- Bound for Work: Labor, Mobility, and Colonial Rule in Central Mozambique, 1940–1965 by Zachary Kagan Guthrie
Musa Amusa was born in the 1930s in Mutarara, on the Zambezi River in central Mozambique, and started his working life in a textile factory in Southern Rhodesia in the 1940s. Despite higher wages abroad and the continuous threat of forced labor recruitment at home, he followed the call of family commitments and returned to Mutarara, where he was promptly conscripted to serve six months of forced labor at a sugar plantation in Buzi district. Afterward he returned to the textile factory in Southern Rhodesia, but over the years Amusa maintained close familial and personal ties with his home region. Eventually he married and started his own family. On one of his home visits, he was caught again and forced to serve for another six months in the coal mines at Moatize. Subsequently, he moved to Beira to work again in a textile factory, where his wife joined him. They have remained there until the present.
There are many superb histories about migrant labor, forced labor, and urban migration, the themes that characterize Musa Amusa's life. By establishing a framework of labor mobility, Zack Kagan Guthrie has written a book that does justice to the complex experiences of mobile workers like Amusa, who were confined neither to a particular employment scheme, nor to a type of labor, nor to a destination. The author argues that by linking the histories of economic boom–driven labor scarcity with the history of forced labor (reintroduced in the early 1940s), the complexities of "how workers navigated the possibilities and limitations of labor within late-colonial capitalism" (2) can become apparent.
Musa Amusa is one of an impressive total of more than 175 former interviewees. The explicit decision to print both interview questions and answers gives a useful insight into the conversations that took place. The author also draws on previously little-explored colonial archival sources from provincial government records in the Arquivo Histórico de Moçambique. Examining both oral and written sources, the book explores the impact of forced and voluntary labor in Manica and Sofala Province (an area about the size of England) in central Mozambique during the 1940s and 1950s. It thereby follows Eric Allina's excellent study of colonial forced labor and local coercion practices under Mozambique Company rule after the abolition of slavery in the same region (Slavery by Any Other Name: African Life under Company Rule in Colonial Mozambique ).
The author's focus on labor mobility as both subject and methodology is innovative in this historical context. He views mobility as an open-ended set of plural possibilities, rather than the usual focus on labor migration in isolation as one particular form of mobility. This framework allows the author to successfully illustrate the contested nature of workers' mobilities. As the narrative explores how workers, their families, local chiefs, and colonial officials struggled to control the labor power of African men, mobility [End Page 120] emerges as a way not only to circumvent colonial power but also to reproduce it. The book's structure mirrors this diversity of historical actors. The book begins with a history of forced labor, known as contrato, which was reintroduced in 1942 and not revoked until 1961 (31). Then the book explores workers' perspectives, particularly the opportunities and risks associated with mobility and gender roles and affective ties. Finally, the book uses the topic of labor mobility to probe colonial rule, focusing on forms of control through local chiefs, the divergence between colonial policies and practices, and labor reform policies in the 1950s, with their emphasis on stabilized labor.
The book contains many significant insights. One is the author's exploration of gender roles. He highlights convincingly that outside of economic decisions concerning wages or safety considerations, affectionate ties to workers' families played a decisive role in their decisions to leave or to stay. The current literature on migrant labor...