Although the South African state officially collected taxes only from African men, taxes had a number of effects on African women as well. This paper contends that the first tax instituted, the hut tax, although it did little to change women's social, cultural and economic status by itself, did set a precedent for treating African women as legal minors. Later taxes combined with the development of migrant labor and the declining availability of arable land in the reserves to restructure women's roles dramatically. Taxes were by no means the only or the primary cause of this restructuring, but they were an integral part of the foundation.
It is important to consider the effects of taxes on women, particularly rural women, for two reasons. First, what little secondary literature exists on the taxation of the African population concentrates on how taxes affected the supply of male migratory labor (Ramdhani 1986; Cooper 1981, 307; Marks 1970, 15, 132-3). While this is a crucial question, it tends to link taxes to labor migration solely as cause and effect while ignoring the more complex social consequences of taxes. Some of these consequences were long-term as they played themselves out in people's self-definitions, especially with regard to gender and social roles.
Second, a study of tax regulations and tax collection can provide a mirror in which are reflected the attitudes, assumptions and priorities of state officials dealing with the “Native Problem.” The imposition of the hut tax in the early years of the takeover of African societies revealed a particular view of how those societies were constructed and how white officials thought they ought to be altered.