Labour migration: a study of Nakambala sugar cane cutters in Mazabuka, 1964-2017.

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Mulope, Mumbula
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The University of Zambia
The phenomenon of labour migration at Nakambala Sugar Estate (NSE) was an extension of the labour migration system that started during pre-colonial times. It continued and grew during the colonial era and eventually entered post-colonial institutions which included NSE in Zambia. From inception, Zambia Sugar Company (ZSC) repeatedly recruited the majority of labourers from the Western Province, a trend that does not have enough scholarly address. Due to scarcity of specific literature on that, this study attempts to examine ZSC’s preference for cane cutters from the Western Province. It also investigates the socio-economic impact of the job of cane cutting on the Western Province, and analyses the reaction of ZSC and Mazabuka town community to the migratory cane cutters between 1964 and 2017. The study used the qualitative method. Data was collected from primary sources such as archival documents and oral interviews with various individuals and institutions. Secondary sources like books, journals, dissertations and theses were also consulted. Other sources included Government and ZSC reports. This study shows that between 1964 and 1968, ZSC did not recruit cane cutters because it was still planting sugar cane on the estate. In addition, the company’s preference for the local labourers who had no interest in the job of cane cutting but farming contributed to the failure to recruit cane cutters. The study also reveals that from 1968 to 2002, the company turned to the Western Province where men had shown interest in the job of cane cutting. Although there was an attempt to recruit cane cutters from the Eastern, Northern and Luapula Provinces in the 1970s, the study states that the recruits deserted the estate because they felt that the job of cane cutting was difficult. Therefore, ZSC continued to recruit cane cutters from the Western Province whom it eventually developed preference for. The study further indicates that between 2002 and 2017, the recruitment was shifted to Mazabuka mainly because the local people had begun to seek the job of cane cutting. The study argues that the local people only began to seek the job of cane cutting after 2002 mostly due to droughts and Contagious Bovine Pleuro-Pneumonia (CBPP) which crippled farming, their main source of income. Although the job of cane cutting was beneficial because it was a source of income used to meet essential needs for cane cutters and their families, the study has shown that it also impacted negatively as it did not offer vital skills to cane cutters to enable them contribute towards the development of their home communities. It also promoted reliance on monthly wages earned at NSE which affected the culture of being industrious among the cane cutters and their families in the sending communities. This work has similarly shown that the migratory cane cutters who were of benefit to the host community, sometimes were a threat in terms of staging strikes, abrogating ZSC rules, and competing for accommodation and the job of cane cutting with the local people. As a result, the host community was compelled to react to them in various ways. Lastly, this study argues that although the local people began to seek the cane cutting employment, by 2017 the majority of cane cutters at NSE still came from the Western Province due to the preference ZSC had for them, because they were hard working and committed to the job of cane cutting.
Nakambala Sugar Estates (Zambia).