The hut tax was a type of taxation introduced by British colonialists in Africa on a per hut or household basis. It was variously payable in money, labour, grain or stock and benefited the colonial authorities in four related ways: it raised money; it supported the currency (see chartalism); it broadened the cash economy, aiding further development; and it forced Africans to labour in the colonial economy. Households which had survived on, and stored their wealth in cattle ranching now sent members to work for the colonialists in order to raise cash with which to pay the tax. The colonial economy depended upon black African labour to build new towns and railways, and in southern Africa to work in the rapidly developing mines.
By 1908 the following hut taxes were imposed in southern Africa:
- In Natal, under Law 13 of 1857, 14 shillings per hut occupied by natives. Natives that lived in European style houses with only one wife were exempt from the tax.
- In the Transkei, 10 shillings per hut.
- In the Cape Colony, various forms of the "house duty" had existed since the 1850s. The tax was legally applicable to all house-owners in the Cape, regardless of race or region, but was only partially enforced, especially in rural areas. A full and universally applicable house tax was imposed in 1870 (Act 9 of 1870), and was more fully enforced, due to the government's severe financial difficulties at the time.[1870 Note 1] The highly unpopular tax was terminated in 1872 (Act 11 of 1872), but a new and higher duty was applied by the Sprigg government during the wars of 1878, when government expenditure was extremely high. The Cape's most controversial "hut tax" was established under Act 37 of 1884, and specified 10 shillings per hut with exclusions for the elderly and infirm. It was repealed under Act 4 of 1889.
In Mashonaland, now part of Zimbabwe, hut tax was introduced at the rate of ten shillings per hut in 1894. Although authorized by the Colonial Office in London, the tax was paid to the British South Africa Company, the agent of colonial government in the area. Coinciding with confiscations of cattle, the introduction of forced labour and a series of natural disasters, the tax probably contributed to the Shona part of the rebellion against the colonialists in 1896, known as the First Chimurenga or Second Matabele War.
The tax was also used in Uganda and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). In Sierra Leone it sparked the Hut Tax War of 1898 in the Ronietta district in which substantial damage was sustained to the establishments of the Home Missionary Society. The damage sustained by the Society led to an international tribunal over Great Britain's responsibility, brought by the US on behalf of the Home Missionary Society.
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- Garran, Robert (1908). "XXII - Sources of Revenue". The government of South Africa. Cape Town: Central News Agency. pp. n157. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
- Garran, Robert (1908). "XXII - Sources of Revenue". The government of South Africa. Cape Town: Central News Agency. pp. n159. Retrieved 29 August 2009.
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- 1870 House Duty Act (1870, Act 9)
- For houses valued under £100, five shillings were levied; for houses valued between £100 and £500, ten shillings were levied; for houses valued between £500 and £1,000, twenty shillings were levied; and for every additional £500 above, an additional ten shillings were added to the tax amount.