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Rhodesia Speaks: What Life Was Really Like Under White Rule

About 100 years ago, Cecil Rhodes under the auspices of the British Crown, effectively took over the area of Africa which is today Zimbabwe, naming the new country - you guessed it! - "Rhodesia". Although there were over 25,000 European settlers in the country by 1915, and about 300,000 today, the Europeans have always been a minority, forming less than 5% of the current population. Nevertheless, until the black Africans took power back in 1980, the government was one "for, by and of" the white people. For most of that time only whites could vote. Schooling past elementary school was free for whites, but not for blacks. Africans were excluded from owning the prime farming land and prohibited from learning skilled trades and professions or settling in white areas (such as town or cities) - leaving them dependent on white landowners and commercial bosses.

The excerpts below illustrate what life was like for Africans under white rule.

From "The Lift" by Charles Mungoshi
Charles Mungoshi wrote about modern life in the 1960's and 70's. While his story "The Lift", simply reflects the lives of two young friends in the city, and is "political" only in that it is realistic and accurate, it was banned before Zimbabwe's Independence by the white President.

When they were tired of going round the factories and shops in search of jobs, the boys went to the tall buildings at the heart of the city for their daily ride in the lifts. It was the only fun they had and it made them forget a little their burning bellies and tired feet.

There were lots of clouds flung about the sky like cotton balls in a filed. It was rather chilly and the boys felt sharply the pleasant warmth of the sun when it came out of the clouds, and both of them unconsciously looked up irritably when it darted behind another cloud.

At present, their minds, usually the colour of the changing streets and just as desolate, were fixed on the ride in the lifts.

Pearl Assurance Building, one of the tallest buildings in the city, had a guard at the wide entrance.

"Can I help you?" the guard asked.
"We would like to go up"
"What for?"

The boys looked at each other and hazarded an answer.
"We are doing correspondence courses"

The guard looked at them suspiciously and then dismissed them with a flick of the hand.
"You are not allowed up there."

The boys looked at the guard as if they had not heard him. Then their eyes turned to gaze at the wall above the lift where numbers went on and off in amber to show the lift coming down.

"There has been much stealing up there lately." the guard said.
"We are not thieves"

The guard's eyes swept over their heads and he dismissed them from his attention.

"Go away, boys."
The boys turned to go. They passed two European boys of their own age. Looking back, the boys saw the guard take off his cap to the Europeans who did not answer him and quickly entered the lift and disappeared.

From "Songs to an African Sunset" by Sekai Nzenza-Shand
Sekai Nzenza Shand was born in Zimbabwe, but was educated in England and Australia. Her book Songs to an African Sunset describes her return to her family's village in the early 1990's. In this section, the village drummer and handyman, Christmas, (who got his name because he was born "on some long forgotten Christmas day") talks about his experiences on the white man's farm.

"Within a month after you get contracted, you are able to follow the routine. Weeding or picking tobacco leaves started at 5:30 a.m. and continued until five in the evening. Women had two hours off to prepare and eat lunch, while men had an hour off for eating. The good thing about the farm was that food rations were available. Once a week we were given pieces of meat and bags of maize meal, and farm vegetables were given out twice a week. The pay was very low but we were never without food. Almost every night you could get something to drink. And there were many divorced or single women available as long as you could pay them. Once you got used to this life of hard work, alcohol and women, you could easily forget about home... The school on the farm did not cater for secondary education. And whenever their parents needed help, the children spent their time working rather than in the classroom. When they grew up, many of them stayed on the farm - it was all they knew and they had no education to do anything else... Life on the white man's farm demands more than just physical strength from people. You may become strong in all kinds of ways, but at the end of many years of hard work you come home with nothing."

From "Mukiwa - a white boy in Africa" by Peter Godwin
Mukiwa is Peter Godwin's memoir about growing up white in Africa - the son of a country doctor and an engineer. It depicts pre-Independence Zimbabwe as seen through the eyes of a child and a young adult.

My days were filled with dogs and servants. There was, of course, Knighty the cook boy, (we called African men ’boys’, however old they might be) and my nanny, Violet, who became his second, junior, wife. And there was the garden boy, Albert, who came from Mozambique. I don't know any of their surnames. In those days Africans didn't have surnames to us. We knew them just by their Christian names, which were often fairly strange.

Older Africans, whose parents couldn't speak English, tended to have an arbitrary English word as a name. They believed that having a name in the white man's language would attract the white man's power. So they were called by any English word their parents had chanced across: words like Tickie, or Sixpence, Cigarette or Matches were commonly used as names. The next generation of Africans, who were the target of Christian missionaries, tended to have Old Testament names; Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Isaiah and Zephaniah. Baby girls were often called after the emotion felt by the mother at birth - Joy, Happiness, Delight. But, as far as I know, there were no girls called Disappointment, Pain or Exhaustion. Finally, Africans began taking ordinary names popular with European settlers. Usually they would retain an African name as well, which only they knew, but after the civil war, it became fashionable to revert to their African names. Names were often corrupted by semi-literate District Assistants at the Department of Native Affairs, where births were supposed to be registered. My mother had a medical orderly called Cloud, who should have been Claude but for the slip of a clerk's pen. And on Violet's documents she was called 'Vylit'...


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