Editor’s Note: Frequent readers may be familiar with the blog’s ongoing promotion of new, relevant dissertation research (’tis the season!), but periodically we also highlight work published in journals and other peer-reviewed outlets. Each of the recent articles below by scholar Thembisa Waetjen offers new perspectives on the significance of drug use, commerce, and regulation in Africa. Enjoy!
“The Rise and Fall of the Opium Trade in the Transvaal, 1904–1910”
Journal of African Studies (2017)
Abstract: From 1904 to 1910, the transport and confinement of over 63,000 men from north-eastern China, recruited and indentured as unskilled mining labour, stimulated a new market for opium on the Witwatersrand, at the very moment when other British colonies and other empires were pushing towards co-ordinated action to curb the trade. This article plots the development and shape of opium commerce in the Transvaal colony, revealing local patterns of entrepreneurship and articulations between licit and illicit circuits in the narcotic supply chain. In a bid to monopolise control and profits, the Government set up a bureaucracy of drug provision, working with the Chamber of Mines and organised pharmacy and medicine interests. However, the continuing preference of indentured migrants for informal networks of supply, despite higher prices, points to the importance of the trade within the social and material economies of the mining compound. With political changes in both colony and metropole, and the termination of the Chinese Labour Importation scheme, the presence of opium on the Rand was drawn into the anti-opium politics of the imperial public sphere. White racial anxieties about the ‘spread’ of opium smoking were crystallised in the image of the opium den as a locus of depravity. However, it was neither moral nor social arguments, but rather the expulsion of the population officially targeted for drug use, that curtailed the trade in opium on the Witwatersrand.