Africa for Africans! The Long, Painful Death of Rhodesia and Birth of Zimbabwe
It was only in 1980 that Africans in Rhodesia finally overcame the minority of whites in the country to reclaim the land for their own and rename it Zimbabwe. And it wasn’t until after a long and brutal war in which the whites did all they could to keep the Africans down, and just about as many Africans were killed by other Africans as by whites.
Africans in Zimbabwe were never happy about the European occupation of their lands. They tried a combination of resisting and compromising with the Europeans to keep as much control as they could. The first major uprising against the Europeans, known as the First Chimurenga (“War for Liberation” in the Shona language), occurred in the 1890’s, and was impressive because it saw the two major tribes of the area, the Shona and Ndebele, unite. Despite their unity, the rebellion ended with the capture and hanging of the leaders. One of them, Nehanda, predicted that “my bones will rise again” and that Africans would have justice one day.
After this defeat, the Africans tended to accept the European rule as a fact of life. But, as the name of the First Chimurenga implies, there was to be a Second Chimurenga, just as Nehanda predicted. Led primarily by Joseph Nkomo at first, it would last over 20 years and lead to an brutal war that ate at the country for almost 15 of those years.
So, why would the Africans fight among themselves?
They thought the white regime would disappear quickly. White power was falling all over Africa, and in Rhodesia African nationalists had pretty successfully led many protests, including a major boycott of the 1962 elections. It seemed freedom might be just around the corner. “The two factions, confident of an early African victory, behaved as if the white regime was going to vanish. The Government, which controlled all the levers of power, had no intention of vanishing…”
There were strong loyalties among the two major tribes of Rhodesia, the Ndebele and Shona, for the leaders of the two major groups that emerged. So these people focused on getting the biggest piece of the pie they thought would be theirs shortly and treated each other brutally.
Finally, there were just some powerful personality clashes that drew different support among different groups of people, and that caused people to sacrifice the most important common goal in order to get at the others.
The result? Most of the leaders spent many of the next ten years in some of the worst prisons Rhodesia had, and white people not only succeeded in holding power longer than they would have otherwise, but they were more confident than ever that they were right in doing so because the Africans were so brutal to each other.
“Zimbabwe” would have to wait a while to be born.