Building the Kariba Dam
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If one believes government-friendly publicity, the Kariba construction site was a birthplace of multiracial modernity. An ‘army of workmen, White and Black’ laboured in one of the region’s ‘wildest’ terrains, taming the mighty Zambesi, erecting a dam, and creating the world’s biggest reservoir around which ‘a large lakeshore civilisation’ was to grow.1 Glossy PR presented the Kariba workers as midwives of the new nation, from whose labour industrial Central Africa would emerge. Moreover, the work process itself made modern men: Africans, ‘many of them recruited straight from their kraals’, reportedly acquired new skills, earned good wages, and were initiated to ‘new wonders’ of civilisation — like taking a bath — by their ‘more urbane brothers’ (South African News Agencies 1959: 23). In white discourse, the Kariba construction site was the beating heart of the Federation’s transition stage, a microcosm in which men were uplifted and society transformed in an orderly fashion. Looking behind these narratives into internal government papers, accusations from outside parties, and witnesses’ accounts, however, the story of team spirit, edifying work, and proletarian heroism turns into one of repression, racism, and exploitation. As the author Doris Lessing correctly stated: the wonder of Kariba was only possible because of super-cheap African labour.2
KeywordsConstruction Site Industrial Relation Black Worker Labour Policy Labour Expert
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