BSAC interests initially lay in mining

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AT the beginning, the land was of no interest to Rhodes and the British South Africa Company (BSAC).
Their interest was wholly in mining; while Rhodes had grander ideas, and personally pursued the project of creating ‘Rhodesia’ for a wider geo-political drive pertaining to the general partition of Africa that took place in the second half of the 19th Century; Rhodes’ Cape-to-Cairo fantasy.
The Lippert Concession (1889) that preceded the physical occupation of Zimbabwe in 1890 allowed would-be settlers to acquire land rights from the indigenous people.
The act resulted in the BSAC buying concessions from the British Monarch, (who had never set foot in the country). These concessions were subsequently used as a basis of land expropriation.
The revenue accrued from the sale of land was repatriated to the United Kingdom while the indigenous peoples, the owners of the land, received nothing from the sale of their land.
Christian religious groups played an influential role in each of the British colonies, where most attempted to enforce strict religious observance.
In North Africa Christianity was introduced as early as the First Century AD., but it was only in the late 19th Century, when colonialism was advancing, that Christianity seriously increased its presence on the African continent.
In Southern Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe), the first Christian mission stations were opened in 1859 at Inyati, near Bulawayo, and in 1870, at Hope Fountain, Bulawayo.
Both were operated by the London Missionary Society and led by Reverend Robert Moffat.
In 1879, Henry Depelchin, established a forward station of the Zambezi Mission run by the Society of Jesus in Bulawayo. It marked the beginnings of the modern Church in Zimbabwe.
However, it was as early as 1560, when the Jesuit priest, Goncalo de Silveria, reached Munhumutapa’s capital that the first attempt to establish a foreign religion (the Catholic Church), in the territory (Zimbabwe), was made.
Dominicans worked among traders in north-east Zimbabwe during the 17th Century, but when the Portuguese were driven from the country by the Changamire in 1693, their work and presence came to an end.
In 1890, the Jesuits returned with the occupying forces and established Chishawasha Mission near Harare and Driefontein Mission near Masvingo.
Father Hartmann accompanied the Pioneer Column as chaplain while Father Prestage accompanied the Dominican nuns who came with the Column as nurses.
The work in nursing and education undertaken by the Dominicans was an essential part of the early expansion of the Church.
Africa fascinated the early European missionaries who came from individualistic cultures and did not differentiate between their faith and their own culture.
African religions were treated as an evil which had to be encountered and overcome, believing that to become a Christian, people had to be removed from their indigenous cultures and beliefs.
Western missionaries believed that traditional religious beliefs and practices were inferior, and traditional customs had to be done away with before the acceptance of Christianity.
This did not happen without resistance or problems that resulted in a form of schizophrenia by having to disclaim their indigenous culture and converting to Christianity. Although most colonisers considered themselves Christians, this did not mean that they lived in a culture of religious unity.
Instead, differing Christian groups often believed that their own practices and faiths provided unique values that needed protection against those who disagreed, driving a need for rule and regulation.
The invasion by the missionaries during colonisation was also considerable in terms of cultural and political domination of the indigenous Zimbabwean people.
While the missionaries’ task was ostensibly to make what they derogatorily called the (savage) people accept the Bible and its teachings, Christianity was turned into a political ideology used to persuade people not to resist white domination by the missionaries.
Religion was a means to legitimise, sustain and even promote political tyranny and oppression, as well as in other instances, for reasons of political ‘liberation’ of the people; such as when the missionary priest approached the condemned Sekuru Kaguvi with a Bible and the word of a Christian God.
The priest attempted to assert his superiority and convince Kaguvi to accept his Christian God for his eternal salvation, claiming: “Your god is an evil god… I am here to save you from the eternal flames…”
Though Christian missionaries are often depicted as having more concern for the indigenous people than the colonisers, their role during the colonial era nevertheless, embraced the control of the people and the taking of land.
Christian Churches and religious institutions also acquired vast land holdings before and during the colonial era, adding a complex dimension to the land question.
The various Church denominations benefitted greatly from the colonial inequalities; with the promotion of Christianity going a long way towards undermining African traditional cultures and beliefs.
In fact, Christian religious groups played an influential role throughout the British colonies, regardless of the claims that the missionaries regarded themselves as opposed to the colonial ideology.
They were part and parcel of the colonial structure and brought with them their religions, beliefs and practices which were alien to the conquered indigenous people.
Colonial governments and religious Christian institutions controlled the land and challenged the local indigenous economic and cultural traditions which were centred on the non-ownership, control and production from such land.
Some indigenous African chiefs and ethnic groups who supported the dominant colonial superstructure, and those who readily accepted Christianity, also benefitted from generous land grants during the colonial period while the majority of indigenous Africans were forced into the ubiquitous overcrowded reserves.
The strategy of ‘separate development’ was the noble ideal for: “…the natives of a territory be allowed space and resource to develop separate from whites, and under the direct tutelage of Her Majesty, and protected from the parallel development of the modern, industrial and agricultural infrastructure underway at the hands of white settlers….(sic)”
The situation was further compounded by commercial conflicts between the white settlers and the indigenous Africans.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail: HYPERLINK “mailto:linamanucci@gmail.com”linamanucci@gmail.com

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