In the past twenty to twenty-five years valuable contributions have been made to southern African agrarian history. Stanley Trapido's publications, for example, opened up stimulating perspectives on the processes and forces inherent to nineteenth-century Transvaal agrarian history. Although he was modest in his 1980 chapter, “Reflections on Land, Office, and Wealth in the South African Republic, 1850-1900,” and referred to it as “a tentative and preliminary attempt to outline some important aspects of these social relationships,” it has provided historians and others with an important instrument of analysis.
However, there are still themes, regions, and periods that need attention, one of these being the central districts of the Transvaal before the industrial revolution. In this regard a little-known source which may contribute to our knowledge of the pre-industrial history of the Transvaal, and which will be published this year as an annotated source publication, should be taken note of. This is the 1871 Commission on African labor in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR). Despite the valuable information contained in its documents on agrarian history and various aspects of race relations, especially with regard to the central districts of the Transvaal, it has been neglected by historians in the past. Of the few historians who refer to the 1871 Commission, most have merely utilised the report of the commission and have probably missed the important testimonies, correspondence, and minutes. Very few have managed to locate these documents, which are concealed among the supplementary documents of the State Secretary for 1871 in the Transvaal Archives.