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The institution of serfdom grew out of efforts to mobilize the labor of the native population of southern Africa, whose formal enslavement was forbidden by the British. While ordinary chattel slaves existed, prior to the British abolition of slavery throughout the Empire in 1833, they were never very common south of the Limpopo except in the Western Cape Province.

Instead, the natives were subject to a "poll tax." Since they had no access to the cash economy (and fairly soon after the conquest, no title to land) they were forced to accept employment as indentured servants, theoretically for a fixed term. However, the "wages" never equaled the charges for upkeep and the accumulated tax; hence, a servant could be legally forced to reindenture to pay off the debt. In theory only the debt and contract of indenture could be sold, but the distinction quickly became academic once the debts were made hereditary. Children of bondservants were automatically contracted to their parents' owners as they came of age.

Successive Master and Servant Acts subjected bondservants to restrictions more and more closely resembling those imposed on outright slaves. By the time slavery was formally abolished in 1833, the distinction had become very largely academic. In point of fact, the pretense of "contracts of indenture" was a legalistic farce almost from the beginning. Newly conquered populations were rounded up, culled and auctioned as property. The word slave was avoided for political reasons. "Bondservant" remained the technical and legal term until the 1880s, when the colloquial "serf" was introduced into Draka law.

In its classical form (after about 1840), Draka serfdom resembled that of Czarist Russia. Serfs were effectively personal property, and could be sold either as individuals (although there were restrictions on separating mothers from small children) or as part of an economic unit such as a plantation or mine. All persons born to serf mothers were serfs; serf status was unchangeable, with no manumission. Originally, the institution was also racially based: the free population was of European origin, the serf, African. Miscegenation and expansion into racially Europoid areas such as North Africa (and later the Middle East) tended to blur this, as did the decline of immigration and the hardening of the caste system.

In essence, the only restrictions on a master's rights over his/her serfs were those imposed by the Domination for police/security purposes—serfs had to be kept under effective supervision, could not be allowed to wander at large, etc. Draka law held an owner responsible for torts committed by serfs, where negligence could be shown. A master who did not meet certain minimum standards of maintenance (food, clothing, etc.) would have control over their serfs removed and the serfs either auctioned or placed under a receiver. While there were no formal limits on physical punishment, informal administrative and social pressures tended to restrain the more bizarre types of sadism, at least when conducted in the public view.

By law, serfs could own no property and make no contracts. Their testimony was not accepted in law courts, and their marriages had no legal validity. In fact, their status closely approximated that of a slave under Roman law: pro nullis, pro mortis, pro quadrupedis: "as nothing, as one who is dead, like a beast." The law forbade all education of serfs except under carefully regulated licenses. This was kept to the minimum necessary to manage an industrial economy, with a certain degree of inflexibility accepted as the price of security. Such education and training as was given tended to be as narrowly specialized as possible; e.g., serf typists would be taught sight-reading but have no knowledge of geography or history. Elaborate controls existed to prevent uncensored reading material from reaching literate serfs; as much as possible, training was conducted via visual media. Serfs were forbidden to carry any form of weapon, to travel outside their immediate place of residence or work without a permit, and were under a legal obligation of absolute deference to all Citizen adults.

Agricultural serfs generally lived in small villages near the manor of the plantation-holder. Others were usually housed in "compounds"—enclosed barracks of up to 10,000 individuals. The compound system was originally developed for mine labor, and gradually extended to manufacturing. Compounds are sited in convenient cleared zones in the industrial areas of Draka cities and towns, or at isolated enterprises in the countryside. Domestic servants, and certain types of clerical and service labor, live in their master's households. A curfew, usually dusk-to-dawn, keeps all non-Citizens off city streets unless operating under special permit. It should be noted that there were classes within the serf caste; privileged elements—Janissaries, technicians, strawbosses, etc.—that received better material treatment and, in practice, protection from random brutality. Also note that many of the compound-dwellers had very little contact with the Citizen population, even at work.

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