The economic experimentation of Nembula Duze/Ira Adams Nembula, 1845 – 1886.
This paper gives a short biography of Ira Adams Nembula, the Natal sugarcane manufacturer. Nembula's business and his family have been often mentioned but not fully described before in accounts of Natal's nineteenth-century economy and mission stations. This paper draws on historians' narratives and missionary writings on Nembula from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (American Board), and incorporates information from the archives of the Secretary for Native Affairs (SNA), to look at the life of a man who was described by missionaries as one of the “first fruits” or very first converts to Christianity in Natal, and was a preacher, a pioneering sugarcane producer, and also a transport rider. The paper outlines Nembula's and his mother Mbalasi's position and portrayal as initial converts in the American Board, his sugar milling business, and his plans to farm on a large scale. Nembula's steps towards buying a large tract of land left an impression in the procedures government followed around black land ownership; and may also have contributed to the formulation of colonial laws around black land ownership and exemption from “native law”. Nembula's story in many ways exemplifies the amakholwa experience of what Norman Etherington has called “economic experimentation” and the frustration of that vision.