First Chimurenga: The aftermath

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THE defeat of the Africans in the First Chimurenga meant a consolidation of colonial rule in Zimbabwe, and after 1896 no further uprisings happened till the 1950s. Africans were defeated in the First Chimurenga because the whites had better weapons compared to their traditional bows and arrows. The Africans’ failure in the First Chimurenga forced them to submit themselves to the BSA Company administration. It brought about significant changes to their lives. Defeat meant continuation of the hut tax, effected in 1894, and forced labour on farms, forests and mines among other practices. The loss of their land meant the complete loss of their livelihood and identity. A new phenomenon called ‘African reservation areas’ was created where the blacks were moved from land identified and set aside for white settlement. Creation of these reserves in Mashonaland and Matabeleland respectively meant life was to continue in the dry and impoverished areas. The Ndebele lost not less than 8 890 000 acres of land in the 1893 war. The Ndebele were settled in Gwaai and Shangani reserves, an area they had previously regarded as burial places. In Mashonaland, Africans lost their prime land in Beatrice, Mazowe and Harare to settle in native reserves in Mhondoro, Murehwa and Seke, among other places. Spirit mediums Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi and Mlimo lost their lives as the settlers made an effort to silence the blacks forever. Before the 1896 uprisings, the white settlers had believed that the Africans in Zimbabwe had no religion, no coherent ability to act and no significant capacity to resist pressures of the new colonial society. The reserves were areas that the British South Africa Company created to alienate the locals and award arable land to the members of the Pioneer Column who had helped in the occupation of Zimbabwe. In Matabeleland, land was given to volunteers who took part in the war of dispossession. Life in the reserves was difficult especially in Bulawayo. A native commissioner, Hermans, for the then Wankie district, noted: “The whole area (Gwaai and Shangani) is practically waterless waste except during the rainy season when isolated temporary pools are formed which, however, rapidly evaporate.” Having lost their ancestral land, hut tax of 10 shillings was to be paid, a development meant to force the Africans to seek employment in the farms, forests and mines. The native commissioner had the power to seize any valuable assets like cattle or goats as tax. Some of the native commissioners ill-treated Africans and commonly raped the women. Between 1890 and 1923, the BSA Company was responsible for administering the colony on behalf of the British government in terms of a Royal Charter granted to Cecil Rhodes by Queen Victoria. The charter empowered the company to make laws, preserve peace, maintain a police force and provide infrastructure for the colony at the company’s expense. In 1899, a legislative council was created with elected seats, through which the BSAC ruled. The electorate was exclusively white, and the proportion of elected seats increased steadily over time. Prior to 1918, the opinion among the electorate supported continued BSAC rule, but opinion changed because of the development of the country and the increasing number of white immigrants. In addition, a decision in the British courts that land not privately owned belonged to the British Crown not the BSAC gave great impetus to the campaign for selfgovernment later in 1923. Mashonaland was divided into 10 administrative districts — Salisbury, Hartley, Lomagundi, Mazoe, Umtali, Makoni, Melsetter, Fort Victoria, Abercon and Charter districts. The end of company administration came on September 13, 1923 after a referendum in October 1922. After being relieved of its political obligations, the company continued to manage a wide range of agricultural, mining and commercial interests in both Southern and Northern Rhodesia until it amalgamated with the Anglo-American Corporation in 1965. To date, many of these companies still operate in the region and the world.

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