An interesting social experiment: White labour forestry settlement programme in South Africa, 1917-1938

Roach, Tom
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Over seventy years ago, South Africa's Department of Forestry started a large scale tree planting programme. The scheme involved the establishment of communities of poor whites in areas suitable for afforestation. The residents of the settlements were recruited from amongst the nation's unemployed and dispossessed. The first settlements were founded in the Cape in 1917 and the final settlement was built in north- eastern Transvaal during 1934. For locations, see figure 1. Up to 1938, the settlements were operated by the Department of Forestry in conjunction with other government Departments, notably the Department of White Labour, the Department of Labour and the Department of Labour and Social Welfare. In 1938, control over the settlements was passed to the Department of Social Welfare. At the same time, the planting programme in which the settlers were taking part effectively came to an end. Basic details about the settlements are given in table 1.Today, South Africa, including the Bantustans, is nearly independent of outside sources for forest products such as sawn timber, wood pulp, paper, and many of the chemical derivatives of wood and cellulose. Practically all this material comes from trees grown in plantations. Currently, a total of 1 181 608 hectares are under cultivation of which 780 650 hectares, sixty-six percent, are privately owned. In 1987, some two hundred thousand people were employed in the forestry and timber industries of South Africa. Ninety percent of these employees were unskilled workers. Practically all employees, ninety-five percent, are African, thirty percent are women. Prior to the start of the settlement programme, the Union's Department of Forestry had planted approximately 14 000 hectares of woodland in addition to the 7 300 hectares afforested by the two British colonies in the years between 1880 and 1910. In the ensuing two decades, the Department planted some 100 760 hectares, about 26% of the afforested area owned by the government in 1987. This large and important industry got its start from the social experiment described in this paper.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 15 May 1989
Forestry projects. South Africa , Land settlement. South Africa , Whites. Relocation. South Africa