This article attempts to understand in substantive terms the nature of black proletarianization in Natal, South Africa. This is undertaken by moving beyond arid explanations of outside agencies to focus on some of the underlying cultural premises that ordered the day-to-day activities of northern Nguni communities. This article examines their temporal perceptions, exploring within the colonial context the shift from peasant to industrial time, and showing the central role mission churches played in the transition process. Two important disclosures emerge as a result of this study. First, it conclusively demonstrates the existence of a rich history of nineteenth century African labour action (where until now the overwhelming assumption among historians has been that no such activity existed), much of which was related to the struggle over the definition of time. Secondly, it presents a more balanced picture of the migrant worker. One finds groups of labourers who continued to adhere to old attachments, while others adapted in a rather remarkable fashion to the conditions of the industrial workplace. Most striking of all, is that both were capable of dictating the terms of labour, whether they involved demands for the lunar month or the half-holiday and Sabbath rest day.