Settler Colony Culture of Violence

Boer & Xhosa

Boer & Xhosa

While the majority of Africa attained their independence by the ballot during the early 1960s, southern Africa was forced to armed struggle to gain majority representation.

Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), was a white ‘settler-colony’[1]. The Ian Smith regime sought to keep the country under white rule. They declared Rhodesia independent from the United Kingdom, who at the time, were granting self-rule to their other colonial holdings. Smith refused to allow wider ballot access, believing that the masses of people were not competent enough to vote.[2] Holding on to his principle of a ‘qualified vote’ and restricting voting access to the vast majority of the country, Ian Smith forced black Zimbabweans to radicalize, in order to obtain political equality. Political parties such as ZAPU (Zimbabwean African Peoples Union—1961) and ZANU (Zimbabwean African National Union—1963) were formed, though they were quickly banned and their leaders imprisoned.[3]

Ethnic Matebele, followers of ZAPU and Shona, followers of ZANU took up arms under militant wings of the political parties. They conducted guerilla warfare from the bush, hiding and training across the border in neighboring countries that had already obtained their independence. The widest population in the country advocated a form of socialism via armed struggle. This would bring independence by 1980, but not before all manner of atrocities committed against whites and blacks over the course of 20 years, which included plane bombings of Air Rhodesia[4] and the mass murder of Matebele ZAPU supporters by ZANU militants shortly after. The party forced a merger with opposition ZAPU (Zimbabwe African Patriotic Union) in 1987, and since, the country has been predominantly single-party.[5] It is still under the rule of ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe. The issue of equitable land reform has yet to see resolution, and ‘War Veterans’ hold the country hostage, economically[6] and through violence and intimidation.

In Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the continent, there were multiple problems which would form crises in the short and long-term. It began, foremost, with partitioned colonies containing borders which bore no reality, geographically and demographically. These new states became nations of disparate people, with multiple ethnicities competing for leverage and power after independence. This crisis of disunity in the African nations would lead to the creation of single-party rule, as an attempt to mitigate and control dissent. In the struggle for upward mobility, education was lagging in presenting Africans with leadership chances. This begets the popularization of force as a means for upward social mobility. Other parties became outlawed, and ‘opposition’ no longer had a lawful opportunity to question and change policy through political means.  In 1963, Togo became the first of many African countries to suffer the coup.

In order to change policy, it was felt necessary by dissidents to implement coups against stagnant, inept, or corrupt governments. In many cases, coups were perpetrated against governments, who did fit that case. One such instance is the removal, arrest, and murder of Patrice Lumumba of Zaire, who had no chance to govern his country before the Mobutu Sese Seko leapt at a chance (backed with covert foreign support) to replace the Prime Minister in 1961. Oftentimes, these new military junta’s were on a scale of corruption which dwarfed the purported corruption of previous regimes[7].  In many instances, the juntas were responsible for extreme violence and gross violations of human rights, including the assassination and murder of activists, such as Ken Saro-Wiwa of Nigeria in 1995.[8] They are responsible for stripping civil liberties, and creating a culture of fear and intimidation. In the post-coup state, the means of self-protection are found with the gun, as is the route to power and ‘self-improvement’.

Historian Ali Mazrui states that “the culture of violence and the absence of democracy are at the root of the multitude of crises in Africa,”[9] and this is true. In total, there have been more military coups than free and fair elections since the ballot victories of the Convention People’s Party of the Gold Coast of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. But ultimately, even in the model example of Ghana, the seeds of discord were set from the beginning. Irrational borders, and instability in managing disparate ethnic groups, led to policies which ostracized participants, such as the single-party state. This forced citizens into participation with a government that did not work in their interests, or in situations where they were excluded in decision making. Brought on by tribalism and ego, leaders were replaced, by murder or exile, only to see the cycle repeat and ratchet forward.

[1] Colonized initially by Afrikaners, and then the UK, Rhodesia was a colony that became home to many whites, whereas many other African colonies to the north and west were claimed chiefly for commerce.

[2] Frost, David. “Frost Programme – David Frost interviews Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith.”

[3] Eliakim M. Sibanda. The Zimbabwe African People’s Union 1961-87: A Political History of Insurgency in Southern Rhodesia. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2005. (print copy), ISBN 978-1-59221-276-7.

[4] “ZAPU Responds To UK MP’s Condemnation of Air Rhodesia Shooting.” Zim Eye, February 12, 2013. (accessed December 12, 2013).

[5] “Gukurahundi, Mugabe’s Cold War cover.” Zimbabwe Independent, September 20, 2013. (accessed December 12, 2013).

[6] ‘War Veterans’ have been implicated in unauthorized farm seizures, and illegal diamond exchange, circumventing Zimbabwe’s revenue attempts.  Most importantly, War Vets physically confronted Mugabe in 1997, demanding reparations and stipends, which Mugabe was forced to authorize. The payout is known as “Black Friday,” and in a single day, the expenditure crashed the Zim economy. The impact on the economy is still felt, and the War Veterans continue their demands.

[7] French, Howard W. “Anatomy of an Autocracy: Mobutu’s 32-Year Reign.” New York Times – International, May 17, 1997. (accessed December 12, 2013).

[8] “Nigerian junta charges Nobel winner, dissidents with bombings.” CNN World News, March 12, 1997. (accessed December 12, 2013).

[9] Mazrui, Ali. “”The Africans: A Triple Heritage”.” BBC, 1986.

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