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History of Zimbabwe - Impact of Second World War


  The Second World War fundamentally changed the relationship between the colonizers and the colonized. In Southern Rhodesia, 1000s of Africans actively participated in the fighting, both on the war front and back home through production of foodstuffs and various minerals essential to the war effort. On the war front, Africans fought side by side and on equal terms with whites. They came face to face with shortcomings of the white man which debunked the notions of white invincibility and superiority. Quite significantly, the African was exposed to contemporary thoughts and ideas on self-determination and equality. Post Second World War Zimbabwe thus experienced far-reaching economic, social and political changes marked by a gradual process of transformation in the political consciousness of Africans characterized by a change from the earlier position of requesting for fairness and accommodation in the governing structures from whites to that of seeking self rule.

 The colonial state responded to the economic challenges posed by the Second World War by adopting specific economic policies and strategies that resulted in a relatively rapid growth of the manufacturing sector. This entailed transforming the country’s heavy dependence on agriculture and mining to a diversified economy with an expanding manufacturing industrial sector. However, this overall industrial expansion was limited in scale as the country only had 382 industrial establishments employing a total of 20 439 black workers. A more fundamental development though was the large influx of white immigrants into the country in the immediate post war years, boosting the settler population and providing the economy with much needed skilled labour and a larger domestic market. 17 000 white immigrants entered the country in 1948 alone. However, white immigration had the significant effect of fuelling inter-racial tensions which hastened the rise of militant African nationalism. The arrival of more whites resulted in the displacement of African communities from areas earlier deemed “European Areas.”

  An equally significant development was that the emerging manufacturing sector demanded a larger permanent urban based worker resevoir, hence policies that further pushed over 100 000 Africans off the land into the cities. In turn, the huge inflow of indigenous Africans into the cities changed the ethnic and cultural landscape of the country’s towns and cities. Before this, most main towns were dominated by foreign/migrant workers from neighbouring countries, notably Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique).

  The post Second World War era also witnessed a significant rise of an African middle class of educated African professionals such as teachers, nurses, lawyers and entrepreneurs. However, these elite’s concerns and aspirations initially tended to run counter to those of the ordinary masses. The tensions emerging from the interaction of these groups meant that the anti-colonial struggles took different and sometimes conflicting forms as each social grouping, namely alien and indigenous urban workers, the rural population and the emerging middle class, sought to advance its peculiar interests. Similarly, differences also existed within the dominant white settler community. The whites who had been in the country for a long time wanted to maintain the status quo of exclusive white domination while the post war immigrants tended to have liberal political views and attitudes towards Africans whom they felt had to be accommodated to avert the growth and threat of militant African nationalism. Accusations of partiality to Africans cost Garfield Todd the premiership in 1958, effectively marking the end of liberal tendencies and the ascendancy of exclusionist right-wing policies that resulted in the formation of the Rhodesia Front in 1962, the party that was to unilaterally declare independence in 1965.