Constructing the ‘Native Taxpayer’: The Role of the South African Native Tax in Creating an Image of an African Other

25 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2016 Last revised: 19 Sep 2016

Date Written: September 16, 2016


‘Grand Apartheid’ formally began in 1948 with the election of the National Party government led by DF Malan but efforts to officially alienate Black Africans, whose supernumerary potential threatened European domination of South Africa, began long before that. The Natives Land Act 1913, which reserved the greater part of the country to the minority of settlers, is a crucial pillar of proto-separate development. Less well-known but, as this paper will argue, also of great significance was the Natives Taxation and Development Act 1925 (‘Natives Tax Act’). The Natives Tax Act introduced national poll and hut taxes (collectively, ‘the native tax’) which continued to be levied until 1969. By the time of the repeal of the Natives Tax Act, the native tax had become insignificant but, in the decades immediately following its introduction, the tax generated a significant body of case law. Many of these decisions were implicitly informed by a construction of the Black African as an ‘Other’, different from both Europeans and the Khoisan, the autochthonous people of the Cape of Good Hope.

Drawing, in particular, on Edward Said’s conception of alterity, employed most famously in Orientalism, this paper analyses the case law relating to the Natives Tax Act to demonstrate how the judiciary was instrumental in constructing an image of the African Other. This image is principally of a ‘black’, male adult, capable of strenuous physical labour. Secondary characteristics include a propensity to laziness, non-Cartesian reasoning and sexual license. Imagined and alienated in this way, the African Other was not only a crucial factor of production, he would also become a useful construct in the attempted implementation of separation in all elements of social life in South Africa. (Social, rather than economic, it may be noted, because African labour has always made the country’s agriculture and mining industries possible.) In excursus, the paper notes the remarkable case of Elizabeth Napier, a woman prosecuted for failing to pay the native tax.

Keywords: South Africa, poll tax, Edward Said, cultural construction, Other

Suggested Citation

Barrett, Jonathan M., Constructing the ‘Native Taxpayer’: The Role of the South African Native Tax in Creating an Image of an African Other (September 16, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan M. Barrett (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington 6140
New Zealand

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