The Making of Modern South Africa (a)
Race, Class and Nation in Modern South Africa
“Why did sharecropping survive, and even flourish, on the southern Highveld from the 1880s to the 1920s? Why did it eventually decline?”
There are many factors to take into consideration when analysing the capitalist farming and associated sharecropping that was so prevalent on the Southern Highveld from the 1880s through to the 1920s. I will begin this essay by placing the sharecropping system in context within South African history, I will then proceed to clarify some of the main aspects as to why sharecropping survived, and even flourished on the Southern Highveld from the 1880s to the 1920s. I will then conclude this essay by explaining some of the reasons as to why the system of sharecropping eventually declined.
In the late nineteenth century the Southern African interior region was drastically altered as it was on the threshold of two scintillating occasions that would ultimately have profound effects on the region as a whole. The first occasion was the discovery of diamonds in the North-western Cape in the late 1860s and then the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in the mid-1880s[footnoteRef:1]. The Discovery of these two minerals brought about a vast growth of capitalism to the area, with much of the surrounding land being bought by individual investors and various land companies such as the Vereeniging estates – a group of twenty-two farms in the southern SAR and northern OFS belonging to the Lewis and Marks partnership[footnoteRef:2]. This sudden and vast growth of capitalism in the Southern African interior subsequently affected the agrarian formations of the Highveld region. Where once widespread pastoralism and hunting was the central basis of the interiors economy, a large internal urban market for foodstuffs had emerged as a result of the vast urbanisation of prospective miners and Africans alike that in turn created a substantial market for agricultural products within the Highveld region[footnoteRef:3]. The vast amounts of land owned by land companies and absentee landowners (Owners who did not reside within South Africa) sought to realize the area’s commercial potential and since the mining boom was so profitable at the time, no capital was going to be invested into any agricultural initiatives[footnoteRef:4]. Therefore as a result of this, the farmlands were both under-capitalized and short of labour. In response to this undercapitalization of the land as well as the shortage of labour, it was the system of sharecropping that became a means by which the landowners could respond to the new internal markets with minor capital investment, and without the difficulties of acquiring and controlling workers which in turn became an alternative source of profit for the landowners[footnoteRef:5]. Sharecropping was a system of agriculture in which a landowner allows a tenant to use the land in return for a share of the crops...