History Monday:The Rise of Zimbabwean Nationalism Part 1 (-1957)

Definition: Nationalism is self identity and self assertion by a people living within a defined territorial framework, combined with their desire for self-rule as a group.

First off, let me state this from the onset; true nationalism does not exclude other races in our nation. Whites, Blacks, Coloreds, Asians; we were born and bred in Zimbabwe, we are natives together, we know no other home but Zimbabwe. Nationalism is not just for the black population; it is for everyone.

Now back to the rise of nationalism in Zimbabwe:

Most sources of when nationalism rose in Zimbabwe are varied; some argue that nationalism rose as far back as when the Union Jack was unfurled on the Harare Kopje on 13 September 1890. These assert that the First Chimurenga is a result of black nationalism. After the uprising was crushed in 1897, black nationalism reappeared in 1956 with the birth of the Youth League. This was as a direct result of 30 years of suppression and degradation. Black Africans were compelled/induced to believe that the settler/colonial were invincible and their government as inevitable. But after 30 years of this was no longer acceptable. By demanding one man, one vote, the Youth league was rejecting the settler/colonial government  and seeking its substitution with a black national government.

During the thirty year period, there were African organizations like the Bantu Congress that had accepted the European rule as inevitable and only sought to improve the African social and economic position within the established social and political framework. Black majority seeking political power was unheard off for them. They sought to work peacefully and alongside the government.

There was the British African National Voice Association that was founded by Benjamin Burombo, whom most around him considered a fiery and indomitable individual. He however, sought no political power and so was accepted by the government.

The African National Congress was led by Rev T Samkange and later on by Enoch Dumbutshena. Within its constitution was the principle to cooperate with government and its officials. The ANC went as far as to invite government officials to their party meetings.

However, the youth league within the ANC followed a drastically different approach. It abandoned what it called the ‘reformist and beggar approaches’. The re-formed ANC was born on 12/09/1957. It absorbed the Youth League and Joshua Nkomo was elected as its leader. His main principle was ‘One Man One Vote.’Its slogan was

‘We no longer ask to be ruled well by whites; we want to rule ourselves.’

 The influence within the ANC was external, one founder of the youth league, Dunduza Chisiza was a intelligent, zealous young man from Malawi (then Nyasaland) who had received his higher education in Uganda when it had been fighting for self rule and independence from British Colonialism. James R Chikerema was educated at University of Cape Town which was an enviroment filled with various political and ideological directions.  Only Edson C Sithole and George B Nyandoro, had no experienced external influences.

We will continue next time…

A personal note:

Even as I write and read about the rise of nationalism in our country I really, truly wonder where exactly did it go wrong? How did such noble intentions become selfish ambitions? I started this blog with the view of educating the younger generation such as myself on the history of our country and discussing current affairs and hopefully exchange ideas on how we can bring back the Zimbabwe we believed we grew up in. Note I use the word ‘believe’; truth be told the world we grew up in (reality) is not the same as the world we thought we grew up in.


  1. Riley, 1982. “Zimbabwean Nationalism and the Rise of Robert Mugabe.”
  2. Laverty, 2007. “Zambian and Zimbabwean Paths to Liberation.”
  3. Musarurwa, 1977. “African nationalism in Rhodesia.”

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