1960s >> 1962 >> no-699-november-1962

Rhodesian background

In South and East Africa lives that peculiar person, the white settler. To some people he is a farmer who has robbed the African of his land. But, in fact, especially in southern Africa, most Europeans are ordinary workers or business men. Many can’t really be called settlers since they were born in Africa and have never been to Europe.


The two most important areas, South Africa and Rhodesia, are moving politically in opposite directions. South Africa has chosen “apartheid” or separate development; Rhodesia appears to be moving, however slowly, towards a society in which a man will not be judged by the colour of his skin. But certain actions—or lack of actions—of the Southern Rhodesian Government have raised doubts about its sincerity when it talks of partnership. First, it has until now been slow to remove legal discriminations against Africans and, second, it has taken very wide powers, encroaching considerably on recognised civil liberties, to deal with anything it regards as a threat to law and order.


Three trade union leaders were recently sentenced to eight months hard labour under these laws for calling for a general strike in Salisbury last May.


The ruling United Federal Party does not, however, stand for white supremacy. It stands for free enterprise capitalism and represents the growing multi-racial business class. By a unanimous decision of its 1961 Conference the UFP is committed to remove all legal discriminations against Africans which Cabinet Minister Abrahamson has denounced as “morally wrong and absolutely indefensible.” This, of course, includes the notorious Land Apportionment Act which means that it is no longer true to say, if ever it was, that “multiracialism” is but another name for Verwoerd’s fascist policy of apartheid.
The European business man is in favour of African advancement for a number of reasons. Firstly, he knows that Africans can eventually be trained to be as skilled as any European and, secondly, he sees in the Africans a vast expanding market for his goods. The capitalist in Africa therefore tends everywhere to be an opponent of racial privilege. He is against racism, black or white; in fact he generally wants to be free to employ the man he considers to be the most suitable for the job, regardless of race or colour.


The European worker, however, is not so keen on African advancement. He sees the African as a threat to his job. Most European workers are craftsmen, a section of the working class which the march of capitalism everywhere tends to eliminate. The skilled worker is replaced by the semi-skilled machine operative. In Europe and America the redundant craftsman tends to feel resentment against those who replace him, but in Central Africa the position appears more dangerous since the man who would take his job has a black skin. As a result many of the European workers support parties wanting to “keep the African in his place.” These, together with a section of the farmers and others still living in the past, provide the bulk of the support for the main European opposition party, the Rhodesia Front. This party looks South for inspiration and, although it has African members, it is the party of white supremacy.


The main African nationalist party is, or was, the recently banned Zimbabwe African Peoples’ Union led by “Great” Nkomo. ZAPU is the recognised Pan-Africanist party in Southern Rhodesia (or Zimbabwe) and has the blessing of the Osagyefo in Accra. The main ZAPU demand’ for “One man, one vote” has won it the support of a number of European and Asian radicals. African support, however, is won on a different basis. ZAPU flourishes among Africans on widespread discontent over low wages, unemployment and land reform. This is not something peculiar to Africa, for the birth of capitalism is always accompanied by unrest. In Central Africa this unrest appears as African resistance to white authority, as African nationalism.


Migrant worker
Owing to what is known as the migrant labour system, most African workers are extremely poor. The migrant worker circulates between two different social systems, the so-called “subsistence economy” and capitalism. He spends a part of the year in his farm in the tribal reserve and a part working for money in other industries. Altogether about two-thirds of the African labour force are migrant workers. This system tends to hold wages down to a level sufficient only to maintain a single worker while staying in the “location.” As a result, many of the African families who have settled permanently in the towns live in extreme poverty. The recent Phillips Report on the development of Southern Rhodesia describes further bow this system keeps wages down: “The large and elastic supply of workers seeking employment in urban activities restrains a rise in wages, while the impermanence of this labour supply reduces the wage the employers are prepared to pay”


The employers would like to see the migrant labour system ended and to see a stable working class paid a “reasonable” wage, perhaps double the present minimum, take its place as soon as possible. They recognise, however, that their system cannot at present “provide every African urban family with an income adequate to secure minimum nutritional, housing and other standards.” “Unhappily,” explains the Report, “there is not enough wealth in the country to effect changes on this scale for the mass of the people.” This is not true for Rhodesia could, if properly irrigated, and if the mineral sources were fully exploited, more than provide an “adequate” income for its inhabitants. What the report means is that capitalism cannot use this wealth.


The African who is employed is badly enough off but many don’t even have the privilege of trying to live on near-starvation wages. These are the 70,000 or so unemployed. Unemployment is something new for Africans. “Before the Europeans settled in this country,” writes one paper:


  and before they brought their chaos creating institutions, unemployment was unknown, hence the lack of this term in any African dialect. There are other words such as ‘Simbe’ in Shona; this means a lazy person who does not want to work. This differs well from a person who is unemployed because there is just no work for him although he wants it. The whole African population lived on land and everybody who could do some work found it. There was ploughing and harvesting, ironmongery as well as many other crafts. Women were busy with domestic chores and also assisted on the land. Everyone had a piece of land to work as the whole land belonged to them. The chiefs only held it in trust for national use.


The “chaos-creating institution” which the Europeans brought was capitalism, and ever since they first settled in Rhodesia in the 1890’s the traditional African way of life has been threatened. Soon after their arrival the Europeans imposed a poll tax on the Africans to force them to spend a part of their time working for wages. Hence arose the migrant labour system.


Before the situation arose which led to the passing of the Native Land Husbandry Act in 1951 the African peasant seeking work in the town would either find it or return home to his farm. But the LHA put an end to this, for it had the same effect as the Enclosure Acts in England: it drove Africans to the towns by making them landless. The Act was revolutionary as it introduced a new concept to the African peasant: private ownership, albeit conditional, of land.


The primary aim was to eliminate soil erosion and overstocking and to bring the African peasant into the money economy. A stable African peasantry was to be created with a stable urban working class. Under the Act all indigenous Africans, who were actually cultivating land in a given area at the time at which the Act was proclaimed to apply to that area, were entitled to a certain prescribed acreage of arable land. This meant that any African from the area working in town at the time of the proclamation was dispossessed; overnight he became landless. Now the African peasant believes not only that everybody has the right to use the land, but also that nobody has the right to own it. So that such a revolutionary change as the Act envisaged was bound to create a reaction; the situation was aggravated by the fact that thousands of those entitled to a holding got no land. ZAPU has taken advantage of this land hunger and rural unrest and has been making headway in traditionally conservative areas.In Rhodesia the vote is at present restricted to those with certain educational and income qualifications which means that although nearly all Europeans, Coloureds and Asians have the vote, only a small percentage of the Africans do. ZAPU says this is wrong and demands “one man, one vote.” The UFP feels, however, that were it to grant this immediately, dictatorship would rapidly follow.

Pan-Africanism or Pan-African Black Fascism as it has been justly called, certainly is totalitarian and racist, rejecting democracy as “ un-African ” and “ Western.” At present, however, ZAPU is able to pose as the champion of democratic liberties, just as the Communists are in such countries as Spain and Portugal. This is in accordance with the pattern elsewhere: in opposition the Pan-Africanists shout loudest for democracy, but once in power show scant regard for political or trade union opposition. The ZAPU protest, when they were banned, that African political freedom had gone was so much cant. For ZAPU, and especially its Youth League, has used all kinds of intimidation to terrorize those Africans who oppose them. The banning of ZAPU merely illustrates the fate of those who choose to challenge the State directly by using violent or illegal means to get what they want.

Adam Buick