Both modern historians and political scientists have been at pains to identify the actual point in time at which African Nationalism1 in Rhodesia surfaced and began to assert itself as a discernible political force. There has been no consensus. Some have argued that African Nationalism in Rhodesia has continuously manifested itself in various forms ever since the Union Flag was unfurled on the Harare Kopje on 13 September 1890. This view contends that the various protest and reform movements which have arisen during Rhodesian colonial history have all been an outward expression of African Nationalism.

Others assert that real African Nationalism was ruthlessly and effectively suppressed in the 1896-97 War of Resistance and that it only re-manifested itself with the birth of the Youth League in 1956. According to this school of thought, the suppression which went on for thirty years after the War of Resistance had the desired effect. Africans were induced to believe in the invincibility of the white man and to accept his government as inevitable. The desire to challenge the white man’s Government had been obliterated and Africans had to make the best of a bad situation by tasking the white man to rule them well.

I believe that this second school of thought is the correct one. The black man’s desire to rule himself in his own country, suppressed for many years, was reasserted in the 1950s by the creation of the Youth League. By demanding ‘One Man, One Vote’, and making this its public political plank, the Youth League was, in effect, rejecting the white man’s Government per se, and seeking its elimination and substitution by an African Government. This was a drastically different political stance from that which had been adopted and pursued by all previous African organisations such as the Bantu Congress and the African Association. These organisations accepted the white man’s rule as inevitable and sought to improve the African social and economic position within the established social and political framework. The idea of seeking political power for the African people was completely ruled out. These organisations were reformist and ‘beggar’ groups which appealed to the white man’s ‘milk of human kindness’ for better treatment at the District Commissioner’s Office, at the Post Office and in various other spheres of life. They asked for more land, for the provision of waiting rooms and toilets at railway stations and for the removal of race discrimination. They sought to work harmoniously and peacefully with the Government and Government officials; and the latter were conventionally addressed as ‘our fathers’.

Even the British African National Voice Association, founded and led by the fiery and indomitable Benjamin Burombo, never sought political power. The white man’s Government was tacitly accepted and approved. The African National Congress, led by the late Rev. T. D. Samkange, and afterwards by Enoch Dumbutshena, adopted the same stance, approving the political status quo. Co-operation with the Government and Government officials was one of the stated principles enshrined in the African National Congress constitution, and it was the organisation’s custom to invite a Government official to open its meetings.

But the Youth League followed a drastically different direction, completely abandoning the reformist and ‘beggar’ approaches. The re-formed African National Congress, which was born on 12 September 1957 and which absorbed the Youth League and elected Joshua Nkomo as its leader, adopted the Youth League’s principle of ‘One Man, One Vote’. The popular slogan was: ‘We no longer ask to be ruled well by whites; we want to rule ourselves’.

There is no doubt that the influences upon the Youth League and the African National Council were largely external. One of the founder members of the Youth League, Dunduza Chisiza, was a zealous and extremely intelligent young man from Nyasaland (now Malawi), which for long had been seething with African Nationalism. In addition, Chisiza had received his higher education in Uganda at a time when Africans in that country had started the war for self-rule and independence against British colonialism. James Robert Chikerema, another founder member, had been at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, where he had come under the influence of people of various political and ideological orientations. Only two founder members of the Youth League had not been subject to external influences — Edson Chisingaitwi Sithole and George Bodzo Nyandoro. Nyandoro came from the proud Tsunga clan with a lontg tradition of resistance to foreign rule. Both his grandather, Kunzvi Nyandoro, and his father, Mazhazha Nyandoro, refused to accept white man’s rule and fought against it to the bitter end.

Other influences upon the Africans in Rhodesia were exerted by political events in the Gold Coast (Ghana) and in Kenya. Kwame Nkrumah’s political agitations in 1948 and his resultant incarceration, culminating in his triumphant march from prison to the premiership in 1959, were given full publicity in the local press, and they could not fail to stimulate the urge for self-rule and independence in the hearts of the African people in Rhodesia. Jomo Kenyatta’s fight for African rule and independence, which began soon after his return home in 1947 and which he dramatised by kneeling down at Mombasa and kissing the soil of Kenya, reached its climax with his arrest in 1952 for ‘organising and managing Mau Mau’. Kenyatta’s subsequent arrest, trial and conviction at Kapenguria in 1953 hit the international headlines. Books about Kenyatta and the · trial were produced almost overnight. All this publicity could not fail to fire the imagination of some African leaders in Rhodesia. It was thus no surprise that a clause demanding ‘One Man, One Vote’ was inserted in the constitution of the rejuvenated African National Congress.

The African National Congress’ demand for adult suffrage, and therefore African rule, seemed to be ahead of the thinking of many Africans. Perhaps the best known of these was the veteran African trade unionist, Charles Mzingeli. He had for years been regarded as an extremist African by white men but, although he had worked hand in glove with George Nyandoro, he parted company with him at this stage because he could see neither rhyme nor reason in the policy of African self-rule. It was thus an uphill struggle for the hard-headed and dedicated trio comprising the hardcore of the Congress leadership –Joshua NkomoJames Chikerema and George Nyandoro – to get their policy understood and accepted by their own people. The idea of African rule at this juncture, although an accomplished fact in Ghana, was still unthinkable in the minds of many Rhodesian Africans, even educated ones. Others thought it was a madman’s pipedream.

But the African National Congress doggedly pursued the policy, declaring that it was time Africans ruled themselves and stopped asking others to rule them well. To drive home their point and get their policy accepted by the African people the Congress leaders took full advantage of the many sins of omission and commission by the various , white governments, drawing the conclusion that the whites were inherently incapable of ruling others well.

African majority rule became the central policy of all the organisations that succeeded the African National Congress when it was banned in February 1959 – the National Democratic Party (1960-61), the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (1961-62), the Zimbabwe African National Union (1963-64), the African People’s Caretaker Council (1963-64), which was in actual fact ZAPU in disguise, and the present African National Council and the United African National Council led by Joshua Nkomo and Bishop Abel Muzorewa respectively.

African Nationalism is not a new force in Rhodesia although it lay dormant for many years. The wars fought against the whites in 1893 and 1896-97 were a concrete expression of the African people’s identity as a group and their desire to rule themselves, free of Foreign domination.

It was, however, the latter war (1896-97) which really marked the birth of African Nationalism in Rhodesia. For, in this war against the whites, the Shonas and Ndebeles recognised their oneness as blacks and as people living within the same territory, and came together to create a formidable army designed to drive out the whites whom they regarded as intruders and invaders of their country.

This coming together of the African people in Rhodesia was a great shock to the whites who had for long entertained the erroneous idea that the Shonas and the Ndebeles were implacable enemies consumed by the mutual desire to eliminate each other at any price, and would never be found on one side in a Confrontation against the Whites. They regarded themselves as the protectors of the Shonas and readily and complacently assumed that, in any confrontation with the Ndebeles, the Shonas would be their active and enthusiastic allies. They had wrongly defined and exaggerated the petty tribal skirmishes that used to take place between the tribes and among the clans within both the Shonas and the Ndebeles. To the African people themselves these were minor domestic fights with little, if any, significance. These wrong assumptions had disastrous consequences.

The force of nationalism, which was the driving power behind the resistance wars of 1893 and 1896-97, is the same driving force behind the leaders of the African National Council and their followers. It is the same driving force behind the war raging on our borders. Africans in Rhodesia want to rule themselves in the same manner that other people rule themselves all over the world.

And yet African Nationalism, as the leaders have often stated, does not exclude whites, many of whom are natives of the country and who were born and bred here, having no other home but Rhodesia. It accepts the whites as part and parcel of a non-racial nation in which the skin colour of a person has no more significance than the accident that it is. This is the view and attitude of even the most rabid African nationalist, which is a happy augury for the future Zimbabwe.

1 The author defines ‘nationalism’ shortly as ‘self`-identity and self-assertion by a people living within a defined territorial framework, combined with their desire for self-rule as a group’.