Black railway workers during colonial times.

ZIMSEC O Level History Notes: Zimbabwe 1894-1969: Labour Issues in Rhodesia 1894-1969

  • Labour was needed to support the colonialist economic activities such as mining, farming industrialization among others
  • Settlers wanted healthy and able-bodied labour which could be provided by Africans
  • The huge supply of readily available healthy labour was one of the reasons why Europeans were attracted to the African continent
  • Since technology was still at its infancy stage, there was need to make use of cheap labour so as to maximize on profits
  • However the idea of working was new to Africans as they had not experienced working for money
  • They had no use for money as they were used to doing barter trade for them to get certain goods
  • The wages were very low and people were either malnourished or underfed
  • Whites believed that blacks in towns were temporary resident so there was no need to give them higher wages as they would supplemented by their wives in the rural communities
  • Due to poor wages, many people were involved in anti-social activities such as prostitution, theft and gambling
  • Others began to brew beer illegally
  • Youngsters began exhibiting the art of beings tsotsis and caused havoc in communities
  • Many Africans entered the manufacturing sector and white settlers began to fear competition
  • They advocated for a legislation to protect them and the Industrial Conciliation Act was enacted in 1934
  • It recognized workers and established industrial boards comprising of labour unions and employers
  • Africans could not benefit from this act because they were recognized as workers
  • Thus Africans were excluded from paying jobs
  • It was later amended in 1959 to allow African excluding those in the domestic or agricultural sector
  • Africans could now bargain for decent wages
  • Powerful African trade unions which emerged by 1962 included the:
    1. Railways Association Workers’ Union
    2. United Textiles Workers Union
    3. Bulawayo and Salisbury Municipal Workers Union
    4. Rhodesia Tailors and Garment Workers Union
  • However all these efforts were reversed by the Rhodesian Front Government by the Law and Order Maintenance Act of the 1960s
  • According to the Act it was an offense to participate in a strike in essential service industries which included food and fuel industries

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