Taxes as a Way to Exploit Native Labor in White-Controlled Rhodesia

The place: Rhodesia. The time: . The source: “The Future of Rhodesia” by H.T. Longden from The Quarterly Review ()

[Farmers] have shown that when roused they can act together. The Labour Tax resistance movement is an example. In an Ordinance was passed through the Legislative Council which imposed a tax of 1s. per month per man on all employers of labour. The proceeds of the tax were not to be paid into the Treasury as revenue but to be handed over to the Labour Bureau, an organisation for the collection and distribution of labour. The farmers objected to the principle of the tax, but the Ordinance was passed in spite of their protest. They decided to oppose it when put into operation by passive resistance, and carried out their resolve. Hundreds were convicted and fined. They refused to pay the fines. A few were sent to gaol, but in most instances, when the convicted men were sent to prison, their fines were paid by their opponents. That state of things clearly could not continue; and serious trouble was only averted by the wisdom of the Administrator, who came to an understanding with the President of the Agricultural Union, whereby it was tacitly agreed that, if the farmers undertook to abandon further resistance, the Secretary of State for the Colonies would be asked by the Company to exercise his right of veto and disallow the Ordinance. This was accordingly done.

By “labour” Longden means native African workers. The white colonialists had difficulty getting native Africans to work for them, particularly in dangerous work like mining. The incentives they were willing to offer were not encouraging enough, and so taxes (like hut taxes) were imposed to force Africans to obtain colonial currency by laboring for colonial employers. As Earl Grey put it in :

Means have to be found to induce the natives to seek, spontaneously, employment at the mines, and to work willingly for long terms of more or less continuous employment. An incentive to labour must be provided, and it can only be provided by the imposition of taxation. I look forward to the imposition of a hut tax of £1. per hut… and I also hope that we may, with the permission of the Imperial authorities, be able to establish a labour tax which these able-bodied native should be required to pay who are unable to show a certificate of four months’ work.

Such a tax was indeed established in some parts of South Africa in order to compel Africans to work “spontaneously” and “willingly” for the colonists. Native Africans who were deemed “fit for and capable of labour” but who refused to work for whatever wages were being offered by colonial employers were taxed 10 shillings per year, or, if they did not or could not pay, sentenced to up to a year of hard labor.

This was only one of several methods the government used to save its colonists from having to pay an attractive wage to local labor. Sometimes the proponents of this policy straightforwardly discussed it as a way of compelling subdued Africans to work on disadvantageous terms for the benefit of their white overlords, other times they couched the policy in philanthropic terms, and said they were encouraging Africans to give up their savage lives of wasteful sloth and to take up the ennobling and enterprising ways of civilization.

But as interesting as all that is, the “labour tax” that farmers were rebelling against in was something else — it sounds like it was a tax on white farmers who were benefiting from this exploitation of labor enabled by the government. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find out much more about the apparently strong and successful tax resistance movement that ended this tax.