Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Preconquest Pedi combined cattle keeping with hoe cultivation. The principal crops were sorghum, pumpkins, and legumes, which were grown by women on fields allocated to them when they married. Most major tasks were done by communal work parties. The chief was entrusted with, and was depended upon to perform, rainmaking for his subjects. The introduction of the animal-drawn plow and of maize was later to transform the labor division involved in cultivation in significant ways, especially when combined with the effects of labor migration. Men's leaving home to work for wages was initially undertaken by regimental groups of youths in order to satisfy the paramount's firepower requirements, but later became increasingly necessary to individual households as population increase within the reserve and land degradation made it impossible to subsist from cultivation alone. Despite increasingly long absences, male migrants nonetheless retained a keen commitment to the maintenance of their fields: plowing now had to be carried out during periods of leave or entrusted to professional plowmen or tractor owners. Women were left to manage and carry out all other agricultural tasks. Men, although subjected to spiraling controls in their lives as wage laborers, fiercely resisted all direct attempts to interfere with the sphere of cattle keeping and agriculture. Their resistance erupted in open rebellion—ultimately subdued—during the 1950s. In subsequent decades, some families have continued to practice cultivation and to keep stock, but these activities are a long-term commitment to the rural social system in order to gain security in retirement, not a viable form of household subsistence.
Division of Labor. In preconquest times, women hoed and weeded; made pottery, sleeping mats, and baskets; built and decorated huts with mud; ground grain; cooked; brewed; and collected water and wood. Men did some work in fields at peak times, hunted and herded animals, did woodwork, prepared hides, and were metal workers and smiths. In the early 1960s it was estimated that about 48 percent of the male population was absent as wage earners at any given time. Between the 1930s and the 1960s, most Pedi men spent a short period working on nearby White farms, moved to employment in the mines or in domestic service, and later—especially in more recent times—to factories or industry. Female wage employment began more recently, and is rarer and more sporadic. Some women work for short periods on farms; others have begun, since the 1960s, to work in domestic service in the towns of the Witwatersrand. But in the late twentieth century there has been a rise in levels of education and of expectation, combined with a sharp drop in employment rates. Many youths, better educated than their parents and hoping for jobs as civil servants or teachers, stand little chance of getting employment of any kind.
Land Tenure. The precolonial system of communal or tribal tenure was retained by the colonial administration. In this system, a man would be granted land by the chief for each of his wives. Unused land was reallocated by the chief and was not inherited within families. Massive overpopulation resulting from the government's relocation policies has led to a modification of this system. A household's fields, together with its residential plot, are now inheritable, ideally by the youngest married son. Christian Pedi communities that owned freehold farms were removed to the reserve without compensation, but, since the advent of the postapartheid era in South Africa, many have reoccupied their land or are preparing to do so. The few Pedi who still live as labor tenants on White farms have been promised some security by a 1995 law passed by the government of national unity elected in 1994.