Reintegration and Community healing in the aftermath of the Rhodesian Bush War: How Zimbabwe learned to live with itself
It is too easy to fall in the trap of characterising conflicts as linear events with clearly defined ‘start’ and ‘end’ points. As such, it’s important to image conflicts like an interwoven fabric, made up of lots of individual threads, interacting to form a complex pattern.
Often times in post-conflict communities, such as Rhodesia, we highlight the tragedy of war and the need for resolution. However, we dismiss the ‘groundwork’ necessary to facilitate a sustainable long-term peace. Today I want to highlight the ideas of reintegration and community healing as key methods to assist the peaceful rebuilding of post-conflict society.
In the aftermath of the Rhodesian Bush war, these concepts were not effectively applied to the creation of the new state of ‘Zimbabwe’ in 1980. This failure to acknowledge the causes of the conflict, encourage debate/discussion around contentious issues, and to bridge together warring communities left a hole in Zimbabwe’s social fabric. Overtime, this hole became a chasm. The division of society has enabled the rise of a corrupt government, which ignores the basic needs of the Zimbabwean people, because divided communities are powerless to unite for the greater good.
So, what was the Rhodesian Bush war and what does it teach us about post-conflict resolution?
Like many African countries, Rhodesia was a former British colony that fought for independence during the 60s and 70s. Its namesake Cecil Rhodes was an imperialist and businessman interested in profiteering from the natural resources and diamonds of the country. Much like the land which was ruthlessly plundered, the people of then Rhodesia were exploited, suppressed, and made to feel unwelcome in their own homeland. This was the beginning of a long, arduous journey through history to become an independent nation state.
Rhodesian society had a similar structure to South Africa; which led to segregation policies designed to keep these two communities as divided as possible. The white minority governed the country and were on average the wealthy class. Whereas, the Black majority were usually poor, uneducated, and suffered from a far lower life expectancy and quality of life than their counterparts.
The 1969 Land tenure act made it law that White European and Black native owned land were to be separated for ‘all time’. During the independence war, this dynamic was flipped as lots of the white population migrated to escape persecution by the guerrilla forces and had their assets confiscated. In the 90s and 2000s Zimbabwe passed a land redistribution programme called ‘fast-track’ involving the compulsory acquisition of white farmland by the state to be given to poor black natives.
This tit-for-tat approach to resolving the fundamental points of contention between the White and Black populations of Zimbabwe, based on revenge for historic slights/wrongdoings, was not constructive of a peaceful resolution to the conflict. This is because it reinforced harmful rhetoric and stereotypes used by both parties in the conflict. For example, by stigmatising and singling out the white population of the country this generated feelings of resentment within the white communities in Zimbabwe who might then act out in harmful ways. Whereas, it legitimised and condoned the exact thing which the Zimbabwean national forces fought against.
Instead, we should encourage the reintegration of the white and Black communities in the country in order to foster meaningful community healing. We need to address the underlying cause of the conflict, not bandage over them, by finding a common ground between the parties in order to find a compromise which satisfies all sides. Only in this way can Zimbabwean society begin to truly heal its internal divisions and work towards a better future for its citizens.
This begs the question, has Zimbabwe learned to live with itself? Or, has it just bandaged over old wounds?
For peacebuilding attempts to have been successful in Zimbabwe, meaningful reconciliation must first take place between the two parties in the conflict. This must be based on open discussion, truth telling, and admission of wrongdoings. Once there has been an open public forum to express and explain the motivations of each party in the conflict, then the causes of the conflict will be laid bare. Only by directly addressing the underlying causes of the conflict will the community begin to heal, in this case: national identity, inequality, segregation and the distribution of land.
The reintegration of communities in Zimbabwe has been particularly difficult for two reasons: Firstly, Zimbabwe’s history as the former colony Rhodesia has led to a national identity crisis in the country between the White European settlers and the native Black population. Secondly, the colonial structure of Rhodesian society, based on segregation and power differences between Whites and Blacks, has meant that there was no real integration in Zimbabwe in the first place.
It certainly hasn’t helped that the Zimbabwean government under Robert Mugabe has led a regime of “authoritarian populist anti-imperialism” or, a policy of punishing the White population for their historic ‘wrongdoings’, by taking their farmlands away from them in the name of a fairer land distribution for the native Black population, whilst really only benefitting the corrupt government officials who now manage the land instead.
Half-hearted policies like these undermine real progress that has been made in the country to foster community healing through shared-institutions, mutual respect, protection of property rights and, fundamentally, the recognition that people are people no matter their race.
The future looks bright now in post-conflict Rhodesia, or Zimbabwe, but it was not so clear cut back in the 80s when the first Black majority government was elected in the country. Zimbabwe is learning to live with itself. Progressive policies to integrate White and Black populations are testament to the importance of community healing in post-conflict societies. We can learn a lot from peacebuilding projects in the country about how open, truthful dialogue and compromise are key to reconciliation following violent inter-community conflicts. The fact that there are now mixed-race schools illustrates how far the country has come.
It’s been a long journey for the people of Zimbabwe to find a peaceful resolution in their post-conflict society. “What Zimbabwe fought for was peace, progress, love respect, justice, equality, not the opposite.” (Joshua Nkomo)
Bibliography / Reference list
Helliker, K. (2012). Civil Society and the Zimbabwean Crisis. E- International Relations. [online] Available at: https://www.e-ir.info/2012/07/02/civil-society-and-the-zimbabwean-crisis/.
Lange, K. (2019). The current conflict situation in Zimbabwe. Young Initiative on Foreign Affairs and International Relations. [online] Available at: https://ifair.eu/2019/08/12/the-current-conflict-situation-in-zimbabwe/.
Moorcraft, P. (1990). Rhodesia’s War of Independence. History Today, [online] 40(9). Available at: https://www.historytoday.com/archive/rhodesias-war-independence.
Murori, K. (2016). 7 Quotes from Zimbabwe’s Liberation Heroes. The African Exponent. Available at: https://www.africanexponent.com/post/7-quotes-from-zimbabwes-liberation-heroes-2851.
Mutanda, D. (2019). Post-Colonial Violence in Zimbabwe and the Significance of Peacebuilding Premised on Civilian Survival Strategies. Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, [online] 14(2), pp.179–192. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1542316619850159.
Woodard, C. (n.d.). Whites Under Black Rule: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t in Zimbabwe. Available at: https://catherinewoodard.com/publications/zimbabwe/.
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Anais is a third year War Studies student at King's College, London. She researched and wrote this article as part of the BizGees & War Studies Department Internship programme.