About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

1856. Masters & Servants Act No 15

This superseded the MASTERS & SERVANTS ORDINANCE of 1841. "Though most of the clauses of the 1841 ORDINANCE were taken over verbatim by ACT 15 of 1856, there are nevertheless important differences ... Whereas the 1841 ORDINANCE had imposed a penalty of twenty shillings for each month that a child, whether destitute or not, was illegally detained by an employer, the ACT of 1856 decreed no penalty at all for the detention of children whose parents or guardians were still living, and altered the penalty for the detention of destitute children to 'not more than twenty shillings nor less than five shillings' " (Marais 1938: 205).

It was "designed to enforce discipline on ex-slaves, peasents, pastoralists, and a rural proletariat" (Simons & Simons 1969: 23). "For though it is nominally colour-blind, the penalties are invoked only against the darker workers" (Simons & Simons 1969: 24).

Simons & Simons (1969: 24) group the offences into three categories: breach of contract, indiscipline (such as disobedience, drunkenness, brawling and the use of abusive language) and injury to property. Besides fines (as mentioned above), penalties also included imprisonments of various time lengths.

Apparently this act was not repealed until 1974 (see Riley 1991: 138), while it was amended at least twice (1873 and 1926).

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.