Outcomes of Slavery in Brazil and South Africa

Alex Laverty

B 02 York

Final paper: MMW5 — Winter term 2007

13 March 2007

Outcomes of Slavery in Brazil and South Africa

            When the Europeans set sail to conquer the world they encountered an untarnished world filled with minerals, spices, and natives. The natives that the Europeans encountered were technologically inferior to the Euro explorers. The Europeans took their technological advantages to infer a racial superiority as well. This line of thinking led to the solution of who was to do the back-breaking labor of obtaining precious metals and cultivating the new world agriculture. All of the colonial powers would soon establish dominance over the native populations of the Americas and the African continent. Slavery was to become such an important commodity to the colonists that the slave trade itself was quite lucrative. While some nations gave emancipation earlier than others, all had to deal with how to reintegrate a part of their population into the populace as a whole. However, not all nations proceeded along the same course, and some enacted laws that preserved a pseudo-slavery society well after emancipation of the slaves was given, such as the British South Africa with apartheid. Others nations incorporated their slave population comparatively more smoothly, as in the case with Portuguese Brazil (Craig, 485-501 & Marx 181-182).

            Confronted with these two differing paths towards what Anthony Marx deems as ‘race-making’ (state policy concerning race) by two former imperial colonies, the reasons for these divergent paths are not readily seen (192). The paper presented will attempt to ascertain why South Africa developed a society of exclusion and Brazil a society based more on inclusion of the slaves left over from colonialism. Why with two very similar backgrounds, did two nations end up with different societal outcomes?

            In explaining historical events, scholars of that era or region often give any assortment of reasons for why changes happened in the way they did. In the case of the race relations in South Africa and Brazil, the political and economic factors will be stressed as the primary reasons for why social aspects developed as the did. Specifically which factor had the most pull on the actions by the government, the economic needs of the nation or the need for political cohesion?

            Delving into the historical backgrounds of Brazil and South Africa reveals a glaring historical difference in the development of each country’s nation-building path. In South Africa there was a civil war at the turn of the 20th century, the Boer War, between white colonists over economic reasons, while in Brazil there was never any conflict that reached the levels of a civil war between whites after the Portuguese had ceded independence to the South American nation. Thus the concessions, racial discrimination, made at the conclusion of the Boer War to appease the losing the side, led to political and economic policies that would be in place for nearly a century that would segregate the country along racial lines. In Brazil, politics and economics played a part in Brazilian ‘race-making’ as well. Because of the lack of a civil war, there was less of a need to unite the white colonists against the slave population, thus making it more beneficial for an integration of the slaves (Marx 181). The need for political cohesion outweighed the desire by some for racial equality, thus setting the tone for political and economic polices in each country. However, was political cohesion the primary force behind each countries political decisions? The evidence provided should point to resounding answer in the negative.

Apartheid, the “highest stage of white supremacy” was a carefully assembled scaffolding that was made to keep in place the domination of whites over the majority of blacks (Siedman 1). The end results of apartheid were to assign the black population to native reserves (approximately 13% of the land for 75% of the total population), and from these reserves the Africans would leave their families everyday to come work as slave labor for white-owned farms, mines, and businesses. Who benefited the most from this policy, was apartheid a creation to benefit the political entity of South Africa or the nation’s economy?

Soon after the conclusion of the Boer War in 1903 the defeated Afrikaners, the first settlers of the Cape of Africa that was established by the Dutch East India Company,  came to negotiate the terms of peace, in with they desired certain benefits for their economy and states, Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Afrikaners had fled the coast in 1830s when the British arrived and soon abolished slavery, as well as imposing many other policies that the Afrikaners disliked (Cell 58 & Keegan 10). The Afrikaners themselves cited the need to preserve the relationship between master and slave as a key component for why thousands of Afrikaners went north to escape the jurisdiction of the British (Marx 192). The conflict began when British interests turned north to the diamond and gold mines in where the Afrikaners had eventually settled. This war strengthened the divide between the two white races, and the animosity between the two groups was a grave threat to any hope to unify the region under a united political entity (Marx 194).

At the end of the war, Afrikaner farmers were suffering from a labor shortage on the frontier. General Botha, a future prime minister of the Union of South Africa, represented the needs of the Afrikaners to the British. He recognized that without labor, many of the Afrikaner farms would fail. However, he did not want to important foreign labor as the British had done in previous labor problems. Botha himself was a white supremacist and despised all the racially tolerant policies brought by the British. Thus, to coax the British Colonials to restrict rights of Africans, he subtly hinted that the peace and further reconciliation between the Boers and the British would only last on the “maintenance of white supremacy. On that question no compromise was possible. White must be on top.” (Cell, 47). The British had recognized this early in the conflict with the British High commissioner, Sir Alfred Milner, charging that the only way self-government and colonial loyalty could be established was through the abandonment of the rights of native peoples (Marx 194).

Botha wanted to employ the native Africans on the Afrikaners farms, but for wages that the Afrikaners could ‘afford’. The only way to make the Africans come work for lower wages was to make it the only option for the natives. Through economic necessity, moral persuasion, taxation, and perhaps forcefully, the government would encourage Africans to work in dangerous industries or for the white Afrikaner farmers. While the goals of Botha were economic, he greatly desired to turn all Africans into a large detribalized proletariat, the concessions of the British were politically motivated (Cell, 48).

Two competing policies of African franchise had been at odds with each other in the years directly before the Boer War. The governor of the more inclusive Cape province, Sir George Grey, had been in favor of a policy of integrating the natives of Africa into the economy and society of the Europeans or he believed they would face the same fate as the Natives of the Americas. Grey believed that every aspect of the European culture – laws, medicine, education, employment, and religion – should be expanded to include the Africans, so that they could become indispensable to the Europeans. Grey was of the opinion that this was the only way to ensure the survival of the native population. The opposing viewpoint was put forward by the Native Administrator of the Natal province, Sir Theophilus Shepstone. He believed that because of the overwhelming differences between the Europeans and the natives, the African should be indirectly governed by the chiefs and laws already in place in their tribes. Shepstone believed that Africans would do better if they advanced as groups and not as individuals, thus preserving their identity and integrity (Cell 52). Shepstone’s policy, while not accepted at first, eventually came to be seen as a doctrine that benefited the white population, which would set the stage for further segregation in the coming century.

Dr. Margaret Ballinger, a former Member of Parliament of the South African Parliament, writes extensively about the political acts taken by the South African government led in 1913 by Prime Minister Botha. The government passed the Natives Land Act, which was to limit land acquisition by the African population that was rapidly growing (Ballinger 18). The Natives Land Act became the most important piece of legislation of the segregationist program (Cell, 58). This can be interpreted as a move by the Afrikaners to protect their treasured farm land, and eventually move the natives off the best land in order to cultivate it for themselves, strengthening their economic standing.

JA Hobson, an English imperial critic, provides further evidence that the rift between the Boers and the British was nearly irreconcilable at the end of the war. Hobson, writing soon after the initial defeat of the Boers, writes that the Boers will never recognize themselves as beaten and simply lie down to British rule. Hobson says “the attempt to enforce British rule upon the Republics is likely to turn out a longer and a costlier process than we reck” (Hobson 309). He goes on to lament about the ability of the British to keep the Boers as a subject race; “A South Africa in which the British…shall assert supremacy over the Dutch is a practical impossibility” (Hobson 312). Hobson’s ground level assessment makes clear why the British were so willing to bend to the demands of peace by the defeated Boers in order to reach a political union.

Shifting across the Atlantic, Portuguese Brazil had long been known for its large population of African slaves, the capital itself was reported to be 95 percent African descent in 1714, but was also known among Europeans for the comparably harsh conditions imposed by Brazilian slave owners (Russell-Wood 1). However, some historians, notably Gilberto Freyre have interpreted Brazil slavery as fairly compassionate, noting that the influence of Catholicism played a large part in the way Brazilians treated their slaves. This line of thinking falls under the Tannenebaum thesis, which says that the notable aspect of slavery in Brazil was the recognition of the humanity of the slaves (Marx 182). Marx goes on to disagree strongly with this analysis, citing the brutality of the actual slave conditions and the generous interpretation by Tannenebaum of the influence of the Church on social aspects.

Brazil, in fact, dealt with slave uprisings like the rest of the South American for the better part of the 19th century. Most of these revolts were led by freed slaves or mulattos. Farmers and merchants stayed away from the developing rift between slaves and the Portuguese government for fear of fanning the fires (Blackburn 384). After independence from Portugal, there was no great rush to emancipate the slaves, as the white land owners believed they could receive everything they wanted from the regime that was in place after independence (Blackburn, 411). This unity of the white settlers in Brazil greatly contrasts with the division of the British and Afrikaners in South Africa, and begins to show why certain outcomes occurred in regards to race.  Also differing was the Brazilian economy which was already biased towards the white laborers by the time of abolition in 1888 (Baronov 119). This continuation of the economic discrimination against the natives and Africans of Brazil was enough to ensure the that there was no need for an “official racial code and segregation” (Marx 190).

Why did apartheid develop and sustain in South Africa? The simple answer is to say apartheid worked because it benefited certain aspects of the economy, and the ability to continue racial stratification at the same time achieving modernization is impressive according to John Cell, a history professor at Duke. He is strongly in the train of thought that politics rather than economics played the greater part in the formation of race relations in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Anthony Marx would also seem to agree as he constantly stresses the fact that South Africa’s civil war, like the American War Between the States, caused the white controlling factions to disenfranchised the African population in order to achieve a cohesive political entity. In the end, disunity was resolved by “exclusive race-specific nationalism and citizenship” (Marx 205). This consequently did not occur in Brazil.

Marx supports his thesis by highlighting the fact that the economic development in Brazil lagged behind greatly to the South African economy. The Portuguese crown was forced to use its own resources because the private sector in Portugal was underdevelopment at the time of their colonialism, thus the primary economic force in Brazil was a strong consolidated and centralized state government (Marx 184). Marx would seem to be suggesting that because of its underdevelopment, the Brazilian economy had little say in the political policies of the day.

Cell and Marx both agree that the British desire to unify South Africa outweighed their desire to help the native population achieve some level of equality with the Europeans. This coupled with the fact that the primary demand of the opposition to a union, the Afrikaners, was to coerce Africans into a cheap labor supply, the British compromised in order to achieve their goals. Cell tries to use the example of the Milner administration of Transvaal to illustrate these compromises. The class divisions and resurgence of political organization by the Afrikaners clashed with the ultimate goal of Milner: create a United States of South Africa. Milner needed the support of both Afrikaner farmers and Gold Mine Industry to have any hope of this goal. Thus in the end Milner’s “motives were political” and he made sure that there would be a labor force for both sectors of the Transvaal economy by passing laws that compelled the African to work for low wages (Cell 62). Some argue that the beginning of racism itself was begun by the British imperial authorities (Magubane 32). Inevitably Cell believes the primary function of “segregationist ideology was to soften class and ethnic antagonisms among whites” (Cell 234).

In South Africa, while the Afrikaner’s racism played a part in forming apartheid, it was primarily the white population protecting their economic interests. Without the African slaves for forced labor many of South Africa’s resources would not be able to be exploited for profit (Evans 1). A piece of evidence that may be misconstrued to suggest political factors played the largest part in segregation in South Africa is the action of the previously mentioned Milner regime in the Transvaal. Milner possessed dictatorial like powers in the region after the war, but instead of making a move to install more liberal policies of inclusion of the natives, he decided to defend the mining industry and protect the cheap-labor policies (Cell 62). With the center of the development of the South African economy occurring in Transvaal, the rest South Africa often followed suit in many of its policies. With the success of forced labor so successful and profitable in the mining industry, as well as the Afrikaner farms, economic development was advanced through the expansion of segregation into eventually apartheid. This is not to say the British became racist against the natives simply because they were easy to exploit, in fact the British capitalists in South Africa came to favor a reform of the segregation (Marx 188). However, by this time the government was led by Afrikaners who protected their  farms that remained heavily reliant on the African labor force. Marx overlooks this fact of who was in charge of the government and simply claims that because the state did not change policies when under British industrial pressure, that the political factors played the greater part in race-making, and thus causing discrimination.

            In Brazil, the economic concerns of the country played an important part in the decision to not immediately emancipate all of the slaves. This process began slowly, when Brazil became in greater contact with the European world with the advent of the steamship and telegraph. Slavery soon came to be viewed as “an obstacle to development” which resulted in free labor being praised as much more profitable than slaver labor (Toplin 57).  Eventually the Rio Branco Law was passed in 1871, which gave freedom to slaves of the Imperial government and declared that “all children born to slave mothers would be legally free” (Toplin 60). Still, to appease the giant plantation owners, who’s support was crucial in any political undertaking, there were certain clauses of the law that tempered the effects against the slave owners (Toplin 60).

            Brazil did not have a formal segregation or discrimination policy, but this is because the economic system was not threatened by the emancipation of slaves. Most lived in the lowest of economic classes, and still preformed many of the occupations they held before manumission. Unlike South Africa, former slaves in Brazil did have the opportunity to move up in social and economic class. However, this did not occur with great frequency so it did not threaten the economic elites of Brazil from losing large labor forces. The lack of class mobility has to do with the very abolition movement itself. Contrary to the American abolition movement, the Brazilian abolitionists drew from a mostly secular line of reasoning, claiming that the need to end slavery was necessary for any national progress, not because they desired citizenship for the African. Thus any reparation to the former slaves or their descendents was not promoted by the Brazilian abolition movement (Azevedo 124). However, the Afro-Brazilians that did move up were not held back by discriminatory laws and were treated almost as equals (Toplin 92).

            I would argue that the a potential reason behind the traditional race relations in Brazil has to do with the large amount of miscegenation among the Portuguese and Africans. With the African slave trade in operation for 300 years in Brazil, the amount of mixed-race individuals were high (Baronov 19). In 1872, the census of Brazil registered 42 percent of the population as mulatto (Marx 186). Inevitably, the individual races, white, mulatto, and black, fit into the three economic rungs; rich, middle class, and poor, respectively (Toplin 94). This class stratification certainly did not worry the white elites.

In explaining the fundamental differences in the outcomes of South Africa and Brazil, the economic desires of the white upper class, or in the case of South Africa one of the white races, ultimately prevailed. The reason South Africa was forced to implement a government enforced segregation and discrimination against the Africans was not because South Africans were more racist than Portuguese Brazilians. The amount of time that slavery had been incorporated into the society, and most importantly the economy, played the essential factor. In South Africa the progressive British had eliminated the culture of slavery in the early 19th Century. So when the time came to find a cheap labor force 80 years later, the natives were not inclined to work for the Afrikaner farmers or Mining Industry because they already had experienced semi-equality in parts of the country. In the case of Brazil, no state coercion was necessary to keep the slaves in their current socio-economic position, thus no state policy of discrimination was implemented.

As with the case of all changes over time, many factors contribute to the changes. In these two cases, Brazil and South Africa, the factor that was the better ‘lobbyist’ for that change, that is which factor contributed the most to the eventual outcome, was the economic desires of the national industries. The economic factors behind ‘race-making’ in both Brazil and South Africa played more a part than did any of the political or social conditions. Whether those conditions be of racism on the part of an ethnic group, desire for political unity, or whether it be of a social pressure to end slavery. All of these social conditions and political undertakings played a part in the continuing or ending of racial prejudice, but neither contributed to the race-making policies of the South Afirca or Brazil as much as the desires of the white elites to achieve and maintain a cheap labor force. South Africa continued to disenfranchise the non-white majority because it suited the white minority economically to do so. In Brazil, the need to unite the whites against the slaves was not necessary politically, and eventually led to a transition, but class discrimination along economic lines was already in place to protect the Brazilian elites’ work force and standing in society. While only the discrimination in South Africa stood out prominently in the histories of both nations, this should not diminish the similarity in the economic factors that brought segregation into each country’s culture.

Works Cited

Azevedo, Celia Maria Marinho de. Abolitionism in the United States and Brazil: a comparative perspective. New York; Garland Pub, 1995.

Ballinger, Margaret. From Union to Apartheid. Washington; Praeger Publishers, 1969. [primary]

Baronov, David. The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil: the ‘Liberation’ of Africans through the Emanicaption of Captial. Westport; Greenwood Press, 2000.

Blackburn, Robin. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848. London; Verso, 1988.

Crais, Clifton C. White Supremacy and Black Resistance in Pre-Industrial South Africa. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Evans, Ivan Thomas. Bureaucracy and Race: Native Administration in South Africa. Berkeley; University of California Press, 1997.

Keegan, Timothy. Colonial South Africa and The Origins of The Racial Order. Charlottesville; University Press of Virginia, 1996.

Hobson, J.A. The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects. London; Ballantyne, Hanson & Co., 1900. [primary]

Marx, Anthony W. “Race Making and the Nation-State” World Politics Jan 1996: 180-208. JSTOR. UC San Diego Lib. 21 Jan 2007 <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/world_politics/v048/48.2marx.html&gt;.

Magubane, Bernard Makhosezane. The Making of a Racist State. Trenton; Africa World Press Inc, 1996.

Meredith, Martin. In the Name of Apartheid. London; Hamish Hamilton, 1988.

O’Meara, D. Volkscapitalisme: Class, Capital and Ideology in the Development of Afrikaner Nationalism. Johannesburg; Ravan, 1983.

Russell-Wood, A.J.R. The Black Man in Slavery and Freedom in Colonial Brazil. London; The MacMillan Press LTD, 1982.

Seidman, Gay. “Is South Africa Different? Sociological Comparisons and Theoretical Contributions from the Land of ApartheidAnnual Review of Sociology 1999: 419-440 <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0360-0572%281999%2925%3C419%3AISADSC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-A&gt;.

Toplin, Robert Brent. Freedom and Prejudice. Westport; Greenwood Press, 1981.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s