The years of red dust : aspects of the effects of the great depression on Natal, 1929-1933.
Edley, David William Montague,
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The Great Depression has received relatively little attention from South African historians and economists. Most studies of the period concentrate almost exclusively on political aspects, and ignore the economic realities. Little attempt has been made to quantify and analyse the effects of the depression and drought, nor has a proper integration of these economic realities and their impact on politics been attempted. There is perhaps good reason for this. There is such a wealth of material to be digested that the task has been perceived as too daunting for a single researcher. Local or thematic studies have therefore been undertaken. This thesis is essentially a local history study which examines the effects of the Great Depression on the then province of Natal. The depression affected all areas of economic activity in the region; industry, coalmining, and both commercial and subsistence agriculture. Hardly any aspect of life was untouched. It scarred the collective consciousness of an entire generation. Under the twin onslaughts of the depression and drought, the people of Natal turned to the state for assistance. The state turned out to be a poor provider, preferring to devote its efforts to alleviating distress ' among white farmers, while forcing the major burden of relief onto the urban local authorities. Such authorities were obviously reluctant to assist anyone other than their own burgesses. Prevailing racist sentiments ensured that the major economic burden was passed onto those who could least afford to bear it, the African majority. Government policy held that Africans were expendable components of the urban work-force; when the economy shrank they were simply expected to return to their places of origin. During these years the idea that the reserves could accommodate all the "surplus" African workers was finally exploded. Isolated from the centres of power, and under intense pressure from the depression and drought, white Natalians reacted with characteristic jingoism and agitated for the secession of the province from the Union. Black politics, which had reached boiling point prior to the depression, fell into a slump, also occasioned by the prevailing economic woes. Militancy turned into co-operation.