Witwatersrand Native Labour Association

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The Witwatersrand Native Labour Association, more usually known by its initials WNLA or more popularly as "Wenela" was set up by the gold mines in South Africa as a recruiting agency for migrant workers.

Eventually it comprised a large organisation, with its own depots, buses and aeroplanes,[1] spread over the whole of Southern Africa - South Africa, Basutoland, Swaziland, South West Africa, Bechuanaland, Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Angola, Mocambique, extending into the Belgian Congo and Tanganyika.

Each depot had administrative and medical staff and a "barracks" to house recruits both before departure and on their return. Some had clinics and even schools, where the recruits were taught, first, Fanagalo, the lingua franca of Southern Africa (fifteen hours of tuition was enough to be useful), and then the rudiments of what mining was all about.

Tours were usually of six months duration, but many men spent their entire working lives as migrant workers.

This author is writing of the North West part of what was then Northern Rhodesia:- The Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WNLA) recruited systematically in the 1940s and 1950s, using permanent local agents, a system of barges which penetrated all of the major rivers of the region, and out-stations where workers were housed until they could be brought into the Boma for transportation. At the Boma WNLA maintained its own gardens and cattle herds as well as substantial hostels.[2]

In Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) the Government had instituted a "hut tax" of quite a small amount, payable annually for each hut. It was a form of "tribal initiation" for every youth to go down to the mines for at least one tour, and he would bring back enough money to pay the hut tax for the entire village.

Thus Fanagalo became the lingua franca of the whole of Southern Africa.

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