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Wine and the Workers, 1890 - 1996

Venue: PLAAS Boardroom
Date: 12 Sep 2017
Time: 13:30 to 14:30

Presenter: Gavin Williams Emeritus Fellow of St Peter's College Oxford University

In 1890, the Cape Liquor Commission referred to the ‘system of giving wine to labourers employed by wine and corn farmers’ but, at the instigation of JH Hofmeyr, it amended its report to acknowledge ‘evidence that the wine was of low alcoholic strength, and that drunkenness appears to be of rare occurrence on the farm itself.’ In 1996, the editor of Wynboer distinguished the ‘dop [tot] system’, the ‘indefensible’ practice of giving wine to male farm workers at regular intervals during the working day from the ‘normal and civilised custom of making a bottle of wine available to his workers on a daily basis.’ The system was consistently promoted and defended by farming interests and the ‘organised wine industry’ against the sustained attacks of the temperance movement before a series of enquiries into labour issues, liquor legislation, and the social conditions of Coloured people. As both sides of the disputes well understood, this was where the industry was most vulnerable. Procedures of Commissions of Inquiry (1890, 1908 {Tvl}, 1935-37, 1943-45, 1956, 1960, 1967-1970, 1974-76) did not direct policies but gave authority to the process. Parliament was a venue for political debates and for passing legislation (1898, 1928, 1962/1963). Parliamentary committees (1892, 1918, 1926, 1952) were sites for political argument. Commissions and committees created space to give evidence and declare policies but could not presume on parliamentary approval. Departmental committees (1960, 1974), sought to regulate the system or even bring it to an end. A parliamentary majority left the system in the hands of farmers and ‘grocers’ in 1963. Controversies divided churches and parties (1923, 1932, 1937, 1957) according to overlapping and changing moral, religious, social, political, and clinical principles. These may return in new forms to when they began.

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