Extreme apartheid: the South African system of migrant labour and its hostels
Keywords:compounds, hostels, workers’ housing, control, apartheid, migrancy
The migrant labour system was an historical system used to reconcile the conflicting need for cheap labour in the mines and cities, with the apartheid ideology that workers should not reside there on a permanent basis. Labourers were housed in a unique accommodation type that developed from the Kimberley Closed Compound into the Witwatersrand Mine Compound and ultimately the migrant labour hostel. During the late colonial and apartheid periods, the mining compounds and the migrant labour hostels, which formed a key element of this system, were designed (and functioned) as tools of control and repression. In time they became synonymous with violence, overcrowding and squalor. As with so many other political and social systems, dismantling the migrant labour apparatus, and undoing the harm it caused, often requires even more tenacious efforts over a period of time.