Pan-Africanism versus partnership: African decolonisation in Southern Rhodesian politics, ca. 1950-1963
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2025
Marmon, Edward Brooks
This thesis explores the process by which the decolonisation of Africa in the 1950s and early 1960s shaped the politics of Southern Rhodesia. Focusing on the era in which that colony was a member of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953-63), it reveals how Rhodesians became fixated by Africa’s political transformation. As European empires in Africa collapsed, Southern Rhodesia’s political equilibrium was irrevocably altered. Domestic political power struggles became driven by wider continental events. This realignment spanned Rhodesia’s two opposing, racially segregated political communities. One track of the thesis demonstrates how this realignment bolstered a reactionary ideology among the white minority. A policy of pan-African paternalism known as ‘Partnership’ collapsed, resulting in a change of political power. A second track unpacks how Zimbabwean nationalists became adversely affected by the transformation of Africa’s liberation movements into national governments. As their progress lagged behind that of their compatriots in the north, these anti-colonial activists split into multiple camps. Each became obsessed with courting and demonstrating pan-African backing to demonstrate their strength. In white politics, the tussle for power was shaped by debates over how to respond to the rise of independent, majority-ruled African states. Prompted by the attainment of self-government in Ghana, this dialogue emerged around the 1953 referendum on the establishment of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. It became an increasingly integral issue until Rhodesia’s long-entrenched ruling class was unseated in late 1962 and the pretence of an accommodation with new African states and black political aspirations was abandoned. Partnership was replaced by an embrace of Apartheid South Africa and imperial Portugal. Black political organisations were also shaped by these changes, particularly in the period from late 1958. The anti-colonial activity of nationalists surged, animated by the emergence of new allies in the north. The replacement of colonial administrations with sovereign governments initially facilitated anti-colonial mobilisation. However, the paranoia, militancy, and pursuit of the perks of pan-Africanism quickly came to undermine the cohesion and unity that had been the movement’s strength. By 1963, Zimbabwe’s competing nationalist groups were as concerned with efforts to appeal to newly independent African nations as they were with strategies to end white minority rule. The two intersecting strands demonstrate how wider political changes across Africa inundated, altered, and radicalised political thought in Southern Rhodesia, a conclusion often assumed in the scholarship, but infrequently investigated. The study offers new insights on the manner in which blacks and whites in Southern Rhodesia responded to the transformation of the continent. It demonstrates that the white political class was anxiously, but anachronistically attuned to wider African affairs. Meanwhile, the ardent attachment of black nationalists to pan-Africanism undermined the prosecution of their struggle as well as their commitment to a more just political system. The thesis draws extensively on published primary sources and archival research conducted in the US, UK, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Malawi. It explores the impact of decolonisation and rising pan-Africanism in two parts, the first follows a thematic approach, the second draws on a geographic framework. Part one, in two chapters, considers the impact of external African affairs on the colony’s major domestic political events. Part two, in three chapters, illuminates the struggles between and within the authorities and the nationalist leadership via a targeted focus on a select group of African countries that played a significant role in driving the colony’s political expression. This research informs and advances numerous debates. Broadly, it offers a targeted examination of a critical moment in African history. More specifically, it speaks to a wide-ranging discourse in the historiography of Zimbabwe and southern Africa. The thesis spans diverse themes such as pan-Africanism, foreign diplomacy, nationalist movement formation, the Cold War, and the roots of intolerance in Zimbabwe’s long-ruling post-independence political party.