In no other society in the world have urbanisation and industrialisation been as comprehensively based on migrant labour as in South Africa. Rather than focusing on the well-documented narrative of displacement and oppression, A Long Way Home captures the humanity, agency and creative modes of self-expression of the millions of workers who helped to build and shape modern South Africa.
The book spans a three-hundred-year history beginning with the exportation of slave labour from Mozambique in the eighteenth century and ending with the strikes and tensions on the platinum belt in recent years. It shows not only the age-old mobility of African migrants across the continent but also, with the growing demand for labour in the mining industry, the importation of Chinese slaves.
The essays and visual materials traverse homesteads, chiefdoms and mining hostels in their portrayal of migrant workers’ and their families’ attempts to maintain contact across large distances and uphold their rural customs, traditions and rituals in new spaces and locations. Together, they provide multiple perspectives on the lived experience of migrant labourers and celebrate their extraordinary journeys.
A Long Way Home was conceived during the planning of an art exhibition entitled ‘Ngezinyawo: Migrant Journeys’ at the Wits Art Museum. The interdisciplinary nature of the contributions and the extraordinary collection of images selected to complement and expand on the text make this a unique collection.