African Life in Rhodesia – 1972

by Lawrence CHAZA


The idle faithfuls of the United Nations Committee on Colonialism, demagogues and rabble rousers at London’s Trafalgar Square and Speakers’ Corner and politicians from Independent African countries claim to know everything about Rhodesia. They “know” its politics, peoples, economy and social set-up.

How I wish I had their telescopic eyes. They describe Rhodesia as a Police State as if Rhodesia were the only country in the world that has an efficient regular police force.

The fact is that life goes on as usual in Rhodesia in spite of criticism. There is no doubt that Rhodesians enjoy a higher standard of living than inhabitants of “democratic, socialist or independent” African states.

To the Rhodesian African the term “Tribal Trust Land” does not denote separate development, Bantustans or Apartheid, but only recognition of the Africans’ material and sentimental attachment to the home of their people.

It is not easy to persuade the African to leave “home” even if overwhelmingly strong reasons for doing so exist.

His attachment is centred on the institution of chieftainship.

A Chief’s power is derived from the fact that he is the person whose election to the post of tribal head has the full support of his followers and of their tribal spirit or spirits. He is the traditionally recognised leader, the intermediary between people and their ancestors. He is responsible for the unity, survival and welfare of his people and maintains law and order.  In short, he is the embodiment of the tribe; its shapes, its aspirations and its fears.  The Chief, unlike the British Monarch, has a direct personal participatory role in the affairs of his tribe.

The present Government, like previous Governments, recognises the institution of chieftainship because it believes that only through it can tribally-minded Africans be launched into the 20th century without experiencing the atrocities which have accompanied its total disregard in so many of Africa’s new nations.

The charge that chieftainship has become political is absolutely naive. Politics is implicit in leadership. A Chief has to be political, as his position is one of direct involvement in issues concerning the lives and welfare of his people.


The Nyanyadzi African Irrigation Scheme.

Located upstream from the confluence of the Odzi River with the Sabi River, midway between Birchenough Bridge and Hot Springs, this long established scheme is in the heart of a large area of Tribal Trust Land; being close to the borders of the Muwushu, Mutambara, Maranke and Buhera TTLs.


The Tribal Trust Lands are the Africans’ “home sweet home”. For instance, my people live in the Wedza District where I was born. I now live and work in Salisbury. For all purposes my home is in Salisbury. The fact is, though, that I do not feel or think that way. African tradition frowns at regarding a strange and “lonely” place as home. My “home” remains in Wedza. Hence when I die (presumably in Salisbury) my people will take my body to Wedza to bury me alongside my departed old folks. When I returned from Britain, my relatives and friends in Salisbury urged me to go “home” to Wedza (home of my ancestors) to, as it were, report that I was back, and, in particular, thank the ancestral spirits who had so diligently looked after me during my stay in strange lands. As soon as I walked into the village my people started ululating and giving thanks to my departed relatives. I heard the names of my immediate grandparents mentioned.

I remained there for two weeks; and just before I left to return to Salisbury to look for work there was a big celebration. My parents slaughtered a cow and brewed beer. Beer is an important item at any African celebration involving spirits of the departed. The whole village came to eat and drink; it was all laughter and happiness. I go home often, especially at weekends, and this way, I keep in touch with my people and ancestors.


A secondary school library in Gwelo.


To round off the foregoing, African life, attitudes and beliefs are still primitive. In the Tribal Trust Lands some resistance to the “ways” of the European world still exists. Even the highly educated African remains bonded to the maze of tribal and ancestral rituals, beliefs and customs.

Earlier, I mentioned that the present Government has decided to retain this whole African social fabric. The Government feels that it must guide and assist the African to develop. Let us take an imaginary trip into any of these areas to find out what is happening.

The first thing to strike any visitor is the peaceful co-existence of the old and new orders. The traditional African grass thatched pole and mud plastered hut will certainly be the dominant feature, with the cattle kraals literally attached to these huts. The visitor will also see modern European-type houses and shopping centres. The house is a symbol of progress, and the owner can point to it and claim to be “civilized”. The shopping centres are all owned and run by local Africans. The Communal or Area Hall (in which local tribesmen hold meetings and social functions) is usually located at these centres. The visitor will also see local schools – both primary and secondary. Some of these may be long, rambling, grass-thatched buildings, others are as modern as those in any developed country. The Government has assisted in the establishment of local councils or authorities, which have near overall jurisdiction in their respective tribal areas. It is clear that some local authorities are unable to provide the required and essential facilities. In such cases, the Government is always ready to assist.

If we were driving on this imaginary trip, we should realize that the roads are in good condition, the government maintaining all major roads, the local authorities the rest. Again, if we had made our fact-finding trip in summer, we would be impressed by the agricultural know-how of the Tribal African, – thanks to fact that the Government provides trained personnel to advise them. Soil erosion and neglect of vital agricultural land – the age-old habit of the African – has been considerably reduced. The overseas visitor would see oxen or donkeys pulling what he would consider a crude plough; however, in a few fairly well-to-do areas, he would see the communal tractor that is on hire to the inhabitants.


A Communal Tractor in a Tribal Trust Land


Occasionally, the visitor would see a group women engaged in their customary chores. If at home, the women would be cooking, gossiping or looking after the naked or near naked toddlers. These are their traditional occupations. If we were to get closer to these groups we would find out that the men were discussing current affairs, – which are invariably of a local nature and relating to local issues – e.g. improvements needed in their areas. The women would certainly be “discussing” their husbands, marriage and similar subjects.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the present-day tribal African is his improved health. Although the traditional and customary dependence on witch doctors still predominates, the African has become conscious of the need to take health precautions. Thus one of the interesting things we would see on our trip would be “little huts” on the windward side of every cluster of huts. These little huts are toilets. The age of running behind the bush are over. This, of course, has helped to check the spread of disease, especially those transmitted by flies, and also to reduce mosquito breeding. The country clinics will also impress; the Government in conjunction with the local authorities, has built and staffed many. The Government also runs a special course for country health visitors at Domboshawa, which is well subscribed to by the local authorities. Indeed, if luck were on our side should see the country health visitor on a bicycle dashing from village to village or from hut to hut. Oh! what an encouraging pointer to the future!

Africa may be the Dark Continent celebrated in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”; Africa may be the land of bloody revolutions, or the favourite land for producing Generals who become Prime Ministers and/or Presidents; Africa may be the land where ignorance, poverty, hunger and Government inaction or action decimate fellow inhabitants. Rhodesia, it would appear, is not part of Africa. It has none of these ills or curses.

Lawrence CHAZA