Conundrums of cash: wage rhythms, wealth circulation and the ethics of the economy on the Zimbabwean-South African border

Arts building, Danford Room
Tuesday 8 January 2013 (17:00-19:00)

Speaker: Max Bolt

On the white-settler estates of the Zimbabwean-South African border, farmers bring vast sums of cash every month to pay the wages of their black workers. Doing so presents risks and logistical problems. But equally complicated is how workers actually use their monthly pay so far from town, in resident compounds characterised by transience and insecurity. Here, cash is far from convenient. Easy to steal, it was also hard to remit during Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation. Cash enters the area in huge quantities, as wages. But it leaves just as abruptly, returning to town with travelling traders. The risk of theft in shared accommodation pushes many to live on credit, relying on personal relationships with resident businesspeople, until cash once again flies through the compound. The result is that the farms shape the very temporality – the rhythm – of wider circulation on the border.

This paper explores the ties of dependence, hierarchy and ethical responsibility through which money operates in this setting. A focus on money illuminates an important dimension of labour arrangements – one that goes far beyond the usual focus on wages. For on the border farms, the use and storage of cash are central to the very constitution and cohesion of workforces.

Part of the Fifty Years of African Studies seminar series