Women and wages: Gender and the control of income in farm and Bantustan households

Sharp, John
Spiegel, Andrew
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Virtually all of the married men to whom we spoke in Matatiele and Qwaqwa were bitterly opposed to their wives engaging in certain kinds of local income-generating activity. The main target of male opprobrium was shebeening, because husbands who were migrant workers were afraid that if their wives sold liquor from their homes they would be tempted into prostitution by their clients. The men were not, of course, opposed to the existence of shebeens, and were happy, when home on leave, to visit shebeens run by other men's wives, mothers or daughters. Male migrants attempted, despite their long absences from home, to exert control over their wives' activities in this regard. They left strict instructions concerning the disbursal of remittances, often threatening physical violence if their wives 'wasted' the money they remitted on liquor or the ingredients of homebrew. Where possible they also asked other men to check that their wives were not shebeening surreptitiously, and to report any breach of their prohibition. Women found it necessary to view shebeening differently. To them, it was one of the most accessible and convenient ways in which to generate a cash income from the home. It required little by way of equipment, did not demand regular inputs of time and labour, and could be undertaken at the same time as other domestic work. Women also had more personal discretion over income from shebeening than from remittances. For these reasons many women brewed and sold liquor, and some went to considerable lengths to conceal their activity from their husbands. A common strategy was to run the shebeen from the home of a friend in the vicinity - often the latter was a widow, whose marital status and age permitted her to avoid or disregard male censure. Women who did this explained that if questioned by their husbands, they could always say that they were just 'helping out' now and again for a neighbour. In both Matatiele and Qwaqwa, male and female images of shebeens were very different. Women stressed that most of the shebeens in their neighbourhood were small-scale affairs, with a limited number of clients at any one time; during the week, moreover, most of the clients were old men - pensioners for whom a visit to a shebeen in a neighbour’s house was a means of quiet recreation. Men, on the other hand, painted lurid pictures to express anxiety about their homes being turned into sites of drunken revelry in their absence, with sex and drugs as well as liquor for sale on demand. Both types of shebeen undoubtedly existed in both areas, but whereas male images seemed to represent the kind they most liked to visit themselves, women's accounts were more accurate in the case of the majority of such establishments. Disagreement about the nature of shebeens and the desirability of shebeening were part of a much broader struggle between men and women about access to income and control over this and other resources within households. This paper examines some aspects of this wider domestic struggle in the particular circumstances of the bantustans, and explores several key differences between Matatiele and Qwaqwa in this regard. The notion of 'domestic Struggle’ (Bozzoli, 1983: 144-148) is, for two reasons, central to our argument….
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 15 September 1986
Women. Employment. South Africa , Women, Black. Employment. South Africa , Income. South Africa , Wages. Women. South Africa