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ESSAY ONE: Page 3 of 9

image: 
Year: 
1983
Description: 

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.

Body: 

THE BITTER LEGACY OF EXPLORATION

Natal is a predominantly industrial economy with some 24.4 percent of its workers being employed in the manufacturing and construction sectors by 1980. (14) Moreover, industrial (but also commercial and tertiary) activity exhibited a marked geographical concentration: the Durban and Pinetown magisterial areas alone were responsible for over 60% of manufacturing employment in 1976. (15) Finally, production is highly centralized, with large firms dominating their respective industrial sectors. In many cases they too are controlled by larger industrial corporations, paying scant attention to industrial sector divisions. Inter alia, this has strengthened the ties by which Natal is firmly integrated into the national economy.

Furthermore 54.8% of employment is accrued to its chemical, food and beverage, textile and clothing sectors. (16) The chemical industry, although the largest sector in terms of output, employs only 8% of the working population. The food and beverage industry employs some 48 500 workers, (17%) the textile industry, 43 500 (15%) and the clothing industry, 40 900 (14%), all of whom together constitute the hub of industrial energy. (17) Of late, a growing metal and transport equipment sector has begun to complement the above. (18) Needless to say, the factors which have forged the present structure of employment in Natal are a product of a century of uneven economic development.

By the end of the 19th century, agriculture was the dominant economic activity in Natal, and here the economic power of an agrarian bourgeoisie based on a plantation economy was undisputed. Yet attempts to extend plantation-type economies beyond the cultivation of wattle and sugar-cane proved largely unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, it was sugar-cane that was to prove the most ‘valiant’ of ‘harvests’ (19) shaping much of Natal’s commercial physiognomy. The agricultural units in the countryside extended into factory production through the proliferation of mills to process the cane into sugar. As has been noted,

“… during the last decade of the 19th century a number of survivors of the small primitive concerns entered the extensive stage. The requirements were capital in considerable quantities for the purchase of up-to-date sugar machinery, railway communication, and the consolidation of arable lands so that (sic) they became devoted … more or less permanently to the cultivation of sugar cane ..”. (20)

A gradual agricultural and industrial revolution was initiated from the coastal countryside of Natal, and consolidated into a large economic sector after the mineral discoveries on the Witwatersrand. The sugar industry became one of the central pillars of regional economic development. Not least in its lot of contributions was its later ability to diversify, using the surplus generated in its cane fields and mills.

The Witwatersrand’s mining revolution of the 1980s was the first impetus for a shift away from an agrarian economy. The explosion of industrial activity on the Witwatersrand increased not only the demand for agricultural products but also for an unprecedented volume of imports. The stimulation of trading activity benefited Durban immensely due to its position as the nearest port to the Rand. (21) Larger and larger numbers of stevedores (“izitibitolo”) were recruited and small industrial activity began in and around the Point area of Durban. (22)

But the existence of a larger domestic market was by itself insufficient to encourage the growth of industry on any significant scale. Very little manufacturing activity existed in Durban by the turn of the century: the little that existed was concentrated around the production of foodstuffs, soap, candles, bricks and simple metal products. (23) Attempts to build experimental furnaces for the smelting of iron in Natal’s mineral concentrations in the west (Newcastle, Vryheid) failed. (24) Unlike the Witwatersrand, very few jobbing foundries and engineering works developed: some such activity was predicted on the “one-off” needs of the sugar industry and ship repair. (25) Commodities such as clothing, chemicals, machinery and transport equipment remained imported for the most part of the quarter of the century.

Yet the industrialization of the South African economy required more than the development of a local market for industrial products and the emergence of some domestic sources of capital. It required direct intervention on a scale which would render industries able to compete effectively with the exports of established industrial countries. (26) the isolation produced by the World War of 1914-1918 and later 1939-1945 gave effective protection to local firms and stimulated production. Yet even beyond such “isolation” there was a shift in State economic policy, reflecting the emergence of strong indigenous economic interests which led to the imposition of tariff protection in order to promote domestic industry. This strategy of import substitution was accompanied by the emergence of a more vigorous public sector involvement in production through the establishment of State Corporation such as Iscor, Escom, Sasol, and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). (27)

These developments, which were national in character, had a significant influence on the shaping of Natal’s industrial life, and assisted it in becoming the second major industrial complex in South Africa by the 1970s. (28) The growth of the chemical industry was facilitated by protectionism: the paint industry was assisted in 1923 and again in 1948, (29) as was the soap and detergents industry, so too were the fertilizer and petroleum industries which showed particular vigour, especially in the post-Second World War period. (30)

Industrialization was subject to a process of uneven development. This uneven development was achieved on the basis of a black labour force (Indian and African) marked by poverty and hardship. Such a process underwent four qualitatively different eras: (31) (a) 1860s, (b) 1910s-1930s, (c) 1940s-1950s and (d) 1950s/1960s to the present. The first period of capital accumulation was dominated by the imperatives of sugar cultivation and production. The second period added a plethora of small scale firms operating with at worst “sweated labour” (see below), and at best craft autonomy locked in even smaller concerns. The third period marked the establishment of secondary industry with larger concentrations of workers in clothing, textiles and chemicals. The fourth, to be discussed below, marked the contemporary period of gigantic concentration. (32)

There is sufficient ethnographic material, wage statistics, documentation and regional studies to suggest that this uneven process of industrialization was achieved on the basis of a minimally paid labour supply. This was also a consistent motif of discussion with a variety of veteran trade unionists in the Natal area. (33) As most of them indicated, and the Natal University’s regional surveys corroborated, (34) wages in Natal compared badly with the manufacturing sectors of the Witwatersrand and the Cape. (35) Despite the rich material in existence, our argument will unfortunately remain brief. As the table below outlines, the majority of wage-earners in the period 1923/4-1953/4 were African and Indian workers. (36)