Fertility Running Wild: Elite
Perceptions of the Need for Birth
Control in White-Ruled Rhodesia 1
In this chapter, I question some assumptions about women, men, race, families and human nature which bolster theory building in relation to family planning. My subject is discourse about black fertility and overpopulation in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in the 1960s and 1970s, a setting where a small wealthy white electorate coexisted uneasily with an impoverished, disenfranchized and increasingly restive black majority, whom they had ruled and attempted to manage since the advent of white colonists in the 1890s.
By the 1970s, the contradictions and tensions inherent in this political and economic structure had produced a plethora of laws and socioeconomic conditions defining the second-class citizenship of black Africans under the government of the Rhodesian Front. 2 Within this context, concern about African reproductive behaviour was part of the intellectual apparatus of colonialism, whether framed as concerns about the labour-supply implications of a too-low birth rate (Vaughan 1989), or as concerns about the political instability of a growing African population in the century's later years. By the 1960s and 1970s, as political tensions climbed, stemming African fertility became a national white obsession because of the threat it was thought to pose to white political security and the challenge it posed to the benevolent white stewardship of a ‘backward’ African population. By examining the way whites talked about African fertility, I show how the creation of knowledge about population in Rhodesia was conditioned by a specific set of political concerns.
Since 1957, the promotion of family planning to Africans had been