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History of Zimbabwe - Impact of Second World War

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Impact of Second World War


The Second World War fundamentally changed the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized. In Southern Rhodesia, 1000s of Africans actively participated in the fighting, both on the war front and back home through production of foodstuffs and various minerals essential to the war effort. On the war front, Africans fought side by side and on equal terms with whites. They came face to face with shortcomings of the white man which debunked the notions of white invincibility and superiority. Quite significantly, the African was exposed to contemporary thoughts and ideas on self-determination and equality. Post Second World War Zimbabwe thus experienced far-reaching economic, social and political changes marked by a gradual process of transformation in the political consciousness of Africans characterized by a change from the earlier position of requesting for fairness and accommodation in the governing structures from whites to that of seeking self rule.


The colonial state responded to the economic challenges posed by the Second World War by adopting specific economic policies and strategies that resulted in a relatively rapid growth of the manufacturing sector. This entailed transforming the country’s heavy dependence on agriculture and mining to a diversified economy with an expanding manufacturing industrial sector. However, this overall industrial expansion was limited in scale as the country only had 382 industrial establishments employing a total of 20 439 black workers. A more fundamental development though was the large influx of white immigrants into the country in the immediate post war years, boosting the settler population and providing the economy with much needed skilled labour and a larger domestic market. 17 000 white immigrants entered the country in 1948 alone. However, white immigration had the significant effect of fuelling inter-racial tensions which hastened the rise of militant African nationalism. The arrival of more whites resulted in the displacement of African communities from areas earlier deemed “European Areas.”


An equally significant development was that the emerging manufacturing sector demanded a larger permanent urban based worker resevoir, hence policies that further pushed over 100 000 Africans off the land into the cities. In turn, the huge inflow of indigenous Africans into the cities changed the ethnic and cultural landscape of the country’s towns and cities. Before this, most main towns were dominated by foreign/migrant workers from neighbouring countries, notably Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique).


The post Second World War era also witnessed a significant rise of an African middle class of educated African professionals such as teachers, nurses, lawyers and entrepreneurs. However, these elite’s concerns and aspirations initially tended to run counter to those of the ordinary masses. The tensions emerging from the interaction of these groups meant that the anti-colonial struggles took different and sometimes conflicting forms as each social grouping, namely alien and indigenous urban workers, the rural population and the emerging middle class, sought to advance its peculiar interests. Similarly, differences also existed within the dominant white settler community. The whites who had been in the country for a long time wanted to maintain the status quo of exclusive white domination while the post war immigrants tended to have liberal political views and attitudes towards Africans whom they felt had to be accommodated to avert the growth and threat of militant African nationalism. Accusations of partiality to Africans cost Garfield Todd the premiership in 1958, effectively marking the end of liberal tendencies and the ascendancy of exclusionist right-wing policies that resulted in the formation of the Rhodesia Front in 1962, the party that was to unilaterally declare independence in 1965.

 Growth of Militant Nationalism


The early African initiatives for the amelioration of the colonial conditions have been described by some scholars as proto-nationalist as they were targeted at encouraging the colonial authorities to provide a more tolerant and accommodating socio-political and economic dispensation and not at overthrowing colonialism. African political activity in this period manifested itself mainly in trade unionism. The Rhodesia railway Employees association agitated for better conditions for workers, its efforts culminating in the Railway Workers’ strike in October 1945, signaling the workers’ determination to improve their lot through organized action. In the following years, other workers organizations , notably the Federation of Bulawayo African Workers Union led by Jasper Savanhu, the African Workers Voice Association under Benjamin Burombo and the reformed Industrial and Commercial Workers Union under the leadership of Charles Mzingeli, were established. Burombo’s Voice Association appealed to both rural and urban constituencies. Mopore strikes were experienced throughout the country over these years.


Other manifestations of African protest were the revival of the Southern Rhodesia Bantu Congress as the Southern Rhodesia African Native Congress, the Voters League and the creation of the African Methodist Church which was an African protest against both white religious and political domination. Students also expressed their disgruntlement through strikes, like the famous Dadaya Mission strike in 1947. However, this phase did not entail a ‘nationalist Movement’ as Africans were still generally thinking in terms of improving their conditions under white rule rather than attaining sovereignty and independence.


Mass nationalism eventually began with the formation of the City Youth League in 1955 by such young activists like George Nyandoro, James Chikerema, Edson Sithole and Duduza Chisiza. The League’s new militancywas reflected in the Salisbury Bus Boycott it organized in August 1956 in protest at bus fare hikes by the United Transport Company. This was, however, overshadowed by the incidents in which several women were raped at Carter House in harari Township (Mbare) as punishment for breaking the strike, revealing the gender tensions in the urban African communities at the time. While black women participated with their male counterparts in the anti-colonial struggle, they also had to deal with patriarchy.


In 1957, the City Youth League and the Bulawayo-based African National Council came together to form the country’s first national political party, the Southern Rhodesian African national Congress (SRANC, later simply called the ANC) under Joshua Nkomo. The birth of the City Youth League and subsequent nationalist parties at this time has to be seen in the context of the quickening pace of African nationalism in the post-Second World War era which resulted in the landmark and inspirational independence of Ghana in 1957. The ANC challenged destocking, the unpopular government-initiated soil conservation policies and the notorious Land Husbandry Act (1951), a loathsome piece of legislation that included reducing the size of African land units, the number of cattle individuals could hold and undermining the chiefs’ traditional control of the land.


In February 1959, the colonial government of Rhodesia declared a state of emergency and banned the ANC under the newly created Unlawful Organisations Act. Party assets were confisticated while over 500 political leaders were arrested. However, the African nationalists, growing increasingly militant, were unrelenting and formed the National Democratic Party (NDP) on 1 January, 1960 under Joshua Nkomo. A landmark demand by the NDP was majority rule under universal suffrage. The NDP’s militancy, particularly the country wide protests from late 1960 that resulted in widespread destruction of property and some deaths of protestors, led to its banning in December 1961. The nationalists responded by establishing the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), again under Joshua Nkomo. The party was however soon riddled with serious divisions of an ethnic nature resulting in its split in 1963 when a new party, the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), was formed under Ndabaningi Sithole.


In the meantime, the white community was also experiencing serious divisions. The Rhodesian government under Whitehead proposed a new constitution in 1961 that provided for the widening of the franchise to include more Africans on the voters’ roll. The thinking within the ranks of the liberal whites who spearheaded this new constitution was that it would pave way for Southern Rhodesia’s independence from Britain in line with developments in other British colonies. These moves were heavily criticized by conservative whites who were against any concessions to African nationalism. These conservatives were influenced by the need to protect their racial economic interests. This group won the 1962 elections under the banner of the Rhodesia Front under the leadership of Winston Field, who, however, lost the country’s premiership to Ian Douglas Smith ostensibly for failing to force Britain to grant white Rhodesia independence. Failing to gain independence from the British, Smith opted for a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) on 11 November, 1965, setting the Rhodesian white community on a collision course with the black African majority.


Social and economic developments in Rhodesia during the UDI period


The Rhodesia Front (RF) government’s UDI ‘project’ shattered the African nationalists’ goal of attaining political independence as was happening in most African countries. This goal clashed with the long held aspirations of the generality of the white section of Rhodesian society to safeguard its privileged position. While the contests over nationhood, a recurrent feature of the UDI era, appear to be between the Africans and the white section of the Rhodesian society, they were in many ways complicated and transcended the citizen/subject binary. The political struggles of the period, often crossing the racial divide, were mainly about the social and economic interests of the various groups that formed the Rhodesian society. Notwithstanding the efforts of the RF government to create a sense of nationhood among whites, Rhodesian white society was divided along class and economic interests, among other variables. As the conflict intensified, some members of the white population were, by the mid-1970s, preaching a different gospel from that of the RF, admitting that majority rule was inevitable. At the same time, a number of Africans had, for economic and other reasons, defended white settler hegemony as soldiers in the Rhodesian army, Selous Scouts and policemen. The RF government put in place several measures as part of efforts to cushion white society in the wake of sanctions imposed on the country following the UDI. Although these measures were, in the short term, successful, the success was not without its own costs. By the mid-1970s, a combination of factors, chief of which was the intensifying civil war, resulted in an economic decline that adversely affected the many facets of Rhodesian society.