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What Would You Do If You Were in Charge?!?
- The Struggle for an Independent Zimbabwe

Old Rhodesia (pre Zambia), Zimbabwe

Whether you were African or European, life in Zimbabwe in the 25 years before the Africans took power in 1980 was pretty eventful. Even the British who ruled over Rhodesia from far-off England were kept on their toes. If you were African you were busy fighting for your rights and trying to stay out of jail. If you were one of the whites in power you were trying to figure out how to keep the Africans down and keep the British from interfering. Even the British, who ruled over the country from far-off England, were busy trying to keep everything from just falling apart.

Those 25 years unfolded in a series of amazing events where each of these different groups of people made decisions that affected hundreds of thousands of people. What would you have done if you were in their shoes?

Read the following "What if...?" scenarios and see what you would do if you had to decide Zimbabwe's future!

Scenario 1

Joshua Nkomo
Joshua Nkomo
The year is 1958. You're Joshua Nkomo, the head of the largest African Nationalist group in Zimbabwe (what was known at that time as Rhodesia.) You and many of your friends and followers live in substandard conditions because it is against the law to live in White areas (This includes towns and cities). You're not allowed to practice skilled trades, so you have no hope of owning land or businesses. Basically, you're at the mercy of the White establishment and you supply work for them. Plus, you're paid a meager salary- which is grossly unfair and ends up being the least amount of pay for the most amount of labor.

What do you do? Do you try to negotiate peacefully? Do you resort to violence? Do you just try to not upset the whites so they'll treat you better?

What really happened:
Many Africans knew that if they fought against the government, the whites would make their lives even worse. But the African nationalists fought back anyway, using whatever methods they could. When Nkomo saw that political means were failing, he instigated violent protests. He also let the British know that even though lots of countries in Africa were gaining their independence from European countries, he would never support Rhodesia's independence from Britain unless the Africans were given power by the whites.

Scenario 2

It's now April of 1964. You're Ian Smith, the new white Prime Minister and you head the ultra-conservative Rhodesian Front Party. You not only want to bring the Africans under control, you want to make sure they never gain power. A member of your Party recently wrote: "If the European is ousted from his pride of place, it could only be done by an intelligent race - a requirement that precludes the African."

Click image
for larger view
The cover of Ian Smith's autobiography
The African population has been protesting a lot, and they've even become violent. Meanwhile, Great Britain, which rules over you, even though they don't really get involved much, want you to let the Africans start having more control.

What do you do? Do you give the Africans a little of what they want so they'll calm down and so Great Britain will get off your back? Do you try to crush them so they can't fight back?

What really happened:
Ian Smith chose to immediately clamp down on everything the Black Nationalists were doing. He shut down the most important pro-Nationalist newspaper. He declared the two Nationalist political parties illegal. The principal Nationalist supporters were banished to remote regions of the province and jailed. Meanwhile, he started talking about declaring independence from Great Britain if they kept pushing for more rights for the Africans.

Scenario 3

It's now October, 1965, and you're Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister of Britain. A lot of people in Britain are concerned about how the Africans are being treated in Rhodesia. You've tried talking with Ian Smith about ways to start giving the Africans more rights, but he just won't listen. You've also told him very clearly that you will never grant Rhodesia independence until it shows it is on its way to letting the Africans have power of the government.

Now Smith is threatening to make a "Unilateral Declaration of Independence", (UDI) meaning he might declare Rhodesia independent whether you like it or not!

What do you do? Do you threaten to send in troops if he goes through with the UDI? Should you just not get involved and hope he never really does it?

What really happened:
Harold Wilson issued a public warning stating the consequences of a UDI action by Smith:

"In short an illegal declaration of independence in Southern Rhodesia would bring to an end relationships between her and Britain, would cut Rhodesia off from the rest of the Commonwealth, from most foreign Governments and international organizations, would inflict disastrous economic damage upon her and would leave her isolated and virtually friendless in a largely hostile continent" (Harold Wilson)

Pretty rough, eh? But it was enough to get Smith to back down- at least for awhile. Little did Smith know, however, that Harold Wilson would never declare war on Rhodesia under any circumstances because he feared his soldiers wouldn't fight against the whites there who they might see as being like their family. He believed that a war between Britain and British Rhodesia would be catastrophic.

Scenario 4

It's now November, 1965. You're Joshua Nkomo- Ian Smith has just declared Rhodesia's independence from Great Britain. In the new Constitution that the government has written up, you and all other Africans are given even fewer rights than you had before! The government has shown its willingness to use extreme military force to crush you, you've had to spend a lot of time outside the country, and when you've been in the country, you've spent a lot of time in jail. Most of the world is going along with the economic punishment that Great Britain wants for Rhodesia, but the whites aren't really affected that much. It's more you and the Africans who are really hurt by this!

What do you do? Do you keep fighting? Do you just try to get on with your life?

What really happened:
What else could've happened? The Africans engaged in a civil war for 15 years with brutal divisions on all sides-most fatally with the blacks who often killed each other more than they did whites.

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the new Prime Minister of Great Britain and pushed hard for a new Constitution for Rhodesia that would give the Africans majority power and end the conflict. An agreement was finally reached and Rhodesia finally had its first fair general election. On March 4, 1980 Robert Mugabe, the African leader of the once illegal Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), became Prime Minister.

The country was renamed Zimbabwe, and everyone (except for the whites who ran away to South Africa!) began the business of rebuilding the country, and struggling to see how the power was going to be divided.

Now, isn't that what you would have just done from the beginning?

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