Prospects, Dispossession and Everyday Violence: African Farm, Mine and Domestic Workers within the Expanding Settler Colonial Sphere of the Lower Orange River Border Region, c. 1880-1903.
In the late nineteenth century, Africans living in the lower Orange River border region experienced violence daily. Being deprived of land and livestock and imprisoned for alleged stock theft and ‘vagrancy’, they were often forced into the local settler economy as ‘convict labourers’ and subjected to corporal punishment by state actors. Next to coping with these violent constraints, working within the sphere of settler colonialism at times presented Africans with the opportunity of accumulating wealth, increasing one’s agency and enabling social mobility – even by using everyday violence themselves. In the past decades, historians have presented a number of studies on labour in southwestern Africa of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. African’s frequent exposure to violence has been acknowledged, particularly within the context of war and extreme violence. Everyday violence, however, remains largely unexplored. The paper presents extracts from the ongoing research project “Violent Encounters” addressing this gap. The focus is set on Africans, performing domestic, farm and mine work in the lower Orange River border region of today’s southern Namibia and northern South Africa (c. 1880-1903). The paper attempts to trace their lives and situates them within the context of settler colonial state-building and the (trans)formation of social relations characteristic of this period. It asks how practices of everyday violence were perceived and the ways in which they affected these men and women, particularly in their social and economic mobility. Additionally, possible opportunities and the opening of new scopes of action within the settler sphere are analysed, not least with regards to violence itself. To what extend was everyday violence used by Africans as a means of action to pursue private goals in this historical setting? Such an approach allows for a more in-depth understanding of the (trans)formation of social relations and of the character of settler colonialism of southwestern Africa.