REVIEW OF ‘SERVING CLASS’
I read with some dismay the very negative review by Frederick Longino of Janet Bujra’s fine book ‘Serving Class’ in the last issue of Tanzanian Affairs (here). This book is an academic study of domestic service in Tanzania by a well-known development sociologist whose work on both Tanzania and Kenya is widely respected both in those countries and internationally.
Longino castigates Bujra’s work for ‘borrowing western ideas’, yet her book builds upon important debates by Tanzanian intellectuals on the nature of class and gender. Indeed, in her Acknowledgement, Bujra pays tribute to Issa Shivji ‘whose insistence on the relevance of class perspectives to political struggles in Tanzania first drew me to the topic’. Far from seeking to fit domestic service ‘into a western serving class model’, Bujra has taken great care to be historically, socially and culturally specific. Her work utilises not only her own observations but also the voices of Tanzanian domestic servants themselves. In addition, it draws extensively upon historical and archival material.
Further, contrary to Longino’s assertions that the author does not deal with women who are sexually abused by their employers, he would find a mention as early as page 2, and his contention that child domestic servants are neglected in this book is incorrect -it is also discussed right from the beginning.
Finally, his criticism that Bujra has ‘dropped from the English version some details which appear in Swahili’ appears rather at odds with his subsequent statement that ‘there is no parallel Swahili version’.
In reading a book review in the Bulletin, I would like to know primarily what the author has done, if possible in the context of relevant debates, before hearing about the author’s criticisms. In fact, this review tells us very little about what is actually in the book.
Professor Pat Caplan
From 1952 to 1955 approximately my father, the late James (Jim) Harris, MBE., MC., TD., was the District Commissioner in Nzega. During this time he instigated the building/drilling of over 80 dams and boreholes (Tanganyikan workers were paid with food) and earned himself the title ‘Dam Harris’. As a result of the El Nino winds of ’98 we heard that there was a large breach in the wall of Mwanahala Dam, one on which he had been working. The ‘Friends of Urambo and Mwanhala’ of which I am a committee member, have funded the repair of this and now, thanks to a generous legacy, we are arranging for the water to be piped to two large villages. I have been asked to go to Nzega in August to reopen the dam, which I find a great honour, and am busy collecting t-shirts etc for Tanzanian youngsters -if anyone would like to make a donation please write to me at Orchid Close, Tiverton, Devon EX16 6SZ.
THE MTWARA – NACHINGWEA RAILWAY
I have responded personally to David Morgan’s letter (‘Hidden political agenda?’) in the last Tanzanian Affairs. It referred to the Mtwara -Nachingwea railway and prompts a recollection which may be of interest to other readers. During my time in Masasi as DO in 1956-7 we were visited by a Colonel Rolleston, then Commissioner for Transport, who was carrying out a feasibility study on the possible extension of the railway to Songea via Masasi…. .In the wake of his departure, and with a degree in geography only five years behind me, I later compiled a paper coming down heavily against this extension unless there were confidential imperatives that I was unaware of… I suggested that an extended railway line would not of itself generate significant additional traffic; active agricultural development on a commercial scale would be needed to achieve this, and there was no evidence that this was intended. As for an extension to Masasi I thought that any marginal benefit would not justify the cost of construction; and that traders in Tunduru and Songea districts would avoid the expense and hassle of transshipment at the Masasi railhead and stick to road transport to and from the coast. My paper to the Commissioner was never acknowledged; the extension to Masasi was laid down and, with the rest of the Southern Railway, pulled up after a few years and utilised elsewhere.