The southern Africa nation of Zimbabwe has certainly been in
the news recently, and it''s not a pleasant situation. President
Robert Mugabe has instigated a vicious campaign against the
white farmers who control about 33 percent of the land in the
country. The level of violence is increasing daily.
I will be covering the current conflict extensively in my "Week
in Review" columns. For now, however, I thought I''d briefly fill
in the blanks as to the history of Zimbabwe, a nation still perhaps
better known to many as Rhodesia.
In 1889, the British South Africa Company (BSA), under the
leadership of Cecil Rhodes, was granted a charter to exploit the
mineral wealth in an area north and east of the territory of South
Africa. Rhodes had a motto, "Philanthropy plus 5 percent."
In 1890, Rhodes sent the first settlers into what would be known
as Southern Rhodesia. Nearly 200 farmers, artisans, miners,
soldiers, doctors, and others - the so-called Pioneer Column -
plus more than 300 policemen were sent north from
Johannesburg under the flag of BSA.
The objective was to find gold...however they soon learned that
most of it had been mined 100 years earlier. The settlers then
turned to farming and cattle ranching. But in order to secure land
for themselves, the settlers soon began forcing Africans into
Tribal Reserves. In addition the BSA imposed new taxes,
leading to a rebellion led by King Lubengua which was brutally
repressed by 1897. This was the last large-scale conflict in the
territory for nearly 70 years.
In 1923, Southern Rhodesia became a British crown colony.
European settlers excluded Africans from participation in the
government and the economy.
By the 1930s, British colonies in Africa included Gambia,
Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Northern Rhodesia,
Nyasaland, and Southern Rhodesia.
In 1953, Britain created the "Central African Federation" (CAF)
of the Rhodesia''s and Nyasaland as a potential United States. Its
official ideology of "partnership" could have been the slogan of
many of the colonial regimes of the time. It was hoped that
reliable entrepreneurs would be created with the eventual goal of
The CAF soon seemed more like an attempt to frustrate African
development in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland than a project
of shared prosperity. The white political party of Southern
Rhodesia strove to keep the federation alive, while Black
Nationalist opposition to it mounted in the other two regions.
"As in much of colonial Africa, (tribal) chiefs opposed the
emergence of a group free from their control; white
administrators feared the rise of a nationalist middle class. They
dreamed instead of ''controlled'' peasant farming schemes, of a
''platonic communism'' which would allow for economic
advancement without the evils of individualism." [Oxford, see
1962 proved to be a crucial year. The federation staggered as a
black majority appeared in the Northern Rhodesian legislature.
Home rule was granted to Nyasaland by London, and a white
supremacy government was formed in Southern Rhodesia. The
federation formally came to an end in 1964 when Northern
Rhodesia gained independence as Zambia while Nyasaland
became the independent nation of Malawi.
As for Southern Rhodesia, now simply Rhodesia, a white
nationalist leader by the name of Ian Smith became prime
minister. Two freedom fighters, Joshua Nkomo, who led the
Zimbabwe African People''s Union (ZAPU) and Robert Mugabe,
head of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) were
jailed (not to be released until 1974).
Over the course of the following year, to the embarrassment of
the British government, Rhodesia seceded from the
Commonwealth. The aim of the secessionists, it was feared, was
to move towards a society more and more like South Africa''s.
There was nothing that Black African states could immediately
do about the situation and not much that the UN could either.
Trade sanctions were invoked with the former colony but many
Black African states ignored them. Great Britain''s stock sank
dramatically in the eyes of Africans who did not see why a
British government could not intervene militarily to suppress a
colonial rebellion as flagrant as that of the North Americans in
1776. [Which was exactly why Britain stayed clear.]
When Mugabe and Nkomo were released in 1974, they
immediately launched campaigns against the government. The
U.S. was concerned at the outcome if Rhodesia collapsed at the
hands of black nationalists depending on communist support.
In 1975, neighboring Mozambique won its own independence
which galvanized the opposition groups in Rhodesia. Mugabe''s
ZANU began to receive support from the Chinese and
specialized in guerrilla type raids while Nkomo''s ZAPU was
receiving Soviet support for larger-scale battles.
The Rhodesian military, itself, began to lose popular support as
the civil war escalated. In September 1976, Prime Minister
Smith told his countrymen that they would have to eventually
accept the principle of black majority rule. The war continued,
however, as nationalists sought to achieve unconditional white
By late 1979, after some 25,000 civilian deaths, Rhodesia agreed
to negotiations. Finally, on April 18, 1980, the new independent
nation of Zimbabwe was created. In the first elections, Mugabe
captured 57 of the 80 African seats in the parliament while
Nkomo garnered 20. Mugabe thus became the prime minister.
Initially, Mugabe sought white participation (to keep the
economy going) but he also immediately showed his
authoritarian side by jailing political opponents and censoring the
press. The security forces were granted extensive powers.
Meanwhile, Nkomo, who had been brought into the new
government as a peace-making gesture by Mugabe, broke off and
started a new civil war which eventually claimed about 2,000
lives. Finally, by 1987, ZANU and ZAPU merged and in 1988
Nkomo became vice president. [Mugabe had changed his title
from Prime Minister to Executive President, or President.]
As the years went on, Mugabe proved to be a typical corrupt
African leader. [Name more than two or three who weren''t.]
And the current land dispute has been going on for years. It was
always his goal to eventually redistribute the 33 percent of the
land owned by the white farmers. Today, that process has turned
violent and the eyes of the world are on him.
Mugabe is now 75, a dictator clinging to power the only way he
knows how, through repression. The question is who has the
guts to stand up to him? There are some heroic opposition forces
in the land but they are overmatched. And it''s a problem that his
neighbors should be able to handle but they have their own
internal strife to deal with. The outlook is not good.
Sources: "The Twentieth Century," J.M. Roberts
"The Oxford History of the 20th Century," Michael
Howard and Roger Louis
"Africana," Henry Louis Gates