Mine Workers


In 1901, the Chamber of Mines set up a recruiting organisation known as the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (or WNLA). The WNLA sent agents to villages all over Southern Africa, as far north as Zambia, Tanzania and Malawi, along the east coast of Mozambique, and to Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana. (In 1912, the Chamber of Mines also started the Native Recruiting Corporation. The NRC recruited blacks from within South Africa.)

Each WNLA agent would move into a little hut near the largest villages and send a ‘native runner' to visit all the village men and try to get them to join the mines. Many of these runners had worked for touts before, so they were experienced in the ways of ‘smooth talking'. WNLA agents offered to pay the taxes of farmers to the government and give them cash in advance. Then the farmers could work off the money they owed to WNLA by working in the mines.

WNLA also used the help of the chiefs to recruit workers. It was well known that WNLA spent some of their money on ‘presents' for chiefs. The chiefs would then order the young men to join the mines. The queen of Swaziland, for example, was given thirty pounds a month as a regular ‘present' for sending men to the WNLA agents. With the help of the government's taxes, the ‘runners' and many of the chiefs, WNLA managed to set up a more efficient system of recruiting labour for the mines.



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