INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCE INDENTURED LABOUR NATAL, 1860-1911: STRATEGIES OF RESISTANCE
This paper focuses on the question of resistance to indentured labour. After providing an overview of the indentured system, the paper examines ‘passive’ forms of resistance, offering examples of ways in which the indentured resisted and may have undermined their employers through work sabotage, go-slows, feigning illness, stealing, and such ways of expressing their dissatisfaction. Other forms of resistance included running away from the plantation, an act that was difficult given the terrain and hostile environment in Natal. Hence, there were limits to employing this strategy.
There were instances, albeit rare, of violent revolt from the very beginning, with the rebellion in 1913 when the indentured came out in their thousands to join a protest initiated by Gandhi the most obvious example. Violent resistance, however, was not an option for most as they were socially heterogeneous, up against the despotic power of employers, a legal system that protected the rights of employers, and their isolated existence made it difficult to organise collectively. The key question is the extent to which the diverse forms of mainly individual resistance, many of which were not obvious to outsiders but were important to the indentured to uphold a degree of partial autonomy and honour, challenged the power of employers and the ‘system’.