A Compound Life
Sugar Cane Alley was filmed during the summer of 1931 in Martinique a time after the abolishment of slavery. This film parallels a time in Southern Rhodesia where there was a compound system that controlled the mining workers just as the overseers in the cane fields controlled the cane workers. Every aspect of daily life is in some way controlled. Sugar Cane Alley is an insightful film that shows how no matter your environment, if you want to succeed you can with a lot of hard work, but there will be hurdles to jump on the way.
In Southern Rhodesia there was a system called the compound system. In this compound system the goal was for total control, but they figured that was to far, so they attempted to control every aspect of the migrants that were rounded up by the RNLB. Unlike Sugar Cane Alley, the compound system was made of a three-tier system where there was the local population, migrants, and the forced laborers. In Sugar Cane Alley people are not forced to work, they work to live, and its just two rows of shacks full of people who can leave go as they please. But in Southern Rhodesia they wanted to lengthen the labor cycle and prevent mobility so they don’t move north for higher wages so they create laws within the system. As Van Onselen writes, the stores available were partially or fully company owned where making a tab was a trap and food rations were so low that they had to supplement by going to the high priced company store. He goes on further to say that because everything was so far away, the company succeeded in the miners leaning on the company store, but some would walk as far as twelve miles to another store for lower priced food. This is how Sugar Cane Alley and the compound system in Southern Rhodesia compare. Both have stores that their overseers partially or fully own where prices are too high so tabs and credit is invented so that some are forever indebted. In both areas wages are low, work is hard and long, and...
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