Old Tradition and Westernization

Traditional hut in southern Africa.
An indigenous African woman digging the music from a radio.
Young boy surrounded by goats in southern Africa.
Miners developing a drift near Johannesburg.

As explained in the previous chapter, Africans were introduced to Western goods through exchanges with European traders. These trading goods helped to modernize southern Africa, but it was not until Europeans decided to settle down here and build a society that the Western impact became truly transformative.

Jobs in mines and factories

White people who settled down in southern Africa, as part of the process of transforming the area, habitually came to occupy land that had traditionally been used by indigenous Africans for hunting and herding. This land grab lowered many black people’s chances of being able to sustain themselves and prompted numerous black men to search for work elsewhere.

A job opportunity that presented itself for many black men in need of an income, as industrial production emerged in the 1800s, were jobs in white-owned mines and factories. Blacks, naturally, applied for these jobs, and while the jobs may have been better than nothing, they required factory and mining recruits to move away from their original homes in order to live close to the facilities where they worked. This, in turn, caused social instability in indigenous African communities, since a substantial number of black men were absent from their homes for long periods at a time.

Modern tools

Adding to black Africans’ misfortune, with working and living conditions around the mines and factories where they were employed sometimes being so hard that people died, a significant number of black men never came home. However, all the men that did come back to their families often had some money to buy factory-produced goods with. Little by little, Western goods and innovations in the form of building material, hunting equipment and trains then changed the way many black people lived their lives, with few people thereafter wanting to be without the comforts of many modern tools.

Traditional culture today

Nevertheless, tribal identity and culture didn’t die out entirely. In spite of a Western lifestyle existing as an alternative, traditional culture was kept in various areas in southern Africa, and is still highly relevant here today. In these communities, ancestral links are maintained and old traditions often give both joy and a deeper meaning to life.