Nyamweya is a Kenyan scholar who has done many years of research on a diversity of topics
Walking around tea estates in Kericho, Limuru, Sotik or Nandi hills, you will certainly be mesmerized by the rolling, well-maintained plantations in these parts of the country. Here, there are trees with serrated, leathery leaves stretching in every direction. They provide tea for many tea consumers around the world while earning millions for the multinational companies operating in the region.
However, behind the history of the appealing tea estates lies untold tales of suffering, torture and even death for thousands of Africans who had been recruited to plant and work at tea farms.
Most of the Kenyan highlands where tea is grown was forcefully taken from Africans by the white settlers who had no apologies or compensation to make. Once the settlers had identified ideal land for their business, they could demarcate it and move inhabitants to concentration camps and later recruit them as labors.
Many were forced to work for the white settlers since their land had been taken away and so they didn’t have a choice. However, African workers were subjected to back-breaking and tortuous work. The work entailed clearing vast areas of forested land in 1the 930s by cutting down mature indigenous trees, clearing bushes, and clearing twigs and timber to make way for the tea plantations.
In the process, many Africans died, some due to heavy work, others due to snake bites and yet others due to extremely cold weather conditions.
African labourers at these firms also endured hard times with the white settlers who used to treat them inhumanly. For instance, all workers were expected to adhere to the laid down work policies including but not limited to adherence to time and meeting targets. A worker who showed up late at work was subjected to 12 strokes of the cane by a colonial officer. The same worker would be paraded among his colleagues after receiving the strokes as a warning to others. Others were also sentenced to hard labour and even jail for serious crimes like theft or disobedience.
Other than caning, denial of blankets was also another form of punishment for errand blacks. This left them exposed to extreme cold at night
At the tea plantations, racial segregation was the order of the day, with the white settlers considering themselves superior to Africans. The white colonialists used to call African workers "monkeys" and they were required to salute and stand at attention whenever a white man was passing.
Many of the African laborers did not have liberty on matters to do with executing roles. Instead, they were supposed to follow instructions to the letter without questioning the failure of which they would receive severe punishments. Furthermore, the laborers could not escape the tea estates as they were monitored and controlled by armed forces. With barricades all around the tea estates, it was not possible for one to leave the plantations.
The average pay for an African worker for sh. was considered enough for a month’s expenses as per that time's rate. However, payment was prompt and timely.