Okaholo: Contract labour system and lessons for post colonial Namibia

  • Kletus Likuwa
  • Napandulwe Shiweda


This paper looks at the origins and effects of a repressive contract labour system, as experienced by the Kavango and Ovambo contract labourers.1 It also investigates the initial contact with European traders and later employers in the Police Zone, which produced a marked effect on the Ovambo and the Kavango lives. This paper analyses the contract labourers‟ distinct position in the political economy of colonial Namibia, under firstly Germany and later South African rule, and their specific economic, social and living conditions. These aspects are relevant when exploring the exploitation and attempts at totalitarian control by the colonial administration that nurtured class  consciousness and political militancy. The exploitative and repressive conditions entrenched in the contract labour system persisted since the inception of Kavango and Ovambo labour migration to the south in the late 19th century, and were factors in their growing political consciousness in the early 1970s. Contract labourers were denied any rights outside their sending areas, enforced by pass and contract laws which put total control over job allocation, residence and mobility in the hands of colonial officials. This paper concludes by highlighting the lasting legacies of the colonial contract labour system in post-colonial Namibia.

Journal Identifiers

print ISSN: 2346-7126