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African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1923-80

African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1923-80

Timothy Stapleton
Volume: 50
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 330
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  • Book Info
    African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1923-80
    Book Description:

    Making use of archival documents, period newspapers, and oral interviews, ‘African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1923-80’ examines the ambiguous experience of black security personnel, police, and soldiers in white-ruled Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from 1923 through independence and majority rule in 1980. Across the continent, European colonial rule could not have been maintained without African participation in the police and army. In Southern Rhodesia, lack of white manpower meant that despite fear of mutiny, blacks played an increasingly prominent role in law enforcement and military operations and from World War II constituted a strong majority within the regular security forces. Despite danger, Africans volunteered for the police and army during colonial rule for a variety of reasons, including the prestige of wearing a uniform, the possibility of excitement, family traditions, material considerations, and patriotism. As black police and soldiers were called upon to perform more specialized tasks, they acquired greater education and some - particularly African police - became part of the emerging westernized African middle class. After retirement, career African police and soldiers often continued to work in the security field, some becoming prominent entrepreneurs or commercial farmers, and generally composed a conservative, loyalist element in African society that the government eventually mobilized to counter the growth of African nationalism. Tim Stapleton here mines rich archival sources to clarify the complicated dynamic and legacy of black military personal who served during colonial rule in present-day Zimbabwe. Timothy Stapleton is Professor of history at Trent University in Ontario.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-733-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  6. Place Names of Zimbabwe
    (pp. x-xi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    It is well known that European colonial conquest and rule in Africa, generally from the 1890s to 1960s, could not have taken place without the active cooperation and participation of Africans as security force personnel. When most African countries were becoming independent in the 1960s, African nationalist historians portrayed the African response to colonial subjugation in terms of either heroic resistance or traitorous collaboration. Although more recent historians would usually reject this as over simplification, these views persist in broader African society, which makes the study of African colonial police or military service a potentially delicate topic. This is even...

  8. 1 Recruiting and Motivations for Enlistment
    (pp. 16-44)

    In Southern Rhodesia, settler fear of African rebellion meant that the colonial state consistently avoided conscripting Africans for the police and army, and relied on voluntary recruitment. Many historians have asked why Africans would choose to join a colonial security force, the primary purpose of which was to enforce the subjugation and exploitation of their own people. The obvious answer would seem to focus on material gain, as African police and soldiers were paid for their work, received food and shelter for themselves and their families, and often acquired benefits like pensions and good jobs after their terms of service....

  9. 2 Perceptions of African Security Force Members
    (pp. 45-68)

    Since Zimbabwean independence in 1980, opposing views of African police and soldiers during the colonial era have emerged that are usually influenced by the memory of the independence war of the 1970s. Those who continue to celebrate white Rhodesia tend to see African security force members as loyal and noble, yet slightly primitive, agents of progress and defenders of Western civilization in Africa. Former RAR commanding officer W. A. Godwin wrote that “every soldier in the army was a volunteer and it had always been so. This could hardly be said of those who followed Mugabe and Nkomo. … Throughout this...

  10. 3 Education and Upward Mobility
    (pp. 69-87)

    “I worked for the BSAP and sent my children to school so they could have a better tomorrow.” This is what Aniko Midzi of Bindura, a member of the BSAP during the 1970s independence war whose father had also been a policeman, told an interviewer some twenty years after independence. Midzi was obviously proud that five of his six children had completed “O levels” (secondary school) and the youngest was still in school.¹ As will be seen, acquiring Western-style education became an important theme in African security force service in colonial Southern Rhodesia.

    The introduction of Western education, mostly through...

  11. 4 Camp Life
    (pp. 88-138)

    Asked why African police lived in their own camps, former BSAP member Phillip Mhike responded that “the first reason for this was so we did not have to mix with other Africans,” and the second reason was that “when you have vicious dogs you keep them locked away.”¹ African police and soldiers, and often their immediate families, usually lived in settlements that were physically separate from the broader African community of Southern Rhodesia. Physical separation allowed white authorities to enforce rules strictly among black security force personnel, and to have near constant access to them in case of emergency, and...

  12. 5 African Women and the Security Forces
    (pp. 139-149)

    For most of the colonial period, African police and soldiers were exclusively male. The BSAP enlisted European female police during World War II to replace European male personnel who had transferred to the army for service overseas. African women first entered the BSAP in the mid-1960s and were not permitted in the military until after independence in 1980. Of course, African women still had strong and long-term connections to these organizations as the mothers, aunts, wives, daughters, nieces, and girlfriends of male police and soldiers. Many women lived in police and army camps for years, even decades, yet they left...

  13. 6 Objections and Reforms
    (pp. 150-183)

    African police and soldiers upheld colonialism, yet they also experienced the racial discrimination characteristic of that system, both inside and outside the security forces. The colonial police and army were racially hierarchical and segregated organizations, with Europeans at the top and Africans at the bottom. Africans had limitations on advancement, special rules that applied only to them, and inferior conditions of service, such as unequal pay and accommodations. Since African police and soldiers were obviously invested in the colonial state and governed by strict codes of conduct, it is hard to imagine that they protested grievances and demanded reforms. Colonial...

  14. 7 Travel and Danger
    (pp. 184-211)

    Besides the obvious association with the colonial state, two factors made police and military service different from most paid jobs in Southern Rhodesia: the opportunity to travel far from home and the strong possibility of facing deadly violence. African police were posted and transferred to various places around the colony, and occasionally they would visit neighboring territories. Law enforcement also meant that policemen sometimes had to confront violent criminals and eventually angry protestors. Military service potentially involved overseas travel to exotic destinations. It was also likely to entail combat, as the RAR saw fighting in every decade of its history,...

  15. 8 Demobilization and Veterans
    (pp. 212-234)

    One of the greatest impacts that the police and army had on African society was through the integration of former members—veterans—into civilian life. The fate of African veterans of armed conflict, such as World War II, became an important issue widely debated by the European and African public. African former police and soldiers seemed most interested in continuing their employment with other elements of the colonial state or in private security. As previously mentioned, a major motivation for security force service was the pension that followed retirement, as well as the potential for a better second career. Although...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 235-240)

    African security force personnel were a fairly prominent group within colonial Southern Rhodesia. While their role in building what are now the national institutions of contemporary Zimbabwe might usually be seen as restricted to law enforcement and defense, colonial African police and soldiers also contributed to the development of print journalism, professional sports, education, religion, entertainment, business, and other fields. Their classification as colonial collaborators or “sell-outs” during the African nationalist struggle of the 1960s and 1970s, however, means that they have been largely ignored by historians and generally forgotten.

    In the early twentieth century slightly more than half of...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 241-288)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 289-296)
  19. Index
    (pp. 297-313)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 314-317)