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  • African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe 1923-80 by Timothy Stapleton
  • David Killingray
Timothy Stapleton , African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe 1923-80. Rochester NY: University of Rochester Press (hb $90 - 978 1 58046 380 5). 2011, 313 pp.

Colonial states relied heavily on the active accommodation of indigenous peoples. This was marked at every level of administration: clerks, messengers, chiefs, and particularly police and soldiers. Tim Stapleton's study of the police and the military has special value as it focuses on a society dominated by white settlers. It thus raises a variety of questions that were present, but not so prominent, in dependent colonies. Although similar policies were pursued in different kinds of colonies, colonial Zimbabwe was organized primarily for the benefit of its white settler population, which tripled in the period 1945-77, and functioned as a beleaguered 'independent' state after the UDI of November 1965.

Stapleton's approach is thematic, with chapters on recruiting and enlistment; African perceptions of service in the police and military; education and upward mobility; camp life; the role of African women; reform; travel within the colony and service overseas; and demobilization and the experiences of veterans. The sources for the study have been particularly rich: the extensive materials in the National Archives of Zimbabwe; the less accessible papers of the Rhodesian Army Association in the now-closed British Empire and Commonwealth Museum at Bristol for the more recent years; oral interviews conducted and collected by the author; the African and white local press; institutional journals such as Assegai and Mapolisa; and the extensive secondary sources on Zimbabwe's colonial past. The result is that the African voice is prominent in interviews but also in written sources - for the police after 1930, when literate men were being recruited, and for the Rhodesian African Rifles during the war years from 1940. All of this provides a rich and largely ignored dimension to Zimbabwe's recent history.

Africans were vital agents in the conquest and subjugation of Southern Rhodesia in the 1890s. Although led by white officers, Africans came to form the largest element of the para-military British South African Police (BSAP). Despite white hostility to arming Africans in both World Wars, the Rhodesia Native Regiment (1914-18) and the Rhodesian African Rifles (RAR) served with distinction and loyalty. Police and military service provided men from rural areas with opportunities of social mobility, plus the prestige of wearing a uniform, receiving regular pay, the provision of housing, and in some cases also a pension. The downside was subordination to and suspicion from whites (for example, African constables could not arrest Europeans) and hostility from fellow-Africans for enforcing alien and unpopular laws, especially in the decades after 1960 as nationalist opposition increased. White attitudes to African police and soldiers did change as a result of closer racial contact, an increase of mutual reliance leading to respect. Black policemen in particular, but also soldiers in the Second World War, learned English and literacy skills - although, in a racist society with a post-war influx of new white settlers, 'educated' Africans were often deemed 'cheeky' and perceived as a threat to jobs and status.

African policemen and soldiers were in many respects loyal agents of the colonial regime. Stapleton's research supports the current scholarly view that although wartime service in the 1940s - African troops served in Egypt and Burma - did politicize some ex-servicemen, this did not lead them [End Page 513] to espouse post-war labour militancy or to assume 'a particularly prominent role in emerging African nationalist organizations' (p. 169). Indeed, black veterans of the 1939-45 war 'played an important role in upholding Southern Rhodesia's colonial state' (p. 221). Soldiers, but also policemen, were often recruited from marginal regions of Zimbabwe or from neighbouring colonies, and a loyalty to the political order they served was inculcated by the close discipline of camp life, identity with fellow-men in the same uniform, and self-interest in the economic benefits of continued service, as well as by state propaganda. While nationalist unrest increased in the mid-1950s, RAR soldiers were fighting in Malaya. During the Chimurenga, a large...


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