By Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu
THE period between October 1 1923 when the new ‘internal self-Government’ Constitution was introduced and September 12 1953 when Southern Rhodesia became a component of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, was characterised by the political consolidation by the minority white settlers, and an expansion of Western European investment in a variety of economic sectors.
Charles Coghlan, who was the country’s first white Prime Minister, was knighted just at about that time and was thus referred to as ‘Sir’ Charles Coghlan and no longer as ‘Mister’.
The 1923 Constitution, also generally called ‘The Letters Patent’ provided for 15 electoral districts, a House of Assembly of 30 members, a governor representing the British Crown and a provision for a second parliamentary chamber.
The colony’s Government was headed by a Prime Minister under whom was a six-member Cabinet.
Voting was open to any British subjects whose minimum annual earnings were £200 (sterling).
We should emphasise there was hardly any black person on the voters’ roll.
It was all-white, and would remain so for the foreseeable future.
Incidentally, the colony’s Parliament controlled every national affair except mining royalties and laws affecting black people.
A part of the Constitution of that referred to this sensitive racial aspect stated: “Legislation whereby natives may be subjected to disabilities to which persons of European descent are not also subjected require the assent of the Secretary of State before it can become law.”
It is, however, a historical fact that racially discriminatory laws were enacted in spite of the existence of this constitutional provision.
The Land Apportionment Act of 1931, and the Industrial Conciliation Act of 1934, were glaring examples of such laws.
Generally discriminatory legislation prohibiting people of colour from using public amenities such as municipal swimming pools, tennis courts and even cafes, restaurants, churches and hotels was passed and openly applied all over Southern Rhodesia.
Shortly after getting into office on the basis of the Letters Patent, Sir Coghlan’s administration announced that general elections would be held shortly.
His political organisation, Responsible Government Party (RGP), was undoubtedly the most popular among the white settlers.
It was challenged by a few independents some of whom had lost to it in the referendum.
Four of those independents were returned, but Sir Coghlan’s RGP won an overwhelming 26 seats.
A smaller workers’ party, the Rhodesia Labour Party (RLP), got nothing.
Sir Coghlan’s political support seemed to be among the colony’s farmers, a characteristic that was electorally repeated in 1962 when the right wing Rhodesia Front (RF) led by a Marondera (Marandellas) tobacco farmer, Winston Joseph Field, beat Sir Edgar Whitehead’s United Federal Party (UFP) hands down, an example of history repeating itself.
Sir Coghlan died in 1926, the year the settler-administration had established a huge cotton producing project and a ginnery in Gatooma (Kadoma).
It was sponsored by the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation (ECGC).
The project employed a large number of black workers, resulting in the first black-led trade union movement, the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICWU), led by Sergeant Masotsha Ndlovu and based in Bulawayo, sending a resident representative to recruit membership among those workers in 1928.
Following the death of Sir Coghlan, reins of power were taken over by Howard Unwin Moffat, a grandson of the Reverend Robert Moffat, and a ‘Matabele’, since he was born and grew up at Inyati Mission.
He was an honest and highly ethical person and had headed the Ministry of Mines in Sir Coghlan’s administration.
However, he lacked leadership acumen and was replaced by George Mitchel, the Deputy Prime Minister in 1933.
It is a matter of conjecture whether or not the crafting and passing of the Land Apportionment Act (1931) was one of the causes of Moffat’s resignation from his top Government position.
He did have strong reservations about racially discriminatory aspects of that anti-African law.
But most of his Cabinet supported it, saying it was the country’s Magna Carta as it embodied the socio-economic and cultural beliefs and dreams of the vast majority of the electorate who were the white farmers.
It is interesting to compare how Moffat, a man who was born and bred in a deeply Christian family and grew up literally in an African community, and the Rev Garfield Todd, a Christian missionary and Prime Minister were ‘forced’ by their colleagues to resign from political parties herding colonial regimes — Moffat in 1933 and Todd in 1958, that is, some 25 years later.
Rev Todd’s undoing was his acceleration of the educational enlightenment of the black people and Moffat’s, his suspected reservations about an anti-African law.
While Sir Coghlan’s political party was busy replacing its top leader, the four independents seized that opportunity to fish in troubled waters.
They joined hands with disgruntled former RGP (by then called Rhodesia Party – RP) and formed the Reform Party (RP) led by a private medical practitioner, Dr Huggins.
The doctor had formerly supported Sir Coghlan’s party but had resigned from it in 1931 by which time it had changed its name from the Responsible Government Party (RGP) to Rhodesia Party (RP).
General elections were held in 1933 and Dr Huggins’ Reform Party narrowly won, beating the Rhodesia and the Labour parties.
However, a new law offering large sums of subsidies and loans to the Rhodesia Railways, among other financially struggling enterprises, generated much inter and intra-party hostility and criticism.
Dr Huggins decided to dissolve the Rhodesia Party and, with those who agreed with him, re-joined the Rhodesia Party.
He almost immediately thereafter dismantled the Rhodesia Party and formed a new one, the United Party.
That political upheaval led to yet another general election, that time in November 1934.
Dr Huggins’s United Party romped to victory, getting 24 out of 30 seats.
He became the Southern Rhodesia Prime Minister from then till September 1953 when he won the premiership of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
Meanwhile, during all this period, very little political activity took place in the African community.
The exception was Masotsha Ndlovu’s ICWU that tried to sensitise African workers in the urban areas to claim their legitimate rights concerning increment of their wages, improvement of their accommodation and other normal workers’ privileges and rights such as protective working clothing.
Those organisations did not take the white settler-regime head – on for obvious reasons — the heartless punishment meted out to the patriots arrested during and after the 1896-97 uprisings, and also to those suspected or known to have secretly or publicly supported them were still fresh in people’s minds.
Saul Gwakuba Ndlovu is a retired, Bulawayo – based journalist. He can be contacted on cell 0734 328 136 or through email. email@example.com