"We do not want to be ruled by foreigners: oral histories of nationalism in colonial Zimbabwe.
"MAss NATIONALISM" was a dominant historical phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa in the post-Second World War era of decolonization. Although there are no easy definitions of "African nationalism," partly because there were varied paths towards decolonization, 1960s "African nationalism" can be described as essentially a reaction to white racial and European colonial domination. (2) However, despite its "mass" appeal noticed in much of the literature on this subject, African nationalism itself has always been defined as an elitist (and sometimes "imported") discourse. Scholars of nationalism in Africa generally agree that those who imagined and discursively constructed the idea of new postcolonial nations during the era of anti-colonial movements were usually highly educated and influential (male) African elites. (3) Present public memories of the African nationalisms across the continent are carefully crafted through various forms of memorializing that history, in a way that parochially focuses on a small group of elite nationalists who are credited with having dislodged European colonial rule. These dominant postcolonial state and scholarly narratives have rendered the histories, lived experiences, and significant contributions of other historical subjects invisible and inaudible within the history of African nationalism.
This essay, focusing on the growth of African nationalism in colonial Zimbabwe (or Rhodesia, as it was then known in the West) in the 1960s, draws attention to the invisible and inaudible histories of non-elites who actually gave meaning to the notion of "mass nationalism." (4) Unlike the dominant narrative in African nationalist histories that stresses the critical mobilizing role of African nationalist leaders in which ordinary people (or the "masses") blindly followed the leadership of elite nationalists, I start from the premise that there is a need for a more nuanced understanding of the complex, and often contested, encounter and dialogue between ordinary rural and urban Africans, on the one hand, and radical African political elites, on the other. My essay suggests that based on their personalized experiences of colonialism, many ordinary men and women in both rural and urban Rhodesia were capable of formulating their own critiques of colonialism, which propelled them to act, practice, or perform nationalism in concert with those elite nationalists who formed and led African political organizations. In this process of political cross-fertilization and dialogue, ordinary Africans, whether urban workers or peasants, were not merely led from above, or outside, as objects participating in "African nationalism."
This more complex African nationalism is by no means unique to colonial Zimbabwe. As historian Susan Geiger noted in her study of women and the making of Tanzanian nationalism, situating non-elites in African political life Africa: From About 1935 to the Present, Nairobi: Heinemann, 1984; A. Adu Boahen, African Perspectives on Colonialism, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987. compels historians to reformulate our understandings of African nationalism. (5) By highlighting the ways in which non-elites formulated their own critiques of colonialism and performed African nationalism according to their own understandings of anti-colonialism, we begin to dispel metanarratives of African nationalism that privilege Western-educated African (male) elites and facile ideas of African nationalism as an "imported" ideology. In this vein, this paper suggests that African nationalism in Rhodesia cannot be fully understood within the parochial and narrow paradigms of elite nationalist agendas.
Although one may expect that all Africans devoted to the idea of replacing white minority rule with black majority rule were nationalists despite their backgrounds, in nationalist scholarship the brand "nationalist" clearly belongs to that small group of the African educated elite who had the ability to articulate Marxist-Leninist versions of socialist or communist ideologies. In official narratives of Zimbabwean nationalism itself, ordinary people who were political activists and supporters of the Zimbabwean liberation struggle are parenthesized as the "masses," an undifferentiated group of supporters of the liberation struggle. (6) The official, and sometimes scholarly, cast of characters who epitomize the growth of Zimbabwean nationalism is carefully crafted to highlight the central role played by those who organized and founded political parties, led the liberation struggle, and ultimately inherited state power at the end of colonial rule. (7) This essay argues, however, that a more productive analysis of the growth of Zimbabwean nationalism needs to go beyond the limited framework of the African elite nationalist agendas and ideologies of a select group of "nationalists." By exploring the political lives and motivations of ordinary African political activists, I shift the angle of vision from elite narratives of the liberation struggle to those whose histories and contributions to Zimbabwe's struggle have remained in the shadows of Zimbabwe's nationalist history. I suggest here that we need to understand the growth and proliferation of nationalism in Zimbabwe as it was understood, debated, and embraced by ordinary men and women, that is, urban and rural workers. Instead of making casual references to "the masses," this essay argues that it is the politics of the "semi-proletarians" that is at the center of the growth of mass-based nationalism and liberation movements in Zimbabwe. It was their politics and their understanding of the struggle for liberation that gave Zimbabwean nationalism its form and substance.
Zimbabwe's dominant path towards decolonization took the form of an armed struggle that pitted African guerrillas against the Rhodesian war machine. At the end of the Zimbabwean liberation war and the proclamation of a newly independent nation in 1980, historians with an understandable sense of scholarly sympathy and in a celebratory mood about the end of an utterly racist and oppressive colonial regime immediately began the task of recording the history of Africans' triumphant nationalist and liberation struggle. In a country whose history had been distorted by different sets of colonial historiographies, nationalist and liberation-struggle historians seemed to be driven by an urgent need to rewrite the country's history. Their efforts were unmistakably part of the original Africanist agenda of writing "useable pasts," that is, of giving a useable and meaningful history to a new African nation. For, as the German historian Michael Sturmer once noted, "In a country without history [or with a history in dispute!] whoever manages to give meaning to memory, define the concepts and interpret the past, wins the future." (8)
Accordingly, different sets of histories about Zimbabwean nationalism emerged, but with one theme in common: the guerrilla or liberation war. In the early dominant narrative of Zimbabwean nationalism, the guerrilla war, along with its chief protagonists (guerrillas, guerrilla leaders, and an undifferentiated group of rural peasants) took center stage. In this literature, authors subordinated or silenced all other forms of struggle against the Rhodesian colonial regime, and reified the guerrilla war narrative as singularly important in the telling of Zimbabwe's anti-colonial history. This bias towards guerrilla war, however, did not necessarily reflect a scholarly weakness of these histories, inasmuch as most works were thoroughly researched and nuanced.
One of the first of such works was David Martin and Phyllis Johnson's Struggle for Zimbabwe, a detailed account of the guerrilla war. (9) The book, which was based on years of research and extensive interviews with Zimbabwean ex-guerrilla leaders, was quickly recognized as the most authoritative (and indeed authorized) account of the liberation struggle. The tone of the narrative was triumphant and celebratory, and its historical subjects carefully selected to make prominent the roles of ex-guerrilla leaders in the struggle for the liberation of Zimbabwe. Not surprisingly, the post-colonial Zimbabwean government, in which most of Martin and Johnson's informants found employment, made sure that the book was distributed to all secondary schools in the country. As the first of a long line of liberation-struggle histories that were to emerge in the 1980s, Martin and Johnson's narrative set a precedent not only by stressing the sole importance of the guerrilla war in the history of Zimbabwe's nationalism, but also by presenting a narrow set of historical subjects germane to that history. This account marginalized other sites of struggle such as the urban African townships, the workplaces, the prisons, and others. In addition, its narrow focus contributed to the postcolonial ZANU (PF) government's project of propagating an official version of Zimbabwean nationalism. It excluded ordinary women and men, young and old, urban workers, peasants, and others, but reified the ruling elites' indispensable role in the making and triumph of Zimbabwean nationalism. As David Moore noted a decade after the publication of Struggle for Zimbabwe, the book was the most "singular and celebratory narrative buttressing ZANU (PF)'s claims to power," as it "suppresses or down plays the contributions of" other historical subjects. (10) Other 1980s works on Zimbabwean nationalism, although maintaining the same emphasis on the guerrilla war, focused on rural Zimbabwe, the site of the guerrilla combat zones. Specifically, rural peasants, who overwhelmingly supported the guerrilla war and hosted the guerrillas throughout that war, became the focus of scholarly attention. The influential Terence Ranger's Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe, and David Lan's Guns and Rain, were published concurrently, and both depicted Zimbabwean nationalism through the lens of radical peasant politics and consciousness. (11) Whereas Ranger stressed the growth of peasant discontent arising out of the experiences of colonial conquest, land alienation and authoritarian state interventions in peasants' agrarian lives as the chief reasons for peasant support of the guerrilla war, Lan stressed the close cooperation of spirit mediums and guerrillas in mobilizing peasant support for the war. As important as these works were in uncovering the bases of peasant support for the guerrilla war, they declined to distinguish between the social backgrounds of the peasants. Ranger and Lan conceptualized "peasants" as an undifferentiated group of historical subjects, whose motivations for supporting the guerrilla war were collective and similar. Neither scholar left room for individualized assessments of colonial rule and individual or personal motivations for participating in the struggle for liberation.
Contrary to these earlier narratives, my work seeks to uncover some of the hidden narratives of Zimbabwean nationalism. This essay thus adds to other newer histories of Zimbabwe's liberation struggle that are based on previously hidden, silenced, and marginalized voices such as works that have focused on women, women combatants, urban workers, students, and others. (12) Zimbabwe's nationalist history looks different when seen through the lens of multiple historical subjects.
It becomes more complex and complete than narratives based on, and authorized by, a select group of political elites. This paper stresses the need to move away from notions of a homogenized African "mass," which drew upon homogenous sets of grievances, in order to support the nationalist movement.
In doing so, I agree with Norma Kriger's criticism of prior Zimbabwean nationalist literature, particularly the literature on rural peasant participation in the liberation struggle. (13) In Zimbabwe's Guerrilla War, Kriger breaks away from the celebratory nationalist histories that stressed the nationalist leaders and guerrillas' mobilization of the "masses" to support the liberation struggle. She stresses peasant differentiation and individual motivations in her analysis of peasant support and participation in the liberation struggle. Although her analysis received scathing reviews from nationalist historians for its rejection of a collective peasant consciousness (and its focus on the guerrillas' coercive tactics in mobilizing peasant support), Kriger's insistence on individualized constructions of anticolonial politics remains important. (14)
This article builds upon this (seemingly) post-nationalist historiography, especially the thrust towards the inclusion of other hitherto silenced and unrecognized historical subjects into the history of Zimbabwe's liberation struggle. By writing non-elites into the history of Zimbabwe's liberation struggle history, this essay seeks to contribute to the task of uncovering a multiplicity of historical subjects germane to Zimbabwean nationalist histories. The paper also challenges an insidious tendency by post-independence political elites to monopolize Zimbabwe's nationalist history for their own ends, both in political rhetoric and in practice. As recent events in Zimbabwe have shown, the post-independence political leadership has thrived on manipulating the country's nationalist history (and other colonial histories), positioning itself as the sole "liberator" of Zimbabwe, and excluding other historical actors perceived as threats to its continued grip on political power.
Before the outbreak of the 1970s armed struggle in Rhodesia, Zimbabwean nationalism in the 1960s, just like in other sub-Saharan African countries, was characterized by the proliferation of new, mass-based political parties formed and led by the African educated elite. However, despite the elitist nature of the African nationalist leadership, few ordinary African political activists understood the intellectualized notions of "African nationalism" derived from Marxism, Communism, or any other "isms." Most ordinary people just understood that there was something fundamentally wrong with their existence in colonial Rhodesia. I suggest that African people's reasons for committing to the nationalist cause ought to be historicized as individual passages within the meta-narrative of Zimbabwean nationalism. If we are to move away from notions of a homogenized African peasantry or urban workers who drew upon homogeneous sets of grievances, blindly supporting liberation movements, the growth of nationalism ought to take into consideration the personalized assessments of the colonized. I ask below what it meant to live in colonial Rhodesia for differentially situated ordinary men and women? How did Africans from diverse social backgrounds conceptualize Rhodesian colonial authority? In what ways did people envision change, and, by extension, paths to postcolonialism?
In conversations with African political activists opposed to the Rhodesian regime, informants prefaced their political activism by giving elaborate personalized memories of the nature of their assessments of Rhodesian colonial rule and how they eventually became involved with African nationalist political groups. In this essay, I construct the notion of the "personal" based on individual historical subjects' assessments of what it meant to be a Rhodesian citizen. I argue that the overwhelming majority of people who came to embrace African political activism felt personally and politically alienated as individuals from the Rhodesian regime's white-settler politics. I argue that political alienation, as a deeply personal and individual feeling, was an important ingredient in the construction of personalized assessments of Rhodesian colonial politics. The oral evidence from which this paper draws shows that to be politically alienated was to feel a relatively enduring sense of estrangement from the existing political institutions, values, and leaders. These people therefore felt themselves to be outsiders, trapped in an alien political order, and gradually came to embrace alternative and nationalist political programs that promised fundamental changes from the ongoing regime. In the oral histories, it is possible to detect various dimensions of alienation among people who subsequently became political activists. These include such mental states as powerlessness, normlessness, cynicism, meaninglessness, negativism, estrangement, value rejection, or anomie. African political alienation in Rhodesia therefore worked towards the construction of personalized nationalisms among many of the colonized, who stopped being loyal and conformist colonial subjects.
Within the various African political formations of the 1960s in colonial Zimbabwe, African men and women from diverse backgrounds took up the political goal of self-rule, gave meaning to the idea of the liberation struggle, and acted in various capacities as political activists on behalf of the nationalist cause. For Obed Mutezo, a peasant and migrant worker from the Nyanyadzi rural reserve, in Mount Selinda district, going to prison for his involvement in the nationalist struggle was a destiny that he had already accepted from the moment he decided to join African political formations that advocated black majority rule. (15) But his first political experience did not happen as a result of listening to the oratorical political messages of elite nationalists. Uneducated and impoverished in rural Mount Selinda, in 1946 Mutezo decided to seek work as a non-skilled builder in a European firm based in the nearby Melsetter district. He quickly noticed that European builders doing the same work as he was were getting wages and remuneration several times higher than his own. He discussed the matter with his fellow African builders. They approached the company's white master-builder, who told them bluntly that Europeans were paid higher wages because the law mandated their payment at a minimum of 7 Rhodesian Shillings 6 Pence (7 s 6d) per hour, while there was no such law for native builders. (16) According to Ndabaningi Sithole, Mutezo's biographer, "Mutezo noticed the emphasis on the derogatory word 'native'." (17)
In the evening of the day that Mutezo and his colleagues had approached their employer with their grievance, Mutezo and his fellow workers talked about forming a trade union of African builders and taking their complaints to the Government, through the local Native Commissioner (NC). (18) Being uneducated, they asked a local African school teacher at a Catholic mission school to help them draft a constitution for their union. The teacher refused, fearing trouble with his missionary employers. But Mutezo and his friends later approached the Native Commissioner (NC) for Melsetter with their complaints. The NC bluntly told them that "natives were not allowed to form trade unions and therefore could not bargain for wages." (19) According to Mutezo, the NC further argued that, in any case, the government had made the law and there was nothing they could do about it. "If you do not obey the law I will have to tell the police," the NC warned. (20) Mutezo remembered this as his first encounter with Rhodesia's white authorities.
A deeply spiritual man and member of the American Methodist Church, Mutezo related his labor predicament with a sermon that an African Reverend preached on a Sunday, following his visit to the NC with his friends. Mutezo remembered that the sermon dealt with the freedom of the spirit, and freedom of movement. He heard the minister say, among other things, "The spirit cannot be free unless the body is free, and the body cannot be free unless the spirit is free." To Mutezo's sensitive ears this meant that the type of racial discrimination he was experiencing in the building trade must stop. He thought racial discrimination chained the spirit and the body of the black man, but was surprised that the priest did not suggest any way out of these spiritual and physical shackles. Mutezo says he thought of the farm lands his ancestors had plowed and their graves, which were now the private property of a local European farmer, in terms of the 1930 Land Apportionment Act, the basic segregation law in Rhodesia. (21) That was no freedom of movement for Africans, Mutezo quipped.
In 1947, Mutezo met and listened to the itinerant political activist Benjamin B. Burombo, the most influential African politician and trade unionist in Rhodesia at the time. (22) Burombo had come to the Nyanyadzi rural area to organize his British National Voice Association. In a public speech before a small audience, he appeared to provide some answers to Mutezo's questions. Burombo condemned the government policies of destocking livestock in African-held lands, and the removal of Africans from their ancestral homelands to dry and un-arable parts of the country to make room for European settlers who were then pouring into post-Second World War Rhodesia. Mutezo remembered that, "Burombo said the poor African was getting poorer and the rich European was getting richer, and strongly denounced low African wages and the denial of trade union rights. He suggested that Africans unite in order to fight these discriminatory practices." (23) Mutezo agreed with Burombo's speech and took out a membership card at the end of the meeting, but the British National Voice Association lost momentum and ceased to exist in the mid-1950s.
In 1958, almost ten years later, the newly organized Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SR-ANC) held a public meeting at Nyanyadzi which Mutezo attended. (24) One of the ANC officials present, Peter Mutandwa, gave a speech that resonated with the religious-political ideas of Mutezo. Mutandwa, who, according to Mutezo's biographer, never addressed a political rally without reading from the Christian Bible, read from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel:
Thus says the Lord God: "Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host. Then He said unto me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold they say 'Our bones are dried up, and our people is lost; we are clean cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God: Behold I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves.... I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land'".
Mutezo recollected how this passage resonated with his own nascent politics: to him the dry bones were the Africans who were scattered all over Rhodesia and who had lost any political coherence since the 1896 uprisings against British rule. (25) Mutezo was immediately attracted to the ANC and impressed by the fact that for the first time Africans were moving up and down the country organizing people to fight for their rights, and that many people were responding to the call. For Obed Mutezo, "the dry bones of Zimbabwe were coming together and God was breathing the breath of life into them." (26) Mutezo also remembered another Bible passage that Mutandwa read which emotionally touched the 400-odd people who attended this rally:
They covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them; They oppress a man and his house, A man and his inheritance. They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth. Therefore because you trample upon the poor and take from him exactions of wheat, You have built houses hewn in stone, but you shall not dwell in them. (27)
According to Mutezo, the men and women attending this rally related these words to their own situations: Those with fields that had been deliberately made smaller by the Rhodesian colonial regime in order to force them off their ancestral land to meet European demand for land; those whose day-to-day life had been exposed to countless humiliations of the job-color bar; and those being constantly followed by thick shadows of colonial oppression "readily saw the wisdom of coming together and fighting for freedom and independence in the land of their birth." (28) Mutezo also recalls that phrases from the rally such as "our country" became magical and fired the imaginations of the crowd. (29) As for Mutezo himself, he immediately became an active member of the SR-ANC, and gradually became an important local political activist. (30) He even got elected as a committee member of the local SR-ANC branch. When the SR-ANC was banned in February 1959, he joined its successor, the National Democratic Party (NDP), and again held a committee member post in the party's local branch. Upon the NDP's proscription, he joined the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), and was the treasurer for the local branch, just as he also took up the post of district treasurer in the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), which succeeded ZAPU in 1964. By 1964, Mutezo said his "commitment to African nationalism and the cause of freedom had deepened and ripened." (31)
Obed Mutezo's experiences provide some critical points to note on the growth and proliferation of nationalism in colonial Zimbabwe. Firstly, ordinary people developed their own intellectual assessment about their lives as Rhodesian colonial subjects, such as happened to Mutezo and his colleagues when they sought to overcome the apparent job-color bar in their workplace. Of course, it was not just Mutezo's realization of this racial discrimination that made him ponder his position as a Rhodesian. As a member of a community of the colonized, he obviously grew up knowing about the origins of colonial rule and that he was a colonial subject. But personalized experiences of colonialism, such as his confrontation with the job-color bar, provided him with unique individual moments to question white privilege, colonial subordination, and racism. This personal intellectual process was an important ingredient in Africans' decision to commit to the nationalist cause.
Secondly, just as the enthusiastic participation in the liberation struggle by African communities that deeply believed in the indigenous religions of the Vadzimu or "The Ancestral Spirits," Africans assessed organized nationalist political movements through the lens of their own worldviews. (32) As a deeply religious community, heavily influenced by Christian missionaries of the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions who established themselves in their area since the late nineteenth century, the Nyanyadzi community, to which Mutezo belonged, assessed political party leaders in the Christian framework: Leaders of African political formation were God-sent, spreading the message of hope, redemption, and liberation. These two observations framed the political agency of people like Mutezo.
For other Africans, minor but deeply felt encounters with Rhodesian policies influenced their nationalism. Mordikai Hamutyinei's recollections of an incident involving a brush-up with Rhodesian authorities left an indelible mark on his mind. (33) Hamutyinei, a teacher in the rural schools of Gutu who later spent years in Rhodesian detention for his political activities, explained in his Shona-language autobiography that "[t]he things that started to enrage my heart in colonial Rhodesia were very small." (34) According to Hamutyinei, a close friend of his hosted a wedding party in the late 1950s, and decided to buy clear bottled beer for people to aid the celebrations. However, Hamutyinei's friend did this in secret, apparently in fear of getting into trouble with the Rhodesian police since African people were not permitted by law to partake of "European beer." (35) As a respected guest at his friend's wedding, Hamutyinei was offered a bottle of beer, and he leisurely drank his beer, walking around the outside premises of his friend's house. What he did not realize was that there were plain-clothed Rhodesian detectives who were monitoring people drinking "European beer." According to Hamutyinei, he was perturbed when a man suddenly took him to the side and said, "Baba (Mr/Sir), we have noticed how pompous you are. Can you show us any qualification that says you are allowed to drink this beer?" (36) Hamutyinei panicked because he did not know of any form of "license" that was required for one to drink clear, bottled beer. Although he was a high-school teacher and had attained a higher level of education, Hamutyinei says "I never believed that a person could be arrested for drinking beer that you had bought with your own money, just because you were black." (37)
In a heated exchange with these Rhodesian police officers, Hamutyinei asked one of them,
Why are we not allowed to drink this beer? [To which the detective impatiently retorted] Excuse me, baba, but I am doing my job. Go and ask that question to those who enacted the law. It is not my job to go around educating people about why such-and-such law was enacted. Do you not know that this beer is only supposed to be taken by those who are highly educated? (38)
According to Hamutyinei, in the middle of this confrontation, he felt "a worm of anger in my brain starting to move, irritating me," but he could do nothing. (39) Other invited guests at the wedding came to hear the exchange between Hamutyinei and the detectives, with some audibly protesting against the disruptive behavior of the detectives; others condemned Hamutyinei for taking the beer outside the home of the party's host, in public view. (40) Finally, the detectives gave Hamutyinei a guilty summons and instructed him to go and pay an admission-of-guilt fine at the nearby police station.
From this day onwards, [writes Hamutyinei] I started to view the white settler government with a resentful heart. My resentment was not confined to whites alone, but also towards those black police officers and detectives. I thought to myself that even these black police officers and detectives were enemies because they were the ones administering the repressive and racist laws of the Rhodesian government. (41)
In 1959, Hamutyinei joined the National Democratic Party, which he recalled as the "first political party to have an impact in the Gutu rural area." (42) As the leader of a local African Teachers' Association, Hamutyinei's influence strategically placed him at the center of the NDP's political activities in Gutu. His political and teachers' trade-union activism earned him respect among the local population, but at the same time attracted the attention of Rhodesian secret police. When the NDP was banned in 1960, and its leaders bundled into detention, Hamutyinei and others avoided incarceration for a while, communicating with the incarcerated NDP officials and continuing the political work of the NDP until his own arrest and detention in 1964.
Just like Mordikai Hamutyinei's personalized moment that made him commit to the nationalist cause, Oliver Muvirimi Dizha recalled in an interview how a youthful encounter with Rhodesian colonial officials moved him towards questioning the political privileges of white Rhodesians. (43) A future ZAPU adherent, political activist, and Rhodesian prisoner, Dizha narrated how his observation of colonial land policies in his rural home of Seke shaped his ideas about white minority rule in Rhodesia. According to Dizha:
The first time I ever saw a white man was when I was a young man in my rural area in Seke. White land officers were forcing people to construct madhunduru (contour ridges). During this process, a young white man talked to me directly and used language that infantilized me and made me appear as if I was a "boy" to him. I turned to my grandmother and asked her why this young white man was talking to me like that. She just told me that, "Ah, those are the ways of varungu (white people), my grandchild." This was my very first encounter with a white man and this encounter made my heart sink and be very restless. This white man was either younger or about the same age as me and yet he wanted me to defer to him as if he was my elder. That troubled me very much. Also, the reason why we were made to construct these contour ridges was that some of our land was being appropriated for white settlement. Later, white people took some of our land and we had to move. This pained me so much. (44)
Oliver Dizha left his rural home for the city of Salisbury (today Harare) where, as a migrant worker, he also joined ZAPU, one of the dominant African political formations at that time. A friend of his had told him about a ZAPU rally that was to be held in the African township of Mbare and he agreed to attend: According to Dizha,
When we went to the rally and listened to these men talking, who included Joseph Msika, what they said touched my heart. Joshua Nkomo was there too. I was impressed by the fact that these men talked against white minority rule, and that resonated with my prior thinking about the evils of white rule. That made me join the party, and within three months I was chosen for a secretary position at the branch level of the party. (45)
In fact, Dizha became an important political activist for ZAPU, as he later became one of the leading African saboteurs in Salisbury, orchestrating a series of petrol-bombing acts targeted at state infrastructure.
Many other Africans in Rhodesia shared Dizha's personal experiences of racialized humiliation and dispossession, and these experiences nurtured strong feelings of alienation from Rhodesian white-minority rule. Lucas Jonasi, for instance, who also later became a ZAPU adherent, political saboteur, and Rhodesian political prisoner, strongly believed that white privilege in Rhodesia was the cause of his poverty, and in his assessment, experiences of Rhodesian racial indignities made him politically conscious. In an interview, Jonasi explained his assessment of Rhodesian race relations and the reasons why he became a political activist in these words:
We were treated as sub-humans in this country of our birth. Some of us saw it with our own eyes. We were literally worse than dogs--typically, for example, a white person would rather put his dog on his lap in the car whilst his black servant occupied the trunk of an open-truck car. Even when it was raining and a black man was sitting in the trunk of such a car, the white Rhodesian valued his dog more than a black person. The only reason for the existence of the black person in Rhodesia was that our mothers worked in white people's kitchens, whilst our fathers worked in their gardens and industries, receiving next-to-nothing wages. Even today, the poverty that we have has its origins in this history. When our fathers reached retirement age, all they received as pension were things like bicycles or watches. Witnessing and experiencing these things in colonial Rhodesia pushed some of us to sacrifice our lives and fight for our country's freedom from colonial rule. The white Rhodesian never liked a black person. (46)
In an interview, Henry Masunda, another African political activist, also echoed Jonasi's assessment of race relations in Rhodesia and the reasons behind his own political commitment to the ideals of self-rule. According to Masunda,
I felt like a second-class citizen in my own country of birth. How could that be when this was my homeland, and that of my ancestors? Rhodesians refused to negotiate and yet these were the very people who massacred our ancestors! When they colonized this country, they had destructive weapons, and our ancestors had nothing. I agreed with those who thought it was useless to negotiate with Rhodesians and that the only solution was to violently dislodge Rhodesian colonial rule. I became involved in all sorts of sabotage activities in Rhodesia, particularly using petrol bombs to destroy government buildings. (47)
For other Africans, becoming politically conscious in Rhodesia was a process of personally discovering one's place within the Rhodesian body politic. Invariably, experiencing colonial indignities politically alienated many Africans from the Rhodesian regime's white-settler politics. For example, as a young man living in Salisbury, Francis Chikukwa knew at an early age that his presence in that city was considered illegal. (48) From the late 1950s, until the Rhodesian police arrested him in 1966 on "terror" charges, Chikukwa deftly dodged Salisbury Municipality police officers, who constantly raided African townships looking for illegal tenants. According to Rhodesian urban influx-control laws, Africans living in urban areas were deemed sojourners, temporary laborers occupying urban housing as long as they proved to have legal employment and thus the legal right to stay in town. Otherwise, upon expiry of a labor contract, termination of employment or retirement, Rhodesian authorities expected Africans to return to their rural homes, where they had the legal right to reside permanently. (49) Chikukwa had come to Salisbury from his rural home to look for gainful employment and stayed with his maternal grandmother in the African township of Mufakose. But living in Salisbury was "hell," according to Chikukwa, because
mabhunu [white authorities[ required us to have what they called "Passes," or else we were arrested for "trespassing." If you did not have a parent with legal papers to stay in this town, you were arrested, and my friends and I were arrested almost on a daily basis here in Mufakose. If anything, that really hurt me: I used to wonder, how could I be treated like this in my own country of birth? (50)
In addition to constant running battles with Salisbury's municipal police in Mufakose, navigating the downtown streets of Salisbury looking for employment was a tall order for the young Chikukwa because "mabhunu forbade us from walking in the city center's pavements--you were supposed to walk in far-off roads away from their madams (white women), [and i]f you ever brushed shoulders with a madam or if she just screamed, you got twenty days in jail[, and m]abhunu did not allow us to simply walk in Salisbury's First Street." (51)
Chikukwa read voraciously anything related to Africans' struggles against colonial rule in other African countries:
I was excited with the names and deeds of people like Jomo Kenyatta, the exploits of the Mau Mau guerrillas, and others. I realized at that time that it was also possible for us fight mabhunu and defeat them. If others were doing it, so could we. I began to be politically restive and joined any African grouping that challenged the Rhodesian regime. (52)
In 1959, Chikukwa joined the NDP. (53) Although his personal circumstances and convictions spurred his enthusiasm for African politics, he admitted that his association with friends who were involved in African politics drew him into the world of nationalist politics as well. As he explained in an interview, as a young and politically impressionable youth, his involvement with the NDP was initially driven by the desire to join friends and associates within this new and exciting political formation. But as Chikukwa further explained,
What I did not realize at the time of joining these political parties, however, was that I was actually involving myself in something that would define my life. Between the years 1959 and 1961, the NDP was banned and un-banned, until our political leaders formed other parties such as the Zimbabwe African Patriotic Union (ZAPU), which my friends and I joined again. When one political party was banned, we simply joined a new one that succeeded the banned one. When ZAPU was banned, we were involved in the formation and proliferation of the People's Caretaker Council (PCC) [an underground African political formation]. At the time of my arrest, I was involved with this political grouping. (54)
Thus, like other fellow political activists discussed above, and like many other Africans who became involved in early African political activism in Rhodesia, Chikukwa's nationalism sprung from his own immediate situation--his own grievances, his own hopes, his own past, his own present.
In reminiscences similar to Chikukwa's, Roderick Muhammad, another ZAPU adherent and future urban political activist, recounted how his experiences with colonial urban segregation laws in Salisbury hardened his political thoughts about Rhodesian colonial rule. In urban areas like Salisbury, the rules for African residency were both restrictive and oppressive. In an interview, Muhammad characterized his experiences in Salisbury as "a nightmare" because of the colonial laws that restricted urban residency to people who were legally employed in Rhodesian towns. (55) As a child of legally employed parents but now over the age of 18, Muhammad effectively became an illegal resident of Salisbury, since he held no legal employment to permit him to stay in town as an adult. In his testimony, Muhammad recounts how his life became unbearable in Salisbury as "I d[id] not know where the Rhodesian authorities thought I was supposed to stay." (56) In order to avoid arrest for "trespassing" in Salisbury, Muhammad said he would move from one relative's house to another trying to dodge Salisbury's municipal police. However, his attempts at hiding from the colonial authorities ran out, and as Muhammad explained:
One day I was hiding at an aunt's place and the Salisbury police came looking for me. They beat up my aunt so much so that I felt very pained. I went back to my mother's place and she told me that Rhodesian police did not allow me to stay with her. In fact, some Rhodesian police had come looking for me saying that I was supposed to join the Rhodesian army as an army recruit. It bothered me so much that I was considered a squatter at my own mother's place and yet I was expected to join the Rhodesian army. Some Rhodesian soldiers later came and forced me to join the Rhodesian army but after a few months, I deserted the army and ran away. I began to live a life of hiding from the police and I found shelter with my friends in ZAPU. Along with these friends, we began to be involved in acts of urban sabotage such as destroying shopping centers, stoning government buildings and cars, and other things. (57)
Inasmuch as these personalized experiences of Rhodesian colonial rule were important in nurturing individual anti-colonial critiques, it needs to be pointed out that joining African political parties was particularly significant because these parties provided a crucial community for political activists and gave substance and meaning to their personal critiques of Rhodesian white-settler rule. Although Matthew Masiyakurima understood the colonial roots of his peasant poverty and the exploitative nature of his employment in Salisbury as a migrant laborer, it was only after attending African political rallies that he began to believe in the potential of replacing white-minority rule with black-majority rule. (58) Possessing what little education his peasant mother could afford, Matthew came to Salisbury in 1956 from his rural home in Marange to find work, and lived with his elder brother who was working as a "garden boy" for a white man. (59) Matthew later found a job of his own at a government-owned bus company, and it was during a workers' strike at this company that he heard of an African political rally in one of Salisbury's African townships. As Matthew explained,
During the strike, while we were sitting outside the premises of this company near Mbare African Township, some people called us to a meeting at Mai Musodzi Hall in Mbare. I was curious to know who was calling for this meeting and what the agenda of the meeting was. As it turned out, this was the very day that the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress [SR-ANC] had been formed and this was the first inaugural meeting. At that meeting, there were some of the leading African nationalists of the time such as Benjamin Burombo, James Chikerema, George Nyandoro, and this other man called Paul Mushonga. When these men took to the podium and began talking, I became very interested. At first, I could not believe what they were saying, especially this idea of self-rule. I said to myself, "What are these people saying--they want to rule themselves? How can that happen?" According to what I knew and what I had learned at school, no African could say: "I want to rule myself"! Well, I liked the idea and so I joined the party. (60)
When Rhodesian authorities proscribed the SR-ANC in 1959, Masiyakurima joined the NDP, which was founded in 1960. By then, Masiyakurima was already actively involved in anti-colonial politics and he later came to hold an official party position of "Organizing Secretary" in his own African township of Highfields. As Masiyakurima explained, "This [official] position solidified my commitment to the idea of self-rule [and even] when the NDP was banned at the end of 1960, and the Zimbabwe African People's Union was in 1961, I took up a similar position in this new political party as the one I had in the NDP." (61)
It is instructive to note that Masiyakurima's account of committing to the nationalist cause underpins the personal nature of African nationalism. However, joining political parties solidified already formed ideas of anti-colonialism, and African political formations provided an important platform to nurture political activism. Like other urban political activists, Masiyakurima became an urban saboteur, utilizing home-made bombs to destroy state infrastructure as a means of protest. When he was arrested in 1963, Masiyakurima and a group of his colleagues were well-known urban saboteurs who left a trail of destruction in the cities of Salisbury and Umtali.
Similarly, Rueben Bascoe, a ZAPU adherent who joined groups of urban African political activists as a juvenile, explained how important attending African political rallies was in deepening his own political critique of Rhodesian colonial rule:
The first public political meeting that I attended was the first SR-ANC's rally that was held in Mbare Township at Mai Musodzi Hall in 1958. I was very young at this time and I started following all African political meetings. Another follow-up meeting to the first SR-ANC meeting was held at Stoddart Hall in Mbare Township again, which was addressed by Michael Mawema, George Nyandoro, James Chikerema, and Morton Malianga. After attending many of these political meetings, I started deepening my thoughts about the ancestry of my poverty. At that time, I remember that I had never thought like this before, but these political meetings helped me to open up my eyes and see the causes behind my own poverty and the poverty of my parents. I realized that if we did not do anything, all that Rhodesia was going to bequeath people like me was poverty. I could see no other alternative to break the cycle of poverty that entrapped me. Education was not a viable option in Rhodesia because there were all kinds of bottlenecks for Africans in Rhodesia. Only a few people ever managed to attain useful education that really helped them climb the economic ladder. I therefore decided to follow the politics of these nascent African political parties. (62)
These life histories therefore all underscore the idea that relating one's own political thoughts to the rhetoric of African party leaders at rallies and political gatherings was an important part of the process of committing to the nationalist cause. Just as ordinary people were capable of establishing their own individualized and intellectual assessments of colonial rule, attending African political rallies and gatherings created an opportunity for people to find resonance and meaning for their critiques and ideas on Rhodesian minority rule, and also helped them to become part of a community of political activists fighting for the same cause. Being part of such political communities therefore enabled many ordinary Africans to give substance and meaning to their personal critiques of Rhodesian.
In the 1960s and early 1970s therefore it was these people's commitment to the nationalist cause that gave African nationalism in Zimbabwe its militant outlook. Long before the shift to guerrilla war in the early 1970s, African political activists, particularly in urban Rhodesia, came to the forefront in confronting the Rhodesian regime through various forms of civil disobedience such as strikes, demonstrations, boycotts, and various acts of sabotage. In fact, I argue that Rhodesian authorities' decision to deploy legislative authoritarianism through a plethora of confinement laws was partly in response to the urban violence and African political activism of the 1960s. However, because of the heavy scholarly focus on the guerrilla war in much of the literature on Zimbabwean nationalism, the centrality of the 1960s African political activism and urban violence in the shaping of Zimbabwean nationalism and Rhodesian response has never been highlighted. This is despite the fact that the majority of the Africans who ended up in Rhodesia's prisons, and who served the longest prison terms, were actually arrested in the early 1960s, long before the outbreak of the guerrilla war.
(1.) Ndabaningi Sithole, Obed Mutezo of Zimbabwe, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970, 116.
(2.) It is difficult to singularize and come up with a "definition" of modern anti-colonial African nationalism, because, in actuality, "African nationalism" was a series of political movements that spanned almost five decades, from the 1940s-1990s, and took many forms including job-strikes, urban protests and civil disobedience, negotiated settlements, and more drastically, armed guerrilla struggles. See Ibbo Mandaza, Race, Color and Class in Southern Africa, Harare" SAPES Books, 1997; All A. Mazrui and Michael Tidy, Nationalism and New States in
(3.) The association of African nationalism with elites is reinforced by conventional texts of African nationalism that reify the role(s) of these elites in the formulation and practice of nationalism in Africa (see, especially, Toyin Falola, Nationalism and African Intellectuals, NY: U. of Rochester P., 2001).
(4.) Colonial Zimbabwe was known as (South-)Rhodesia before 1980, for the British had given it Cecil Rhodes's name.
(5.) Susan Geiger, TANU Women: Gender and Culture in the Making of Tanganyikan Nationalism, 1955-65, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1997, 1-19.
(6.) The subject of Zimbabwean nationalism is littered with official histories that highlight the central role played by "nationalist leaders": See, especially, David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, The Struggle for Zimbabwe, London: Faber and Faber, 1981; David Smith and Colin Simpson, Mugabe Illustrated, Salisbury: Pioneer Head, 1981.
(7.) Whereas Zimbabwean official histories of the nationalist movement read more like elitist distortions that undermine the important roles of other historical subjects critical to the liberation struggle, works such as Martin and Johnson's Struggle, albeit passionate in their documentation of Zimbabwe's struggle for liberation, read more like histories of selected elite personalities who led Zimbabwe's guerrilla war.
(8.) As translated by Geoff Eley, see Geoff Eley, "Nazism, Politics, and the Image of the Past: Thoughts on the West German Historikerstreit, 1986-87," Past and Present 121, 1988, 171-208: 194.
(9.) Martin and Johnson, Struggle.
(10.) Donald Moore, as quoted in Ngwabi Bhebhe and Terence Ranger, Soldiers in Zimbabwe's Liberation War, London: James Currey, 1991, 6. Teresa Barnes criticized the book as a "quasi-official history which depends solely on official accounts and the recollections of national leaders" (as quoted in Bhebhe and Ranger, Soldiers, 6). Brian Raftopoulos scathingly dismissed the same book as a "little more than a hagiography for the ruling party (ZANU), an unashamed apologetic justifying the coming to power of a section of the liberation movement" (Brian Raftopoulos, "Problematising Nationalism in Zimbabwe: A Historiographical Review," in Zambezia 2, 1999, 115-34: 121).
(11.) See Terence Ranger, Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe, Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1988; and David Lan, Guns and Rain: Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe, Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1988.
(12.) See for example Joyce M. Chadya and Koni Benson, "'Ukubhinya': Gender and Sexual Violence in Bulawayo, Colonial Zimbabwe, 1946-56," Journal of Southern Africa, 3, 2005, 587-606; J. Nhongo-Simbanegavi, For Better or Worse?, Harare: Weaver Press, 2000; Tanya Lyons, Guns and Guerilla Girls, Trenton: Africa World Press, 2004, B. Raftopoulos and T. Yoshikuni, eds., Sites For Struggle, Harare: Weaver Press, 1999, and B. Raftopoulos and A. Mlambo, eds., Becoming Zimbabwe, Harare: Weaver Press, 2009.
(13.) See Norma Kriger, Zimbabwe's Guerrilla War: Peasant Voices, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.
(14.) Alois Mlambo dismissed Kriger's work as a "gross distortion of the Zimbabwean [liberation struggle] reality" for her refusal to submit to a liberation war narrative that stresses collective peasant grievances and consciousness (Alois Mlambo, "Out on a Limb: Review of Zimbabwe's Guerrilla War by Norma Kriger," The Zimbabwe Review, January 1997, 8-9: 8). Angela Cheater characterized Kriger's book as a "badly flawed contribution to the literature on Zimbabwe's liberation struggle" (Angela Cheater, "Review: Zimbabwe's Guerrilla War," Man, New Series 4, 1992, 888-9: 888). For other reviews of Kriger's book, see Terence Ranger, "Review of Zimbabwe's Guerrilla War by Norma Kriger," African Affairs 370, 1994, 142-4; S. Robins, "Heroes, Heretics and Historians of the Zimbabwe Revolution: A Review Article of Norma Kriger's Peasant Voices," Zambezia 1, 1996, 73-91.
(15.) The oral and life history of Obed Mutezo was published as a biography by Ndabaningi Sithole, an academic and later nationalist leader of ZANU (see Ndabaningi Sithole, Obed Mutezo of Zimbabwe, Nairobi: Oxford UP, 1977). Although Sithole himself was part of the African political elite, he came from the same rural home as Mutezo and once shared a prison cell with him. During intermittent periods of freedom from Rhodesian prisons and detention centers, Sithole decided to record Mutezo's life story as oral testimony with limited commentary, later publishing it as a biography.
(16.) Sithole, Obed Mutezo, 21. Rhodesia's Industrial Conciliation Act of 1934 legalized an industrial color bar that segmented black and white laborers into different reward structures and disallowed competition between them and mobility across this racial chasm (see Edmore Mufema, "The Southern Rhodesia Industrial Conciliation Act of 1934", unpubl. MA thesis, University of Zimbabwe, 1992).
(17.) Sithole, Obed Mutezo, 21.
(18.) Ibid. Native Commissioners were the principal rural district administrators in Southern Rhodesia.
(22.) Ibid., 21-2. An urban based trade unionist, Benjamin Burombo was an influential reformist African politician in the 1940s. Not necessarily advocating for majority rule, Burombo's British National Voice Association provided a platform for reform-minded Africans to challenge the racial policies of the Rhodesian authorities (see Ngwabi Bhebhe, Benjamin Burombo: African Politics in Zimbabwe 1947-58, Harare: Mambo Press, 1989).
(23.) Sithole, Obed Mutezo, 22.
(24.) Ibid., 22.
(25.) Ibid., 15.
(26.) Ibid., 119.
(27.) Micah 2:2, see Sithole, Obed Mutezo, 23.
(28.) Ibid., 120.
(30.) Ibid., 21-3, 118-19.
(31.) Ibid., 23.
(32.) Lan, Guns and Rain, xv-xvi, 7, 38-40.
(33.) Mordikai Hamutyinei, Zvakange Zvakaoma MuZimbabwe (It was Difficult in Zimbabwe), Gweru: Mambo Press, 1984 (Author's translation).
(34.) Ibid., 5.
(35.) Ibid. According to Rhodesia's 1912 Beer Ordinance, Africans were not allowed to drink European brewed beer such as clear malt liquor, spirits, or wines. Africans were only allowed to partake of their home-brewed, sorghum opaque beer. See also Justin Willis, "Drinking Power: Alcohol and History in Africa," History Compass 1, 2005, 1-12.
(36.) Hamutyinei, Zvakange Zvakaoma, 5.
(39.) Ibid., 6.
(41.) Ibid., 5-6.
(42.) Ibid., 6.
(43.) Interview with Oliver Muvirimi Dizha, Murewa Rural Area, Zimbabwe, 17 October 2006. Digital recordings and transcripts of all the interviews that follow are deposited in the Aluka Digital Library, content area "Struggles for Freedom in Southern Africa" [available at: http://www.aluka.org/action/showMetadata?doi=10.5555/AL.SFEDOCUMENT.ae000169, accessed 14 October 2010].
(44.) Interview with Oliver Muvirimi Dizha.
(46.) Interview with Lucas Jonasi, Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, 28 July 2007 (Aluka Digital Library).
(47.) Interview with Henry Masunda, Bikita, Mandadzaka Village, Zimbabwe, 1 July 2007 (Aluka Digital Library).
(48.) Interview with Francis Chikukwa, Mufakose Township, Harare, Zimbabwe, 25 August, 2006 (Aluka Digital Library).
(49.) On Rhodesia's urban influx-control laws, see Terry Barnes, "'Am I a Man?': Gender and the Pass Laws in Urban Colonial Zimbabwe, 1930-80," African Studies Review 1, 1997, 59-81.
(50.) Interview with Francis Chikukwa.
(51.) Ibid. Salisbury's "First Street" was the central boulevard of downtown Salisbury. It was known for its town glitter, elegance, and cosmopolitan outlook. Black people were not allowed to set foot along this street.
(55.) Interview with Roderick Muhammad, Mbare Township, Harare, Zimbabwe, 10 August 2007 (Aluka Digital Library).
(57.) Interview with Roderick Muhammad.
(58.) Interview with Matthew Masiyakurima, Budiriro 5 Township, Harare, Zimbabwe, 26 August 2006 (Aluka Digital Library).
(59.) Ibid. In Rhodesian racialized parlance, Africans were forever infantile, which explains why a male domestic servant could be referred to as a "boy" regardless of his age.
(60.) Interview with Matthew Masiyakurima.
(62.) Interview with Rueben Bascoe, Mbare Township, Zimbabwe, 12 July 2007 (Aluka Digital Library).
Munyaradzi Bryn Munochiveyi is an Assistant Professor of History at the College of the Holy Cross and a Research Fellow for the Economic History Department of the University of Zimbabwe. The author wishes to thank the following for generous research grants that funded field work for this article: the International Center for the Study of Global Change (University of Minnesota) for the Compton Doctoral Research Grant and the College of the Holy Cross for the Research and Publication Grant. I also acknowledge the helpful critiques and suggestions from the anonymous readers of The Historian.
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|Author:||Munochiveyi, Munyaradzi B.|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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