Greek Workers in South Africa: The Case of the Railway Workers and the Cigarette-makers, 1905-1914

by E. A. Mantzaris

Published in the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, Numbers 3-4, Fall & Winter 1987 

From the article:
It is common knowledge that the average South African sees the Greek immigrants in this country as a "middleman minority," that is, as small entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, and restaurant owners.  Although this is possibly true during the contemporary period, this was not always the case.  Large numbers of Greek immigrants in South Africa worked as miners in the goldfields of the Witwatersrand during the period 1900-1920, and many of them, skilled and unskilled, became occasional laborers in the railways and the existing manufacturing establishments.  In this paper, I will examine the material conditions that compelled the latter to choose these occupations, as well as their activities during that turbulent period of South African labor history.

Many small Greek shopowners and restaurateurs, in both the Cape Province and the Transvaal, had been driven to bankruptcy and unemployment by the depressions that hit South Africa during the period under examination.  Many found employment on the Cape railways during the period 1905-1909, and in the Transvaal between 1910 and 1913. . . . . . . . . 

Having examined the Greek railway workers in South Africa, let us now turn to another category of occasional workers, i.e., the cigarette-makers.

.Among the Greeks from Asia Minor who found their way to South Africa were several skilled tobacconists who had previously been involved in the cultivation of Turkish tobacco in the place of their birth.  A similar stock of Greek emigrants had gone to Southern Rhodesia as early as 1900.  Greeks were regarded as the pioneers of scientific tobacco cultivation in that country (mainly as importers of Turkish blend), especially after 1907 when an expert on tobacco, G.M. Oldblum of the Department of Agriculture, took with him a number of Greek experts, who gave a tremendous boost to the tobacco growing business in the country. . . . 

PDF pages 47-67

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