Article

“Taming” Bushman farm labour: a villeinous era in neo-feudal Namibia?


Abstract

This paper examines how “wild” Bushmen became “tame” farm labour in Namibia during a situation where policy encouraged massive white farm settlement while undergoing significant administrative personnel downscaling. Downscaling led to an increase in unrecorded informal violence because farmers were operating in what Moore calls “semi-autonomous fields.” I suggest that Agamben’s notion of état de siège and Weber’s analysis of villeinage provide useful perspectives for understanding the sociocultural milieu that served to tie down farm labour. Weber and Agamben highlight an ethos of besiegement that had a “looping effect” on legislation, creating a neo-feudal situation. In this besiegement ethos, the spectral presence of those labelled Bushmen provided the seductive master fantasy, the proverbial bogeymen.

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