A new more militant kind of politics was developing, more committed to replacing the crumbling imperial power. Kwame Nkrumah had speeded the progress to independence by mass organisation and declaring “Seek first the political kingdom”.
Britain had declared its intention to give all its colonies self-government, but they had to bend to that wind and give way earlier than they had planned. Zambia and Malawi had more to lose if the Central African Federation was to continue, dominated, as it was, by the Rhodesians. The end of the 10-year “trial period” of the Federation was the crucial time when they had to act. Zimbabwe had a bit of catching up to do.
The 1961 vote on the future of the Federation showed the vast majority in Malawi and Zambia wanted to leave the federation. Joshua Nkomo, leader of what eventually became known as ZAPU dithered when offered a constitution for Rhodesia that would give Africans more seats in parliament, but no majority for 15 years or more. His advisers, pushed by events, told him to reject this offer. The hardline whites, led by Winston Field, gained a majority in the Rhodesian parliament and resisted making any more concessions. Those 15 years could have become 50.
Both sides were now playing a game – one side makes a threat; the other makes a bigger one and so it goes on. Field wasn’t tough enough for the hardline whites, so Smith replaced him. NdabaningiSithole broke away from ZAPU claiming the only way ahead was armed struggle, only to be replaced later by Robert Mugabe, who claimed he was tougher. Both sides increased repression to keep their own troops in line.
The more fiercely we fight, the more we come to resemble what we fight against. That is my best argument for non-violent action. It isn’t easy, but it demands and trains us in self-control and respect for others.
On the night of Smith’s referendum to declare a republic, papers smaller than a supermarket till slip were circulated in Gweru, bearing the message “Vote RF at the beerhall tonight”. Someone from Mambo Press visited four beerhalls that evening and found only three drinkers – two of them policemen. A small gesture, but it worked because people agreed with its aim and felt it was worthwhile. I often wonder if we’d have avoided a lot of bloodshed if someone had, at the right time, say just before Christmas in those days when most urban workers went kumusha on big holidays, sent around the message: “The Christmas holiday lasts till Easter”. What would Smith have done about a real nonviolent strike on that scale?
A people united cannot be defeated.Post published in: Opinions & Analysis