A mantle of racial prejudice and oppression

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A CONSTITUTION is the foundation of Government and Law in a state. 

It outlines the Oath of Loyalty; it establishes the judicature and sets out the Declaration of Rights and provides for the Public Seal of a sovereign state for the benefit of the people and progress of a nation.

The Rhodesian Constitution stood as a mantle of racial prejudice and oppression.  

In scope, the Rhodesians had a complete monopoly of resources and control over the socio-economic status and land tenure restrictions imposed on the African. 

Following the occupation of Mashonaland in 1890, a proclamation was issued in April 1891 by Sir Henry Lock, the High Commissioner, declaring the whole field of the British South Africa Company’s (BSACs), operations as a British sphere of influence in which the ‘Crown’ – i.e. British monarchy, in terms of the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, was able to legislate (pass laws), through Orders-in-Council.

An Order of May 9 1891 provided that the High Commissioner acting under the instruction of the Secretary of State could make a proclamation for the administration of justice, the raising of revenue and the maintenance of peace.

Archibald Colquhoun was officially known as the Acting Resident Commissioner, while Leander Starr Jameson was later acknowledged as Chief Magistrate.

In 1894, with the approval of the British Secretary of State, an Executive Council was set up, consisting of an Administrator, High Court Judge (ex-officio), and three members appointed by the BSAC and approved by the Secretary of State.  

There were no indigenous African people represented or acknowledged in this Constitution.

In 1898, an Order-in-Council changed the constitution.  

This set up an Executive Council which consisted of a Resident Commissioner (with no vote) and four members nominated by the BSAC and a Legislative Council, which had four elected members and five members nominated by the BSAC.  

The Administrator resided over both councils. 

In 1902, the numbers of the Legislative Council were increased to 14 with seven elected and seven nominated members.  

In 1908 the number of nominated members was reduced to five, giving the elected members a majority and by 1920, there were 13 elected members on the Legislative Council.

In 1923, by letters patent, Southern Rhodesia became a British colony and on October 1, a new constitution came into effect.  This provided for a Governor, representing the British sovereign and a Legislative Assembly of 30 elected members and the possible proviso for a future Upper Chambers.

Under this constitution, the Rhodesian Government had control over internal affairs except where changes in the constitution were to be made or laws of a discriminatory nature were concerned.  

These had to be approved by the British Government.  

Matters dealing with external affairs were also controlled by the British Government. 

Conclusively again, the indigenous peoples were further omitted in the running of affairs or administration of their motherland. 

In 1928 voting rights were amended to restrict the right to vote to British subjects.  

This right was extended in 1937 to non-British white subjects, who had fought for Britain in times of war.

However, this right was not extended to the 2 507 black soldiers, who had been conscripted to serve in the Rhodesian Native Rifle (RNR) – later the Rhodesian African Rifle (RAR). 

The initial 450-strong 1st Battalion of the RNR was formed on May 1 1916, and fought on behalf of Britain in East Africa and Portuguese East Africa from 1916 to 1918 during the First World War.  

Many indigenous people lost their lives on operational service during the war, with many more seriously wounded.

In 1941 the right to vote was taken away from conscientious objectors.

In 1949, the Governor’s right to dissent from a decision of the Executive Council was abolished unless the decision constituted a breach of the constitution.

Several important changes were made to the constitution in 1951.  

Until 1937, Dutch was an official language, but in 1951 English became the only official language; the qualification of voters was increased for the first time since 1912 and provision was made that at least 14 members of the Legislative Assembly should come from country districts.

In 1953 Southern Rhodesia became part of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and under the constitution, transferred a number of its powers to the Federal Government.  

For the ensuing 10 years, many important affairs of state including control of the armed forces, external affairs, European broadcasting, finance and the development of communications, power and industry were in the hands of the Federal Government.

In 1961, following a referendum, a new constitution was granted by the British Government, which purported to give independence to Rhodesia in all matters, other than those affecting the Sovereign and the Governor and the handing of external affairs.

This constitution contained three innovations: A Lower Roll, which brought Africans into the Legislative Assembly for the first time; a Declaration of Rights and a Constitutional Council.  The Constitutional Council was composed of 11 members drawn from all races, whose main function was to advise the Rhodesian Government whether or not the Bills were in accordance with the Declaration of Rights.

In the preamble to this Constitution the British Government accepted that it was an established convention that the British Parliament would not legislate for Rhodesia except with the agreement of the Rhodesian Government.  

When the constitution was granted, however, two clauses were inserted, which had not been mentioned at the Constitutional Conference and which were not included in the draft proposals on which the referendum was held.

These clauses retained new and significant powers to the British Sovereign; i.e.: the right of the Sovereign to add to, or revoke, important sections of the Constitution by means of an Order-in-Council and the right to appeal to the British Privy Council on any dispute involving the Declaration of Rights.  

This gave the Privy Council power to declare an Act of the Rhodesian Parliament invalid, even though it had no connection with the Sovereign, Governor or external affairs.

In 1962, the Rhodesian Front (RF), came into power and endeavoured to ne-

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gotiate ‘true Independence’ for Rhodesia under the 1961 constitution.  

When in 1965 it became clear to the Rhodesian Government that the British Government had no intention of granting independence to Rhodesia, the former made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI).

The 1961 Constitution was then amended to remove the powers retained by the British Sovereign and Government and to establish Rhodesia as a fully independent state.  

In 1970, following a further referendum, Rhodesia became a republic under the 1969 Constitution.

On November 17 1969, the then Parliament of Rhodesia passed the Constitution of Rhodesia 1969 Bill, by which Rhodesia became a Republic on March 2 1970.  

This new Constitution provided, inter alia, for a Legislature consisting of the President as Head of State, the Senate and the House of Assembly.  

It also provided for an Executive Council to advise the President.

The following is a preamble to this Constitution:

“The Constitution is the foundation of Government and Law in Rhodesia, it outlines the Oath of Loyalty, it lays down that English shall be the only official language, it established the Judicature and sets out the Declaration of Rights and provides for the Public Seal of Rhodesia.

The Constitution may be amended only by means of a Constitutional Bill and because of its fundamental importance to Rhodesia, such a Bill may only be passed according to a special procedure requiring a greater majority than is necessary for an Ordinary Bill.

The Constitution also recognises the great importance of certain provisions of the Electoral Law and the law relating to Land Tenure, and lays down that these provisions also may be amended only by the Special Procedure applicable to a Constitutional Bill.”

It can be seen by the foregoing that the Rhodesian Constitutions repeatedly proffered and buffeted firstly the interests of British sovereignty and secondly, the interests of the amalgamation of white nationals, who referred to themselves as ‘Rhodesians’; be they Afrikaner Boers, English, Irish, Scottish, Polish, etc., they were Rhodesians; their loyalty was to the Queen and Rhodesian Front.

Independent African nations today, from Cape to Cairo; from north to south, east to west, persist to draft their constitutions in the language of their erstwhile oppressors; be they English, French, German or Portuguese, etc., and continue to protect their interests at the expense of their indigene nationals.

Africans were excluded from any constitutional negotiations, advancement or protection. 

They were not considered as citizens of the country; but treated as a sub-human species, seen primarily as cheap labour, not unlike Western slavery.

Given the current disquisition on the constitution, it stands to reason that constitutional reform, which needs to be revisited for the benefit of the indigenous Africans in the mother tongue, may stir itself.  

Dr Tony M. Monda, (PhD, DBA, DVM) writes in his capacity as a post-colonial scholar.

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