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Title:'Your Petitioners are in Moral Terror': The Violent World of Chinese Mineworkers in South Africa, 1904-1910
Author:Kynoch, GaryISNI
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:contract labour
gold mining
Ethnic and Race Relations
History and Exploration
Labor and Employment
Law, Human Rights and Violence
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
External link:https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03057070500202162
Abstract:Sixty-three thousand Chinese indentured labourers helped resuscitate South Africa's ailing gold mining industry in the aftermath of the South African War of 1899-1902. This short-lived experiment - the first men arrived in 1904 and by 1910 all surviving labourers had been repatriated to China - has attracted the attention of various historians who have focused on the labour shortage that led to the employment of Chinese workers and the political consequences of importation for both Britain and South Africa. However, little is known about the lives of the Chinese men who actually worked in the Witwatersrand gold mines. Much like African migrant labourers, Chinese mineworkers had to contend with oppressive labour practices, restrictive living conditions and various manifestations of violence. Africans and Chinese were routinely assaulted by white supervisors, and labour protests were often brutally suppressed by State police and mine security forces; but much of the violence took place within the labouring populations themselves. Murder and suicide were the predominant forms of violence in the Chinese compounds. Powerful syndicates, directed by the Chinese police force, controlled gambling operations on all the mines that employed Chinese labourers. These syndicates mercilessly pursued debt defaulters, many of whom were murdered or committed suicide to escape persecution. Vendettas were common and the violence spilled over into the surrounding countryside when deserters from the mines raided nearby farms and shops. Scholars have noted the ways in which management practices, economic fluctuations and changing political conditions generated violence on the South African gold mines. This article argues that migrant cultures also shaped the nature of mine violence. Notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]