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Diamonds and Migrant Labour in South Africa, 1869-1910

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The 'pass laws' and migrant labour of apartheid in South Africa today have their origins in the policies designed to control the black workers in the diamond mines a century ago.

Racial discrimination in South Africa is based on the migrant labour system. Unlike other South Africans, Africans are treated as foreigners outside strictly defined areas of residence, the so-called 'homelands', and their movement is controlled by the notorious system of pass laws. Typically, men contract to work in the major cities while leaving their families and political rights behind them in the 'homelands'. Migrant labour has ensured a supply of cheap wage labour to the mining sector and secondary industry, and is a system which has been condemned throughout the world.


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