Draconian colonial Acts impoverish Africans


UNREST and discontent had been mounting for some time among indigenous people living in the overcrowded rural areas, mainly due to the disruptive impact of the Land Husbandry Act of 1951.
The Land Husbandry Act was ostensibly designed to enforce private ownership of land and improve the rural economy in the ‘reserves’ experiencing the weight of a growing population within restricted areas, which provisions violated traditional practices.
Rather than expanding the size of the reserves, the Land Husbandry Act limited cattle grazing in specified areas and provided for the de-stocking of the prized African cattle herds.
This resulted in the depletion of highly valued herds, reduction of the land under cultivation, and the forced uprooting of families and entire villages.
Under the Act, administrators also had the power to dictate patterns of cultivation and crop growing, as well as determine dwelling sites on farm land; whilst it prohibited cultivating or grazing without a permit and imposed compulsory labour on unemployed rural Africans.
An economic recession in 1957-1958, rising unemployment, inadequate ‘township’ (urban) housing and a general discontent with socio-economic conditions was growing among urban Africans contributing to feelings of dispossession which provided ready-made issues for the growing nationalist organisations.
Early in 1959, a climate of fear had been generated among the white population as a result of violence in the Congo and disturbances in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia); consequently, a security crackdown was imposed in Southern Rhodesia through a ‘State of Emergency’.
Though the restrictions were principally a pre-emptive strike against further nationalist organising and potential African unrest, the emergency proved counter-productive.
It destroyed any possible prospects for genuine racial co-operation, made heroes out of the detainees and alienated moderate Africans from the Government; indigenous opposition became more militant and forceful.
In order for the Rhodesian authorities to ease the ‘atmosphere of crisis’ created by the State of Emergency and simultaneously retain its sweeping powers for future protection, the regime sought to regularise the extraordinary measures by incorporating them in statute law.
Once institutionalised, the official state of emergency ended, until the enactment of the Unlawful Organisations Act (UOA) in 1959.
Repression of the majority by the white minority helped to engender the so-called ‘terrorism’ that came to disrupt the lives of all the citizens of the country for decades.
The UOA of 1959 outlawed some organisations and provided for the banning of additional organisations if their activities were deemed “…likely to disturb public order, prejudice the tranquility of the nation, endanger constitutional Government, or promote feelings of ill will or hostility between the races….”
The UOA also outlawed any organisation that was “…controlled by, or affiliated to, or participates in the activities, or promotes the objects, or propagates the opinions of any organisation outside the colony…”
The official banning of an organisation was “…not open to question in any court of law…,” and the burden of proving that one was not a member of a banned organisation fell on the accused.
Accordingly, attendance at a meeting or possession of books, writings, accounts, documents, banners or insignia “…relating to an unlawful organisation…were considered prima facie evidence of membership …until the contrary is proved.”
Under the Act, which provided for the complete indemnification of police and civil servants for actions connected with enforcing the measures, prosecution of such violations could be held in camera.
As a result of the UOA, 1 610 Africans were prosecuted and 1 002 unjustly convicted between 1960-1965, that included several of our leaders today.
The Preventive Detention Act (PDA) was to follow.
The act was introduced in order to continue the detention of ANC members who had been arrested and held without charge during the State of Emergency.
It authorised the detention of “…persons concerned, associated, or supporting any of the activities of any organisation which led to the present State of Emergency… and persons considered… potentially dangerous to public safety or public order….”
The Governor made the decision of whether an individual was ‘potentially dangerous’; which purview, in practice, was the duty of Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs.
A Review Tribunal was established under the Preventive Detention Act.
It was composed of a judge, a magistrate and a Native Commissioner, to review the case of each detainee annually and recommend release or continued detention.
These tribunal proceedings were held in camera; deliberations depended heavily on the evidence of the police Special Branch; and the Minister was not obliged to follow the tribunal’s recommendations. The tribunal rarely advised the release of detainees.
A general report on the emergency and detention exercise of 1959 reflected the tribunal’s total lack of objectivity, which resulted in many of our political detainees spending decades in detention.
These provisions were widely seen as window dressing to provide legitimacy to the suspension of habeas corpus without any real Judicial Review.
In 1959, the Native Affairs Amendment Act, was introduced. It prohibited “… any native from making statements or acting in a way likely to undermine the authority of, or bring into disrepute, governmental officials, chiefs or headmen….”
Under the Act meetings of twelve or more ‘natives’ without the permission of the Native Commissioner were prohibited; making the rural areas less accessible to indigenous nationalist organisations.
For the majority of indigenous people, freedom of speech was severely curtailed under the Native Affairs Amendment Act leaving a small lawful mechanism for addressing their grievances.
As a result of impatience with the pace of reforms and in opposition to increased repression, new indigenous political parties were formed.
The National Democratic Party (NDP) was established in January 1960: A rudimentary organisation with limited resources, no access to the press; and many of its leaders languishing in detention.
Its (NDP’s) goals included universal adult suffrage, higher wages, improvements in African housing and education, and abolition of the Land Apportionment Act and the Land Husbandry Act.
Given the far-reaching security restrictions passed in 1959, the party’s activities were confined within restricted limits made virtually impossible in rural areas.
However, in urban areas, the rallies attracted up to 10 000 people; with over
250 000 dues-paying members registered in their books by mid-1961.
Large-scale demonstrations and rioting broke out in the townships in July and October 1960.
In 1963, after the collapse of the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi), both ZAPU and ZANU were banned and the majority of their leaders imprisoned.
The State of Emergency imposed in the early 1950s proved a self-fulfilling prophecy.
From 1958 onwards, white settler-politics consolidated and ossified around resistance to majority rule.
The 1961 Constitution governed Southern Rhodesia, and later ‘independent’ Rhodesia, up until 1969. It used the Westminster Parliamentary System modified by a system of separate voters’ rolls with differing property and education qualifications. The system ensured whites had the majority of Assembly seats.
In 1962, under the leadership of Winston Field, the Rhodesia Front Party (RF) won the elections by 56,5 percent out-rightly rejecting an ‘accommodationist’ solution, and increased racial polarisation.
Against this background, the Government wanted to pursue independence to forestall black majority rule. Meanwhile the indigenous majority had hoped that the British Government would end white minority rule.
Prime Minister Winston Field’s Cabinet colleagues considered him too weak to give Britain an ultimatum on independence and pressured him to resign. He conceded in April 1964 and was succeeded by Ian Douglas Smith, an ardent advocate of unconditional independence for Rhodesia under minority rule.
In the general elections held in the 1965, the Rhodesian Front swept 79,3 percent of the vote (up from 56,5 percent in 1962).
Ian Smith received his mandate to pursue independence “…vigorously and if necessary, illegally and unilaterally….”
On November 11 1965, Smith and the Rhodesian Front (RF), made their unilateral declaration of independence (UDI); thus, the British colony of Southern Rhodesia became the unrecognised, illegal State of Rhodesia; marking the intensification in the fight for the land by the people.
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: linamanucci@gmail.com



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