White farmers, social institutions and settler masculinity in the Natal Midlands, 1880-1920.
The midlands was the first area occupied and farmed by white settlers. It became the agricultural heartland of colonial Natal. Its farmers became politically and economically powerful. Their success rested on the construction of a community. They formed a close-knit society in which family links and a sense of belonging were constantly reinforced. The community was closed to blacks. A keen sense of class was developed which made it difficult for outsiders to gain admission. In order to become a member, new immigrants could enroll in some of the many social institutions which were created. It was these institutions which served to integrate the community, to order and police it, and to define it. The community was composed of people who all owned land. A sense of belonging to this community was achieved in a number of ways. Families were nurtured, becoming exceptionally important as institutions through which wealth was passed. They were places of social interaction as well as transgenerational units which ensured a continuous presence in the area. Amongst the institutions which the settlers founded were schools, societies, volunteer regiments. agricultural organisations and sports clubs. The institutions were consciously modelled on their metropolitan counterparts. Settler masculinity was nurtured in the institutions. It prescribed male behaviour according to the values of a land-owning settler gentry. This masculinity was disseminated throughout the colony, becoming a key feature of the colonial gender order. A strong emphasis was placed on being tough and fit, on obedience and teamwork. These were values which gave sport major popularity within the colony and which fueled a militarism that had a bloody and brutal climax in the 1906 rebellion. The institutions gave men power and served as networks by which white male prestige and influence was sustained . Although women were formally excluded. they occupied a central position within the family and made a major contribution to the reproduction of the community. White boys and men found the demands of settler masculinity exacting. Nevertheless. apart from providing them with powerful places in the colonial order, its emphasis on male companionship and fit bodies produced a powerful camaraderie. On the other hand. It stigmatised men who did not fit the mould, enforcing conformity as it did so. Settler society was able to renew and reproduce itself largely through its own institutions outside the sphere of the state. The expansion of the state in the twentieth century threatened settler institutions though they were successfully defended. The midland community and its families were not as homogenous as they liked to pretend. They maintained a facade by excluding and silencing dissidents. This process was a necessary part of the creation of a myth which elevated old Natal families to positions of social status and prestige.
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