President, British African National Voice Association.
One of the earliest and most respected of the African nationalists in Rhodesia, Benjamin Burombo, was born at Buhera of peasant farming stock. He worked for many years in South Africa where he came under the influence of Clement Kadali, the trade unionist.
He came to Bulawayo in the early years of World War II and earned a living by selling biscuits in the railway compound. He founded the British African National Voice Association, a trade union organisation with political overtones, and became its President. Although he had never received any formal education he taught himself the rudiments of law by his own reading.
In 1948 he was largely instrumental in organising a country-wide strike that led to an urgent examination of wages by the Native Labor Board. He bitterly opposed the proposed Native Land Husbandry Bill, and when the Bill became law in 1951 he successfully challenged a number of cases where the Act had been wrongly implemented by native commissioners. His successes in this direction provided the inspiration for the next generation of nationalist leaders to mount a full-scale campaign against the Act in the late 1950s.
Benjamin Burombo was a huge man – 6 ft. 6 in. (1,95 m) tall and weighing 250 lb (112,5 kg). He had a great ability to sway his audiences by the power of his oratory. He earned immense popularity by his willingness to share fully in the lives and struggles of the people he sought to help. A big drinker of African beer, he died in the middle of his useful life at a relatively early age. Africans in Bulawayo flocked to his funeral in great numbers.1
He was a man without illusions. On one occasion he said: “Each time I want to fight for African rights I use only one hand – because the other hand is busy trying to keep away Africans who are fighting me.”
1 Many of the subjects interviewed in this book spoke with real affection and admiration for Burombo. He seems to have been possessed of a quality of leadership which inspired those he met to take a pride in themselves and to try to make positive moves to improve their lot.