Individual Freedoms & State Security in the African Context: The Case of Zimbabwe

By John Hatchard | Go to book overview
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2 Constitutional Development
& the State of Emergency
in Rhodesia: An Overview

Constitutional Developments up to 1961

Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia) was originally inhabited by descendants of the great southern migration which peopled most of Central and Southern Africa. A well organised Shona-speaking State developed with a tradition of self-government and independence going back to the Kingdom of Monomotapa (Munhumutapa). In about 1830 the Ndebele, an off-shoot of the Zulu nation, crossed the Limpopo River from the south and established a centralised State in the south-west. By 1888 Lobengula, the Ndebele king, claimed sovereignty over all the territory which now forms Zimbabwe.

In October 1889 Cecil Rhodes obtained a Royal Charter setting up the British South Africa Company (BSAC). This enabled the Company to exercise powers of government in its 'field of operations' i.e. immediately to the north of Bechuanaland, north and west of the Transvaal and west of Portuguese Mozambique. No northern boundary was specified. In 1890 Mashonaland was occupied by BSAC forces who founded the capital in Salisbury (now Harare) and in the following year the territory was declared a British Protectorate. In 1893 hostilities between the Company and the Ndebele led to the occupation of Matabeleland and the flight of Lobengula to the north. Attempts to capture him failed but reports of his death led the British to declare the Matabele kingdom at an end. As a result, in 1895 the entire territory was named Rhodesia. The first Chimurenga war, which took place between 1896 and 1897, was a countrywide rebellion against the occupation although there were essentially separate revolts in Matebeleland and Mashonaland. With considerable difficulty, the Company regained control of the country but the war was highly influential in the later freedom struggle.

Until 1923, the Colony of Southern Rhodesia, as it became known from 1898, was administered by the BSAC. By 1922 the settlers had obtained a majority in the Legislative Assembly over the representatives of the Company and were seeking a new constitutional structure. A referendum was then held to determine whether, on the termination of the Company's administration, the territory should be incorporated into the Union of South Africa or become a colony enjoying 'responsible government'. By a majority of 8,744 to 5,989 the latter option was chosen. It is unlikely that the number of African voters exceeded 60 (out of an estimated population of around 900,000). 1 Accordingly, under the terms of the Southern Rhodesia Constitution Letters Patent 1923, the country became a self-governing colony. Thus the overwhelming black majority found themselves governed under the loosest of imperial supervision by ministers responsible to a legislature elected by the local whites and under the day to day control of an adminstration staffed by locally recruited Europeans. As in all other colonial possessions, there were no entrenched protections of individual freedoms although Britain did retain some supervisory powers by means of the 'reserved clauses' which required imperial consent to legislation passed by the colony on


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