fathers lost a part of the power over the labour of children, and instead seem to have entered into agreements with farmers where children became contracted and bonded into labour in a new way.