Zimbabwe: Self-government and Federation (1923 - 1963)

Updated January 2008

With the attainment of self-government in October 1923, Southern Rhodesia's Legislative Council was replaced by a fully elected 30-member Legislative Assembly, but the high property qualifications remained in place to ensure that the electorate would remain overwhelmingly White (in 1951 the value of property required was increased to £500, while the annual wage requirement rose to £240 (Wikipedia 2007a; Esterhuysen 2004). Self-government provided for a high degree of autonomy, with Britain maintaining control over foreign policy and having veto rights over legislation that impacted on Africans (though these rights were seldom exercised). The first election was held on 29 April 1924, which was won by the Rhodesia Party and its leader, Charles Coghlan, became the first Prime Minister (Esterhuysen 2004; Wikipedia 2007b).

In 1930 the Legislative Assembly passed the Land Apportionment Act, which allocated 51% of the land for White use, 30% was allocated for the African Reserves and for private African purchase, while most of the remainder was unallocated (Hanyama Undated; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2007; Esterhuysen 2004). Moreover, the land allocated to Whites was prime land and favourably located in relation to transport infrastructure and urban markets, while the Reserves were in remote areas, prone to drought and This skewed distribution of land, combined with rapid population growth with inferior potential (Esterhuysen 2004; Hanyama Undated). This skewed distribution, combined with high population growth rates, over time translated into ever deepening poverty amongst Africans in the rural areas (Esterhuysen 2004; Stocking 1978, 133). State agricultural policy, activity and legislation in the 1930s strongly favoured White agriculture and sought to undermine and marginalise African production (Selby 2006, 50-51; Machigaidze 1991).

The colony was badly affected by the Great Depression in the early 1930's, but this was followed by a new wave of White immigration and rapid economic growth (Wikipedia 2007c; Esterhuysen 2004). In 1933, for £2 million, the British South Africa Company finally ceded its mineral rights to the government (Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2007). A manufacturing sector emerged that provided additional employment and tax revenue and the diversified economy was more stable than one based only on agriculture and mining (Esterhuysen 2004). A post-war boom in immigration led to the emergence of a substantial urban based white working class, by 1950 two-thirds of white settlers were new immigrants and the White population rose from 80 500 in 1945 to 219 000 by 1960 (Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 55). On the other hand migration from the depressed Reserves saw the burgeoning an urban black working class and the emergence of trade unions (Esterhuysen 2004; Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 51). In the urban areas Africans were segregated and economically controlled by the Native Urban Areas Act and the Industrial Reconciliation Act, while in the rural areas, between 1945-55, over 100 000 people were forcibly moved to the already crowded Reserves (Esterhuysen 2004; Hanyama Undated; Selby 2006, 61). The economy expanded rapidly, led by tobacco exports and between 1945 and 1965 farming production rose six-fold (Selby 2006, 55). Between 1939 and 1953 manufacturing production expanded by an average of 11.7% per year and the African workforce had increased three-fold to 469 000 (Gwisai 2002).

The first African trade union to emerge was the Industrial and Commercial Workers' Union (ICU), modeled on that in South Africa, but it was unable to weather the unfavourable conditions for labour created by the depression of the 1930s (Gwisai 2002). As Gwisai (2002) points out, "Settler policy remained mired in an ideology that viewed black workers at best as a pre-industrial, semi-migrant force that would eventually retreat to its rural hinterland, and at worst as unwanted vagrants in the white man's growing cities". The concrete manifestation of this was the 1934 Industrial Conciliation Act, which extended unionization rights to whites only and created collective bargaining structures but restricted the right to strike (Gwisai 2002; Machigaidze 1991). However, as a settled urban African labour force emerged, so an organised trade union movement began to take shape. A strike of railway workers led by the Railway African Workers Union in took place in 1945 and a general strike in April 1948, through which some concessions were wrung from the government such as the right to form unions and the setting of a minimum wage (Gwisai 2002). The strike further the stimulation of the trade union movement through the formation of the Southern Rhodesia Trade Union Congress (SRTUC) in 1954 led by Joshua Nkomo (Gwisai 2002).

Even before 1923 attempts were made by the educated African elite to form political organisations to represent and extend their interests such as the Rhodesian Bantu Voters' Association and the Rhodesian Native Association, which attempted to reform rather than transform the colonial state. The Southern Rhodesian African National Congress, which emerged in the 1930s under the leadership of Reverend TD Samkange, was of the same mold (Gwisai 2002). As a result of resistance to the Land Apportionment Act the British African Voice Association, led by Benjamin Burombo, emerged and was involved in the 1948 strike as well as the 1951 Land Husbandry Act (Machigaidze 1991).

Concern about the deteriorating condition of the land in the Reserves, as a result of land alienation, population growth and population dumping, led to the passage of the Native Land Husbandry Act in 1951 through the Legislative Assembly (Stocking 1978, 137; Hanyama Undated). The Act attempted to impose destocking and other conservational practices (Stocking 1978, 137; Hanyama Undated). The measures were disruptive to the already fragile economies of the Reserves, flew in the face of traditional culture and increased poverty: not surprisingly they were deeply resented and resisted in every way possible (Selby 2006, 60-61; Machigaidze 1991).

The booming copper export driven economy of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) led to the emergence of settler-dominated situation similar to Southern Rhodesia and led by Roy Welensky in the north and Godfrey Huggins in the south, the notion of a union of the two colonies took root (Esterhuysen 2004). Advancing paternalist arguments for federation as a means to African upliftment through White led economic growth they persuaded a reluctant Britain to approve a federation, though Britain only did so on condition that the British Nyasaland form part of it (Esterhuysen 2004). In a referendum held in April 1953 the proponents of federation obtained a 63.5% endorsement from the overwhelming White Southern Rhodesian electorate in an 82% poll turnout and the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland formally came into existence on 1 August 1953 (Esterhuysen 2004; Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2007). The Federation was presided over by a Governor-General who represented the Crown; executive power lay with a cabinet headed by a Prime-minister and a Legislative Assembly with 35 seats (six reserved for Africans; Esterhuysen 2004).

The economy of the Federation grew steadily and rapidly, stimulated by high copper prices internationally and Southern Rhodesia benefited strongly as a result of the stimulation of its manufacturing industry and the provision at Federal expense of infrastructure such as the rail link with Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) in 1955, the creation of the a university college in Salisbury (now Harare) in 1957 and the Kariba hydro-power project that was completed in 1959 (Esterhuysen 2004). The capital was in Salisbury and there also went most of the jobs in the Federal government (Esterhuysen 2004).

Southern Rhodesia maintained a high degree of autonomy and when Godfrey Huggins became Prime Minister of the Federation, Garfield Todd succeeded him as Prime Minister in the south (Esterhuysen 2004). At Federation only some 400 people out of 2.3 million Africans were entitled to vote (Esterhuysen 2004). Todd introduced measures to increase African access to education, housing and healthcare, but found himself at odds with an increasingly conservative and intransigent electorate and he was ousted from power in 1958 by his own party and replaced by Edgar Whitehead (Wikipedia 2007b; Esterhuysen 2004. See Selby 2006, 57-62 for a discussion of the reasons for the growth of right-wing sentiment).

Resistance to Federation was widespread amongst Africans in the territories involved and opposition helped crystalise the nascent African nationalist movements in the region as leaders rallied population in opposition to the entrenchment of White settler power that it represented (see Zambia: Rise of African Nationalism (1945-1964)). In Southern Rhodesia in September 1957, Joshua Nkomo, a trade unionist emerged as leader of the new formed African National Congress (ANC) through the merger of the Bulawayo based Southern Rhodesian African National Congress and the Salisbury based Youth League, which spearheaded widespread resistance that reflected growing unemployment and a general deterioration of living conditions amongst Africans in 1957/8 (Gwisai 2002; Machigaidze 1991; Esterhuysen 2004). A state of emergency was declared and the ANC was outlawed in February 1959, while ANC activists were arrested and detained without trial (Esterhuysen 2004; Wikipedia 2007b). Some 1610 Africans were prosecuted and 1002 convicted between 1960 and 1965 under the 1959 Unlawful Organizations Act (Wikipedia 2007b). The crackdown on African resistance reflected growing White insecurity in the face of the rising tide of African nationalism and a steady drift of the White electorate to the right as fear of African majority rule in Southern Rhodesia grew (Wikipedia 2007b; Esterhuysen 2004).

The effect of all this was to stiffen and consolidate resistance; in January 1960 the National Democratic Party (NDP) was created and in time Nkomo became its President (Machigaidze 1991). It set itself to fight for bread-and-butter issues such as higher wages better education and housing and education, for legal reforms such as the abolition of the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and the Land Husbandry Act of 1951 and for a one-person-one vote franchise system (Machigaidze 1991). Despite state repression the and lack of resources the organisation grew rapidly, attracted thousands of people to its rallies, and had 250 000 members in mid-1961 (Machigaidze 1991).

The extent of unrest in the Federation prompted a review of policy in British central Africa and a commission appointed, headed by Lord Monckton, reported in 1960 that the Federation was not viable (Esterhuysen 2004). The Report was accepted by the British government so that the dissolution of the Federation and independence for Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland under African majority rule became only a matter of time (Esterhuysen 2004). In Southern Rhodesia, in preparation for a White led independence, a constitutional conference held in 1961 added a bill of rights to the constitution and expanded the seats in parliament to 65, with 50 member elected on an A Roll with high educational, income and property qualifications and 15 elected on a separate B Roll with lower qualifications; these measures were endorsed in a referendum in July 1961 by the overwhelmingly White electorate (Esterhuysen 2004; Wikipedia 2007b).

Nkomo and the NDP leadership, who had participated in the conference, were criticised for accepting these measures; Nkomo was forced to withdraw his support for the new constitution and a boycott of registration on the African roll was initiated (Esterhuysen 2004). The opposition to the constitution was led by SRTUC, which organised massive strikes that were suppressed by force and the leadership of the NDP was arrested (Gwisai 2002). The government was alarmed by the extent of the unrest and the NDP was banned in December 1961 (Esterhuysen 2004). The Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) was formed to replace the NDP, but it too was banned in September 1962 (Esterhuysen 2004). Matters deteriorated further when the hard-line Rhodesian Front (RF) won the 1962 elections and the battle lines between the Nationalists and the settlers became more acutely drawn (Wikipedia 2007b; Hanyama Undated). Selby (2006, 64) observes that the RF victory "was close, but it was a watershed, and from then on the Rhodesian Front rode a wave of white nationalism... [it] ensured that the race question would be decided through confrontation rather than compromise". ZAPU reorganised itself in exile in Dar es Salaam in early 1963, but was riven by factional conflict which culminated in the formation of Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in August 1963 under the leadership of Rev Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe and the formation of the People's Caretaker Council (PCC) by Nkomo (Esterhuysen 2004; Wikipedia 2007b).

Nyasaland and Zambia withdrew from the Federation in 1962, in 1963 the Federation was officially dissolved and Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia became independent states as Malawi and Zambia respectively in 1964 (Encyclopaedia of the Nations 2007; Esterhuysen 2004). Southern Rhodesia remained a Crown Colony and the White aspirations for an independent settler dominated state were not met (Esterhuysen 2004; Wikipedia 2007b).


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