At around 5 o’clock each morning, when the fruit bats cease their ringing, and all creatures that scuttle about in the night making a din, become quiet on this coastline, a new intensive *screeching starts. It cuts the dawn’s lull to shreds. It is the voice of the lourie, the Gwala-Gwala Bird. Its name, I am told, originates from these shrieks, of horror. From the Nkandla forests to Durban’s coastline, from Khosi Bay to Port Edward, the din starts.
The Development of Natal’s Industrialisation
Alongside the persistent theme of Zulu self-identity in Natal’s working class, an equally persistent economism manifests itself through the years: “Sifunimali”, “Asinamali”. The absence of “imali” (money) has been the consistent slogan of the black working class in Natal since the transformation of its agrarian and redistributive society to capitalist wage-labour.
This slogan captures the sentiments of black working class protest throughout the century. It was a cry heard in the days of indentured Indian labour on the sugar plantations and the coal mines; it was heard later during the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) period and the beer riots of 1929; it was heard again during the days of the inception and consolidation of industrial unions in the 1930s, and grew louder with the onset of the Second World War with its wage-freezes and compulsory overtime. It was heard again in the 1950’s during the SACTU period under the banner of the “one-pound-a-day” campaign, and it was the definitive characteristic of the Durban strikes of 1973.
The same sentiment is heard now in the campaigns for a “living wage”: a search for a system of wage payment that goes beyond looking after workers “basic needs” to encompass their desires and interests in a dignified and materially secure way of life. It encompasses, in short, the experience of a century of wage-labour in Natal.
In the first part of this essay, an argument is developed against mechanistic accounts that portray the rise in living standards of the working class as the natural outcome of the logic of capital accumulation. Instead, the poverty and grievances of black workers will be seen as a necessary condition for a specific regime of accumulation, and a specific balance of power in industry.
The second part of the essay takes into account the historical dimensions of the dynamics of growth in order to illuminate the relationship between a “cheap” labour system in the region and economic development. It details how a particular kind of industrialization has had to rely on that to which AWG Champion referred as a system of “ukuncikidwela” (being taken advantage of, being exploited). (1)
The third part in contradistinction shows how in the post 1960s period, poverty and wealth are restructured according to a gigantic concentration and centralization in local industry. The fourth part outlines the rise of black union organization in the post 1973 period, its achievements and setbacks in a period of economic austerity and State hostility, and explores the post-reform era of the late 1970s, tracing how the trade unions have managed to combat aspects of poverty in the region. In short, it traces the broad contours of Natal’s industrial landscape.