Poachers, proletarians and gentry in the early twentieth century Transvaal

Date
1984-03
Authors
Trapido, Stanley
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Abstract
The political economy of hunting is one of the neglected fields of South African social history. Hunting wild animals as an occupation within settler and indigenous societies was for at least two hundred years, between 1670 and 1870, essential for survival, subsistence and often for the creation of income and capital. By the end of the 1890s, however, European rule and merchant capitalism had, by their efforts to subjugate nature brought about the almost complete destruction of wild-life on the sub-continent. As a result, by the beginning of the 20th century, hunting had become a closely regulated pastime for a very small group of well-to-do Angliphone and Afrikaner settlers and a forbidden means of acquiring a subsistence for an equally small group of Africans and Afrikaner poachers. For the poachers wild life represented an ultimately ineffective way of staving off what had become an inevitable process of proletarianisation. To the new men of wealth, property and power in the post South African war era - company promoters and directors, stock brokers, share jobbers, senior mining engineers and managers, lawyers, medical men and journalists - hunting was one important means of creating a new corporate identity. Hunting, crucially because it was associated with British landed upper classes was seen to provide an ethos for creating and transforming a gentry. Although this ethos drew on older notions of ' sportsmanship' these had been transformed and given an African context by several generations of Victorian hunter-authors whose writings had presented Africa and its wild- life as a vast natural resource waiting to be subjugated. It was from this literature that the new men of a reconstructing and industrialising Transvaal obtained many of their images, images which were employed to turn themselves into a ruling class. Hunting or 'sport' was to provide them - so they believed - with an exclusive and a newly established common life style which would barr outsiders as much as it barred poor blacks and poor whites. For the new ruling class hunting could create, metaphorically, as well as literally, a monopoly of consumption, the ultimate objective of a ruling group seeking to enforce its power. By the end of the 19th century the acquisition of these African hunting-fields enabled members of settler classes, as they began to take root, to relate to their metropolitan equivalents on increasingly equal terms. Thus when Randolph Churchill, whose influence was power, it was hoped could be used to influence the City and the Colonial Office to be well disposed to mining adventures, visited the Transvaal in 1890, he was taken hunting on the Lewis and Marks farms of the Vereeniging Estates.
Description
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented March 1984
Keywords
Hunting. Economic aspects. South Africa. Transvaal , Poaching. South Africa. Transvaal
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