History of Colonialism in Rhodesia

“To outsiders, perhaps, Zimbabwe is just a name signifying some random geographical boundaries… But for me it is different. Rhodesia was a forbidden country for me, a white man’s playland.. I was always outside looking in… And I did not know until years of bloodshed and turmoil later just how sweet life could be here… I had inhabited Rhodesia, but in Zimbabwe I lived.”
Nozipo Maraire, Zenzele

I. Rhodesia: beginning of colonial invasion.


The colonial history of Zimbabwe, formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, dates back to 1890 when the British following Cecil John Rhodes and his South African Company ventured to the land in search of gold. One of the most influential members of the British empire-builders, John Rhodes obtained mineral rights through a number of treaties signed with the local administration and British officials and set the expedition into southern Africa.  That year marked the beginning of the long and arduous colonial journey for Rhodesia spanning a century, from 1890 to 1980.

Rhodes’ expedition was met by the local war forces. Although Chief Lobengula’s struggled to keep the white invaders out of Matabeleland was short and unsuccessful. With the help of British South African Company (BSAC) the Ndebele kingdom was invaded and the new colonial rule effectively seized the kingdom.   As a result of the new colonial system, the cattle was divided between

Colonialism in Africa

Rhodes’ company and the other participants in the invasion. The land was also used as a form of award for the participation in the campaign. In most general terms, as the result of the short 1893 war Ndebele land had become white man property. There was no land to claim as theirs for the indigenous population.

The conquered Ndebele organization hadn’t seized its attempts to protect its land and resist European occupation. The First Chimurenga, or uprising (1896-1897) organized by the military organization was directed to destroy white power and was relatively effective in its results. The rebellion was one of the most violent and highly organized and resulted in the death of almost ten percent of white colonizers, and seriously jeopardized European economy that was facing a collapse in 1896. The fear of future rebellions resulted in creation by the settlers of specially reserved for the Blacks areas that were rigorously controlled and avoided by the white colonizers .

II. Rhodesia under colonial rule.

During the time of colonization Rhodesia had been developed by the British settlers into a colony with racially segregated society with the white settlers occupying the upper affluent class while indigenous inhabitants were forced into the underprivileged peasant class.  The distinct class segregation of Rhodesian society emerged from the collision of colonial imperialist political, legal, social, economic and religious structures and traditional norms, values and institutions.

The most prominent aspect of history of colonialism in Zimbabwe has been the question of land ownership. Ever since the colonizers lost hope to find mineral wealth in their new colony, land had become the primary interest of their politics.  The legislative approach to land ownership was used by the settlers in their disguised policy of land occupation. The notion of legal property possession was alien to the local population. Therefore it was employed as a valid reason for occupation of the land, which legally was not possessed by anybody.

In 1923 the settlers transformed Rhodesia into a British Crown Colony without the participation of African representatives. It is significant that the British colonizers ardently believed in the missionary nature of their imperial rule as the way of spreading the premium human race around the globe.  Their mission was dedicated to helping the “primitive African societies” to develop into modern world states.

Rhodesia remained under colonial rule until April 18, 1980, when it regained its independence as Zimbabwe.





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