19 Pages

The Madman and the Migrant: Work and Labor in the Historical Consciousness of a South African People

ByL. John, Jean Comaroff

This chapter explores the nature of historical consciousness, and its relation to culture, among the Tshidi-Barolong, a South African Tswana people. On the basis of the imagery of two informants- a "madman" and a former migrant laborer- it examines not merely the content of Tshidi consciousness, but also its expressive forms. It is hardly surprising, in a context like South Africa, that modern Tshidi consciousness should hinge on the contrast of work and labor. The contrast between work and labor, with its rich texture of associations, is called on constantly by Tshidi in their everyday lives. The colonial process introduced Tshidi not merely to wage work, but also to other features of commodity production- most notably, money, the supreme standard of value, and the clock, the measure of human labor time. By the 1820s, when the Tshidi first made contact with the Methodists, their world was in the grip of forces let loose by the rise of the Zulu state.