Zimbabwe: British South Africa Company rule (1890-1923)

Updated December 2007

The invasion of what was termed Mashonaland under Cecil John Rhodes' British South Africa Company (BSAC) in September 1890 was conducted by 200 settlers under the protection of 500 BSAC policemen (the "Pioneer Column"), and there they founded the settlement of Salisbury (Harare) (Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2007; Wikipedia 2007c). Masholaland was chosen above Matebeleland because the Ndebele forces of King Lobengula were too powerful to attack immediately and directly (Wikipedia 2007c). In 1891 Mashonaland was declared a British Protectorate by an Order in Council (Parliament of Zimbabwe Undated). The territory, originally known as Zambezia, was commonly called "Rhodesia" after 1895; in 1898 it was officially renamed "Southern Rhodesia" (Wikipedia 2007c; Esterhuysen 2004).

The April 1981 Lippert Concession, deceitfully obtained from King Lobengula, provided the BSAC with the legal justification for large scale alienation of land from the indigenous population and its transfer to white settlers (Stocking 1978, 132; Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 32-33). From the beginning the BSAC freely parcelled out land to white settlers settlers; those who partook in the 1893 occupation of Matabeleland were promised 6 350 acres of land (Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 33). Three years later, with control over Matabeleland apparently cemented, Matebeleland was annexed in turn and resistance to BSCA occupation, led by King Lobengula, was crushed by force; the King fled north and died there in 1894 (Esterhuysen 2004; Wikipedia 2007d). The more marginal territories were set aside for as reserves in Matabeleland, opening up the rest for white settlement (Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 33).

The rapid influx of settlers and growing land alienation led to the Shona and Ndebele joining hands in an attempt to oust the invaders in 1896/7 (known as the 'First Chimurenga' or "First War of Liberation") (Wikipedia 2007c; Esterhuysen 2004). The uprising was brutally suppressed by British and BSAC forces that possessed overwhelming superiority in fire-power; the Ndebele sued for peace in October 1896, but the Shona managed to hold out until late 1987 (Esterhuysen 2004; Hanyama Undated). Selby (2006, 40) observes that the settlers too suffered in the uprising, losing some 10% of their number.

Initially land alienated was used for mining or held for speculative purposes, while agricultural production was accomplished by the native population who sold food to settlers to raise cash to buy goods, to avoid wage labour and to pay hut taxes imposed by the BSAC (Selby 2006, 34). By the late 1890s it was evident that the mineral resources that Rhodes had postulated did not exist and the farming sector became the bedrock of the economy producing tobacco, maize and cattle initially, with tea, coffee horticulture and timber production emerging later (Hanyama Undated; Esterhuysen 2004; Selby 2006, 34, 37). The alienation of prime land continued, with the Southern Rhodesia Order in Council of 1898, which provided for the decentralised creation of reserves (Stocking 1978, 132-133; Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 33). With the suppression of the uprising, white immigration and settlement expanded rapidly; transport infrastructure was created linking the landlocked territory to the sea at Beira and to South Africa (Esterhuysen 2004; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2007). In 1914 23 730 white settlers owned 19 032 320 while 21 390 080 acres were set aside for 752 000 Africans (Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 33).

The emergence of a white working class saw the emergence of the Rhodesia Railway Workers' Union in 1916 followed by the Rhodesia Mine and General Workers' Association in 1919 and the Rhodesia Labour Party in 1923 (Gwisai 2002).

The Southern Rhodesia Order in Council of 1898 also created a Legislative Council in 1898, with 10 voting members and it consisted of the Administrator of Southern Rhodesia, five members nominated by the BSAC, and four elected members; the Resident Commissioner of Southern Rhodesia was an ex officio member without voting rights (Wikipedia 2007a). The franchise was restricted to male British subjects, 21 years of age and older who were able to write their address and occupation, and either owned of a registered mining claim in the territory, or occupied immovable property worth £75, or earned £50 per annum in the territory. Elections were held every three years (Wikipedia 2007a). The effect of these "colour-blind" qualifications was to exclude Africans from registering as voters. In 1903 the composition was altered to provide for seven BSAC officials and seven elected members and in 1907 elected members formed the majority (Wikipedia 2007c; Selby 2006, 43). In 1912 the franchise qualifications were raised to prevent sizable numbers of Africans from qualifying to vote: Voters had to be able to complete the registration form and write a fifty word dictated passage in English while the property qualifications were doubled (Wikipedia 2007b).

Dissatisfaction with BSAC mounted after the 1896/7 and culminated in the formation of the Campaign for Responsible Government on the eve of the First World War (Selby 2006, 43) After the First World War the BSAC embarked on a campaign to lure more settlers to the territory, but in 1918 it cut back expenditure and public services and agitation for the removal of company rule grew (Hanyama Undated; Wikipedia 2007c; Selby 2006, 43). In 1920 the Legislative Council had a majority in favour of Responsible Government for the colony and a referendum was held on 27 October 1922 to determine whether it should join the Union of South Africa or establish self-government (Esterhuysen 2004; Selby 2006, 43). Incorporation into South Africa was rejected and Southern Rhodesia was made a crown colony on 12 September 1923 and a governor was installed (Esterhuysen 2004; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2007; Selby 2006, 44). The population of the new colony was about 35 000 whites, while Africans were estimated at between 500 000 and 750 000 (Esterhuysen 2004; Selby 2006, 44).


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