Seeing like a second city: contested development in the African townships of late colonial Bulawayo, Rhodesia, 1949-1977
Hutton, Maurice John
This thesis is a historical ethnographic study of late colonial planning and development in the racially segregated ‘African townships’ of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). It analyses how Bulawayo’s municipal township administration, which included a number of social scientists (both European and African) and was directed by a noted anthropologist, Dr Hugh Ashton, executed an ambitious development drive to ‘stabilise’ and ‘improve’ the African townspeople. For nearly three decades, Ashton’s department pursued a vision of creating modern, stratified and property-owning communities, informed by the teleological tenets of ‘detribalisation’, ‘urbanisation’ and ‘modernisation’ theories. This vision increasingly clashed with the Central Government’s segregationist agenda to re-establish the Rhodesian city as a ‘white space’ in the 1960s and 1970s. By systematically analysing why, and how, the Bulawayo City Council persisted with its township development vision, even under this reactionary regime, the thesis sheds light on profound ideological disjunctures within the Rhodesian state, and how the conflicts that arose therefrom reconfigured influence, expertise, and authority in the state bureaucracy. This secondary city case study contributes to the historiography of late colonial developmentalism, which refers to metropolitan and state interventions to stabilise and modernise African urban labour across colonial Africa, in response to the crises emerging from social, political and industrial changes during the Second World War. This process broadly entailed abandoning the half-hearted interwar approach to warehousing transient migrant workers, and ramping up the provision of housing, amenities and social programmes commensurate with the basic requirements of settled (albeit second class) communities. It signified an increase in the importance of upliftment and individual improvement, relative to more direct modes of control in managing the African population. The thesis contributes to this historiography, by focusing on the everyday practicalities and politics of getting things done at the local level, with scarce resources and under pressure from multiple stakeholders. It does this by analysing a significant corpus of records on the protracted negotiations, conflicts and experiments that characterised township development in Bulawayo, from municipal, national and newspaper archives. Archival research was supplemented by interviews with former ‘African’ and ‘European’ administrators, who provided insights into the institutional culture of the township administration. By thus opening the ‘black box’ of the colonial state bureaucracy, the thesis reveals the embeddedness of contemporary analytic and moral concepts within the everyday practical struggles of administration. This serves to counterbalance an overly functionalist interpretation of post-war development as a unitary state project of domination and consent. The study identifies three key characteristics of township development in Bulawayo that extant theories of late colonial urbanism do not adequately account for. Firstly, it was significantly decentralised. The city council spurned government expertise, tapped into regional, continental and global knowledge exchange networks, and implemented policies that often contradicted central government agendas. Secondly, the progressive developmental ideas that defined Bulawayo’s particular approach were not only guides to action, but also emerged as ex post facto rationalisations for actions that were financially and administratively expedient. Thus, progressivism was wedded with pragmatism: more spatially integrated housing development reduced capital costs; extensive home ownership schemes enlisted the resources and energies of Africans; landscaped municipal beer gardens provided a significant and vital source of revenue. The resultant spectacle of impressive progress was achieved at no undue cost to either the European ratepayer or the industrial employer, and the skilful rationalisation of ad hoc, experimental decisions and compromises in terms of moral and political imperatives of modernisation imbued the development process with a sometimes-misleading sense of coherent intention. Thirdly, decisions made at the critical juncture of the 1950s had strong path-dependent effects, setting Bulawayo on a trajectory from which it was increasingly difficult to diverge. The combination of these factors bequeathed a localised legacy of autonomy, self-reliance and comparatively integrated, socially stratified townships to post-colonial Bulawayo – contrasting starkly with the capital city in ways that still matter today.