ExsulVolumnius on Tue, 25 Apr 2000 18:03:59 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Revolt of Zimbabwean Masses

                          The Revolt of the Zimbabwean Masses
                           Part I: How Did It All Begin?
                               by  Lorenzo Peņa
        (18 April 2000 - on the 20th anniversary of Zimbabwe's independence)

  Such as look down upon the masses with disdain or, at best,
condescension are amazed by recent events in Zimbabwe and tend to view the
whole issue as merely an attempt by aging and increasingly discredited
President Robert Mugabe to regain popularity. 

     Several years ago sundry people blamed President Mugabe for failing
to redress the lingering injustices of the colonial era. The authorities
in Harare replied that such a dismal legacy could not be reversed or
altered overnight.  But of course nobody had demanded an immediate
overturn of the whole fabric of social relations in Zimbabwe. We had only
complained over social immobilism many years after independence. 

     Now, at last, things are changing. Such an apparently sudden upheaval
is portrayed in the media as the outcome of political manoeuvering by the
Harare government, which has set its retinue in motion in order to wrench
some land from the white owners and thus claim at least limited success in
social progressive reforms the Zimbabwe people had, for decades, yearned

     In fact, though, things are much more complicated. The main actors
are the masses themselves. It is the poor people of the Zimbabwean
countryside, old and young, female and male, not just the liberation war
veterans, who little by little have come to think that enough is enough
and that the government's tactics of procrastination and vague promises of
future legislation cannot be trusted or relied upon any longer. 

                          BUT HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?

     In recent precolonial times two main ethnic groups used to inhabit
Zimbawe: the Ndebele and the Shona. According to Shona oral traditions,
their priest Chaminuka predicted a white invasion and was put to death by
the Ndebele ruler, Lobengula, on account of such a dangerous prophecy.
Whether that was true or not, Lobengula -- who was the Ndebele king at the
outbreak of the Anglo-Ndebele war of 1893 -- had went to great lengths to
appease the increasingly aggressive British imperialists and the white
settlers attacking Zimbabwe from the South (the then independent Boer
states and, mainly, the Cape British-dominated colony, led by Cecil

     Lobengula had mounted the throne in 1870 and already at that stage
had granted a mining concession to Thomas Baines of Durban Gold Mining Co.
in order to diffuse white intervention. 

     However, the Europeans grew more and more threatening and covetous in
later years, especially after the Berlin imperialist conference of 1884-5,
which unleashed the scramble for colonial domination into the whole black

     In 1885 the British crown imposed a so-called protectorate on
neighbouring Bechuanaland; upon which white settlers embarked on an
invasion of the land. 

     In 1888 Rhodes sent his partner and agent Rudd to compel Lobengula to
acquiesce to an important mining concession. This Lobengula did only to
realize (too late) that the white invaders had thus driven the thin end of
their wedge.  Lobengula was thus pushed into reluctant resistance by white
greedy rapacity. 

     Despite the Ndebele king's repeal of the concession, Rhodes --
supported by the British crown -- enacted a charter of the newly created
British South Africa Company investing it with an array of rights (rights
that of course the British were not legally entitled to exercise or to
bestow on anybody): the right to make treaties, to pass laws and to
subject the natives to its police force, as well as to make grants of
minerals and land to white settlers.  Nothing of the sort had been
countenanced by the Rudd concession, even before it was revoked by the
Zimbabwean authorities. 

     Thereupon, each settler was given a 3,000 acre farm (plus 15
gold-mining claims) -- by those who had no legal right to give what was
not theirs. 

     In 1891 the London Government officially recognized the Company's
occupation and issued the Mashonaland Order in Council. A British governor
took possession of the Zimbabwean land on behalf of Queen Victoria. The
leader of the white settlers' Column, Dr. Jameson, behaved with ruthless
harshness, imposing forced labour upon the Shona populations, which
hitherto had almost willingly accepted white invasion as a means of
escaping from Ndebele supremacy. 

     When the whites found out that no gold was to be discovered there,
they became more brutal and predatory. Each white settler was then granted
a 6,000 acres farm. 

     Lobengula could not just stand by. He was no valorous patriot, but he
could not renounce a feeling of national dignity. He would not become a
mere stooge at the hands of the white settlers. Upon an incident at Fort
Victoria in 1893, the British troops invaded the whole Zimbabwean
territory. Thus began the Ndebele War of Resistance of 1893. 

     The Zimbabweans were defeated by superior European gun-fire at the
two battles of Shangani River and Mbembezi. The conquerors took advantage
of the natives' inner divisions, with people of the low castes remaining
passive and even some traitors helping the invaders. 

     The ferocious oppression by the British conquerors became so
appalling in later years that it probably outdid most other colonial
situations in the late 19th century (barring King Leopold's rule in Congo
which killed some 10 million people -- perhaps the greatest genocide in

     The aftermath of the British conquest in Zimbabwe was that cattle was
seized from the natives, their land taken, and such soil plots as were
left to them they were often forcibly prevented from ploughing and sowing,
since the Blacks were subjected to tax-collection and coerced labour in
white-owned farms. 

     Famine ensued. Three years later, the Zimbabwean people rose up in
arms against the colonial yoke. 

     By March 1899 the whites had seized 15,762,364 acres. Woeful though
the predicament of the land labourers was under such a colonialist
occupation, the most heart-rendering plight was the miners'. Between 1900
and 1920 18,000 black miners were to die in Zimbabwe, the victims of bad
food, flogging, awful dwelling conditions, accidents and disease. After
several strikes, a Master and Servants Law was enacted by the British
Royal authorities making it a criminal offense to break a labour contract. 

     The Zimbabwean people revolted against their white masters. In March
1896 huge masses of the population rose up in arms under a variegated
leadership, including Mkwati, a shona ex-slave and a Mwari High God
priest. That rebellion is called in Zimbabwean history `the Chi Murenga of

     The uprising was crushed by the British, who to that end resorted to
dynamiting broad areas wherein the natives' defensive caves had become
militarily unassailable. The battle of Gwindingwi, which went on for two
months (August and September 1896), was one of the greatest feats of that

     Many leaders of the uprising, including the priests Kagubi and
Nehenda, were captured and put to death. A huge number of prisoners were

     However, after the 1896 insurrection the white colonizers became a
little more cautious. (The hut tax was set at 1 pound rather than, as
initially planned, 2 pounds.) 

     New revolts took place in later years, though. Mapondera was the head
of a Shona rebellion in 1900-1903. He was also defeated at long last and,
mistreated, died in jail. 

     (Main source: _A HISTORY OF AFRICA, 1840-1914_, by Michael Tidy with
Donald Leeming, London: E. Arnold, 1981.)

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