White men's dreams, Black men's blood: African labor and British expansionism in southern Africa, 1877--1895

Date of Completion

January 1999


History, African|History, European




This study focuses on British expansion in southern Africa during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. In particular it focuses on the connection between the birth of the mineral industries in southern Africa and the conquest of virtually every independent African polity in the African sub-continent. It contends that British expansion throughout southern Africa aimed at creating a cheap, readily available, supply of African labor through conquest, dispossession, taxation, and the creation of ‘native reserves’ or ‘locations’. ^ Historians have traditionally focused on one of three points when searching for a key explanatory factor to explain the motivation behind British expansion in southern Africa. These three points are: the strategic imperative of controlling southern Africa; the forward momentum of capitalist exploitation; or the initiative of local politicians in provoking expansion. While a combination of these factors clearly were essential in explaining British expansion in the sub-continent, scholars have largely neglected the need for African labor as one of the economic factors at work. The building of industry in southern Africa required a huge work force. This work force was found among the African population. However, when these potential wage laborers proved reluctant to abandon traditional means of subsistence, coercive measures were employed. One by one, independent African polities were conquered, dispossessed, restricted to ‘native reserves’ and taxed into becoming a cheap, readily available supply of labor for European enterprises. ^ This work also contends that the need for labor was not merely a local concern but a concern which affected the metropole as well as the periphery. London guided or acquiesced in the defeat and dispossession of Africans as a means to obtain labor. The fundamental argument is that the metropole and periphery were equally cognizant of the labor crisis in southern Africa. Working hand in hand British officialdom in London and Cape Town did everything in their power to reduce southern Africa's indigenous population to wage earners dependent on Europeans for their survival. By doing so they laid the foundation for apartheid in the twentieth century. ^