Labour tenancy

Prior to the 19th century, before the arrival of the White settlers, Weenen had been tribal land. The White settlers had acquired private title to farm lands here. As a result   the original residents were driven off their land and forcibly relocated elsewhere- in State controlled relocation camps, on Trust land, on nearby ‘black spots’ or even other White farms in Natal. Some eventually became farm labourers and ‘squatters’ on what had once been their own land. The residents had to work for the farmer to retain their land.

Over the decades that followed, labour tenancy was progressively controlled. As a result evictions were on a smaller scale. Evictions were carried out by farmers themselves or by officials of the Bantu Administration Department. These evictions occurred because labour tenants were contractual labourers with the farmers. They had to spend six months working for the landowner. Immediately when the contract ended evictions of the farm labourers took place.

The Government came up with a method to get rid of the few African tenants that remained in White farming districts. This refers to the National Party regime that came into power in 1948. At the same time, they considered moving over from labour tenancy to wage labour. White farmers believed that to carry out modernisation of agriculture, labour tenancy should be outlawed and transformed from labour tenancy into wage labour because they regarded it (labout tenancy) as being economically backward.

History of Weenen

Weenen Farm was established by the Voortrekkers, led by Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius. It is located in Natalon the banks of the Bushmans River, about 35 km north-east of Estcourt, 30 km south east- of Colenso.

The area was laid out  in 1838, following the massacre of Voortrekker women and children by the Zulus subsequent to the murder of the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief and his party at Matiwane Hill in Natal (kwaZulu-Natal) in the same year, in what became known as the ‘Battle of Blood River’. The massacre was orchestrated by Zulu King Dingane Senzangakhona (known as Dingaan) whose reign was from 1828 until 1840.

The massacre occurred next to the Ncome River in kwaZulu-Natal and as a result the river turned red with the blood of the slain, and was henceforth called ‘Blood River’. Afterwards the site of the attack was renamed Weenen (the place of ‘weeping’) in memory of the massacre.

The village was occupied by predominantly Zulu speaking people of the Mthembu and Mchunu tribes. It is alleged that the two tribes clashed over boundaries and their friction was intensified by the mounting population pressure and landlessness. Before labour tenancy was formally outlawed in 1969; about 5000 Black people occupied lands in Weenen as cash tenants.

Moreover, Weenen also comprised of White owned farms owned by absentee landowners who used these farms mainly as labour reserves for other commercial farms in the Natal Midlands.

The passing of the Labour Tenancy System

Prior to 1969, the application of the labour tenant system in the Weenen district its occupants had a sense of security. When the labour contracts expired after the stipulated six months period, tenants were evicted while others opted to continue working for the landowner to secure their stay on the land. Families were required to pay for their right to stay on the land by working for their White landlord for a period of six month a year at a nominal wage in accordance with the labour tenancy system Occasionally the whole family was obliged to work for the farmer and in some cases children of a tenant were taken on as labourers.

Some were granted permission by their landlords and employers provided that they continue to work for the employer.  They struggled to bring permanence and stability into their lives as they had no security of residence at all. They faced constant harassment from the officials. Equally, occupants remained under threat of eviction and removal to government ‘resettlement camps’. The farmer would hastily issue a notice of removal and they were not able to contest this.  As a result, many were forced to sell their cattle due to stock reduction and thereafter, were removed to already overpopulated areas in the Msinga district or surrounding ‘black spots’ areas. Some tenants had to pay a ‘fine’ in the form of a goat or cow to secure a place to stay.

The proclamation for abolishing labour tenancy was gazetted in late 1968, the following year in July, the system was officially outlawed in the Weenen district as part of concerted drive by the government to modernise White agriculture.

Both farmers and tenants clung to the system tenaciously and continued to operate under different guises throughout the Weenen area. This occurred when the tenants came to the end of their normal six month labour commitment.  Thereafter they had to decide whether to remain on the farm on fulltime employment or be evicted. Consequently some resorted to work fulltime, others refused and were subject to eviction and those who resisted the removals were subject to arrest and forcible removal as well.


Weenen was the third district in Natal to be deproclaimed as a labour tenancy area. The State claimed that the local Farmers Association asked for the area to be deproclaimed.  The projected number of removals from their land was between 10 000-25 000 people, at times forcibly or settled elsewhere.

Removals of cash tenants in the area began in 1967 and continued through 1968 and towards the end of 1969. From 1969 to 1972 when the labour tenancy system was already outlawed, the area had undergone a process of upheaval subsequent to the massive removals, characterised by intense overcrowding, bulldozers being sent in regularly and the burning of huts in an effort to drive out the residents who were considered ‘disobedient’. Consequently, many were prosecuted when they opposed the moves. These were the tenants who resisted being removed from Weenen during the course of the removals in late 1960s.   By 1970, most of the Weenen occupants were cleared, a few remaining individuals were employed by the Municipality where they remained with their families.

Eventually, after the Weenen Municipality was declared a prescribed area; all Blacks who resided within the boundaries had to move. Approximately 3,000 people were cleared from the town altogether. Of these 600 were transported by government trucks to a relocation site called Nkonisa in the Nkandla district about 160 km away from Weenen. The Msinga district of Natal served as one of the relocation sites for the Weenen evictees. Initially, the government intended to resettle the ‘redundant’ tenants at Madadeni, a resettlement camp in Newcastle. However, their plans were thwarted. In one particularly notable example a group of tenants whom the government intended to relocate in Madadeni hid their possessions and loaded trunks filled with stones on to the removal trucks and then went back to Weenen as soon as the Government trucks offloaded them.

Conditions at Nkonisa camp were pitiful; the sites were small and temporary, there were no latrines and there was no protected water supply. However, they were allowed to keep their cattle up to a maximum of five per household.

Those who remained were moved into a hastily erected ‘emergency camp’ located a few kilometres from the Weenen town. Alternatively, some were resettled in transit camps, formerly established in 1969 to accommodate evicted labour tenants from the Weenen district. The transit camps were erected across the Tugela River in Weeen.

This resulted in hastily created closer settlements in the Trust land acquired by the South African Development Trust (SADT) (formerly named South African Native Trust) on the north bank of the Tugela on the edge of the Weenen district. Closer settlement was an official term used to describe a type of settlement established for African people on reserves or Trust land that is for residential purposes only.

 The Trust was created by the 1936 Land Act to take ownership of the reserves subsequent to the Native Trust and Land Act  plan to expand the reserves. In this way the following settlements emerged - Sahlumbe, Nomoya, Msusamphi and Mashunka. Ultimately a larger proportion crowded into the adjoining areas namely Keates Drift, Tugela Ferry and Mhlumba.

Furthermore, those who were resettled in Natal were subject to forced stock sale.  They were forced to sell their cattle and goats for a third or a quarter of their actual value. It was alleged that there was no space available for cultivating due to overpopulation. Authorities impounded stock belonging to the tenants whose eviction notices had expired and those relocated by the State were forbidden to take their cattle with.

Conversely, in 1979 the few remaining households were served with notices (then numbering five). By then all the municipal workers in this group had either died or were too old to continue working for the Weenen Municipality. They were considered superfluous and they were to be evicted so that the land they lived on could be used for grazing purposes instead. Despite attempts by the threatened remaining households and some outside supporting groups to win a reprieve for this small group of mainly widows, pensioners and children, they were eventually forced to leave the land.

Since the 1980s, many labour tenants displaced from farms in the Weenen district had been moving to Waaihoek, another relocation point for the evicted labour tenants. The Waaihoek camp is located in the Ladysmith district. The camp was remote and further away from their previous homes and the land had no space for growing crops and livestock grazing.

28° 30' 36", -30° 2' 24"

Peter E. Raper, New Dictionary of South African Place Names, p.402|

South African History Online, The Battle of Blood River , [online], Available at [Accessed: 12 June 2013]|

South African History Online, Origins of the Battle of Blood River 1838 ,[online], Available at [Accessed: 11 June 2013]|

The Black Sash (1980), Weenen – Farm Labour Removals, from Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA) , July 1980 [online], Available at [Accessed: 11 June 2013]|

South African History Online, A Land Dispossession 1600s – 1990s ‘From Segregation to Apartheid’ [online], Available at [Accessed: 13 June 2013]|

The Surplus People Project Reports (1983), Forced Removals In South Africa,  Natal,  January, Vol.4, pp.72-74|

Association For Rural Advancement (AFRA)  (1988), The Weenen Farm Evictions, in the AFRA Newsletter I,[online], Available at[Accessed: 24 June 2013]|

Hart, Gillian Patricia (2002), Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post Apartheid South, Africa(University of California Press), pp. 66, 91-92,|

Les Switzer , South Africa’s Alternative Press: Voices of Protest and Resistance, 1880-1960, (Cambridge University Press), p.20 

Further Reading

The Weenen Farm Evictions
AFRA: Weenen - Farm Labour Removals