Hut tax

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The hut tax was a type of taxation introduced by British colonialists and 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; it broadened the cash economy, aiding further development; and it forced Africans to labour in the colonial economy.[1] 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.

South Africa[edit]

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.[2]
  • In the Cape Colony, under Act 37 of 1884, 10 shillings per hut with exclusions for the elderly and infirm.[3]
  • In the Transkei, 10 shillings per hut.[3]


Liberia implemented an annual hut tax in 1916. The tax was collected by local chiefs who had been informed by state agents working with soldiers from the Liberian Frontier Force about how many huts they had to account taxes for.[4] This tax was supposed to be paid by all adult men and forced rural people into a monetary economy. The chiefs who were responsible for this were allowed to keep a commission from the taxes, which initiated a system of “indirect rule,” and created a new class of powerful male elders from ruling lineages.[4]

The hut tax contributed to forced labor in Liberia. In order to pay the tax, people began to offer their labor for hire, initially to traders but eventually to international companies that had won concessions to establish rubber plantations, public works projects, and other activities requiring labor. Chiefs, who earned a portion of the hut tax, were responsible for supplying able-bodied men to work. [4]

The hut tax also led to a Kru revolt.[5][6]


In Mashonaland, now part of Zimbabwe, hut tax was introduced at the rate of ten shillings per hut in 1894.[1] 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.[1]

Other countries[edit]

The tax was also used in Uganda[7] and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).[8] In Sierra Leone it sparked the Hut Tax War of 1898.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Pakenham, Thomas (1992) [1991]. "Chap. 27 Rhodes, Raiders and Rebels". The Scramble for Africa. London: Abacus. pp. 497–498. ISBN 0-349-10449-2. 
  2. ^ Garran, Robert (1908). "XXII - Sources of Revenue". The government of South Africa. Cape Town: Central News Agency. pp. n157. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  3. ^ a b Garran, Robert (1908). "XXII - Sources of Revenue". The government of South Africa. Cape Town: Central News Agency. pp. n159. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  4. ^ a b c "RUBBER PRODUCTION IN LIBERIA: An Exploratory Assessment of Living and Working Conditions, with Special Attention to Forced Labor". US Department of Labor. 2009-04-28. Retrieved 2015-11-25. 
  5. ^ President Arthur Barclay (1904-1912): External and internal threats to Americo-Liberian rule.
  6. ^ "Liberia from 1930 to 1944". Retrieved 2013-05-13. 
  7. ^ "The Uganda Agreement of 1900". Buganda Home Page. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  8. ^ "Zambia". ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 
  9. ^ "Tax Wars". BBC Online. BBC. Retrieved 2007-03-19. 

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See also[edit]