After the declaration of illegal independence (UDI) in 1965, Rhodesia defi ed international pressure, economic sanctions and guerrilla warfare with considerable if diminishing success. As the 1970s came to a close, white Rhodesians reluctantly faced the reality that the settler state could not continue in its present form. Opinions ranged from cautious optimism to grudging acceptance of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, as the “respectable” face of black politics. As leader of the United African National Council (UANC), Muzorewa had denounced the use of violence, and continued to do so when he became prime minister of the short-lived republic of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. 2

Despite the fact that Rhodesia had been embroiled in a war for eight years, the eventual coming of Zimbabwean independence in April 1980 did not come through the barrel of the gun. Instead, Zimbabwean independence was fi nally granted through negotiation at the Lancaster House conference in London. Chaired by British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington, the conference was attended by Ian Smith and Abel Muzorewa as leaders of the recently minted Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, as well as by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo under the banner of the Patriotic Front. Held over a three month period, eventually reaching resolution in December 1979, the conference’s main aims were to draft a post-independence constitution, to ensure that there would be a ceasefi re and to ensure that white interests would be represented in the new national order. However, one particular issue that almost saw the breakdown of the conference centred on land redistribution. In an attempt to secure the position of whites in the postcolonial dispensation, it was agreed that land could only be sold on a willing buyer-willing

seller basis and thus there would be no mass expropriation of white-owned land. The negotiated settlement therefore ‘forced the new government to compromise many of its ambitions’. 3 As the terms of the Lancaster House agreement conference were to be in force for ten years, white Rhodesians, now de facto Zimbabweans, enjoyed a certain degree of economic, social and political protection. 4

White Zimbabweans, however, thought of themselves as ‘orphans of empire’, feeling betrayed by Britain as the former colonial power and afraid of the prospect of black majority rule. 5 Much of this anxiety rested on whites’ often very limited understanding of the nature of the postcolonial transition and centred on the worry that Robert Mugabe would pursue retribution. It appears that the white community were ‘mentally unprepared-caught on the wrong foot as it were-at the end of the war’. 6 Partly as a result of Rhodesian Front (RF) propaganda enveloping the previous ‘fourteen great years’, 7 many white Rhodesians were astounded by the results of the April 1980 elections when the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and Robert Mugabe won 57 seats, and Muzorewa and the UANC won just three seats. This inability to foresee that the leaders of the liberation struggle would emerge victorious through the ballot box occurred largely because ‘most white Rhodesians had become so accustomed to hearing what they wanted to believe . . . that they were often incapable of distinguishing between the ephemeral and the substantial, between fantasy and reality’. 8

Celebrating the country’s independence on April 30, 1980, at Harare Stadium, Mugabe stressed the need for reconciliation. He proclaimed that ‘if yesterday I fought you as an enemy, today you have become a friend and ally with the same national interest, loyalty, rights and duties as myself’. 9 Warned by Mozambique’s president, Samora Machel, of the destabilising effects of white fl ight, Mugabe thus tried to allay white fears and anxieties, with the state’s reconciliation policy seeking ‘to embrace anyone who was willing to be liberal enough’. 10 In a televised speech in March 1980, Mugabe urged Zimbabweans, ‘whether you are black or white, to join me in a new pledge to forget our grim past, forgive others and forget, join hands in a new amity, and together as Zimbabweans . . . work hard to reconstruct and rehabilitate our society’. 11 While women like Diana Mitchell ‘went beyond pragmatism and became ardent, practising Zimbabweans’, 12 the reaction of many white Zimbabweans was decidedly mixed. Some hunkered down and got on with things, while others left, looking for a new life elsewhere, being ‘too “Rhodesian” to tolerate the transformation of their country into Zimbabwe’. 13


Refl ecting on offi cial governmental rhetoric, Angela suggested that Mugabe’s ‘speech gave a lot of terrifi ed white people a glimmer of hope. It was an intelligent and well thought out speech’. 14 However, Christina, stating it

bluntly, thought that the offi cial policy of reconciliation was ‘a load of bullshit’. 15 Following the transition to independence, Zimbabwe was theoretically following the two-stage theory of democratic revolution. 16 While there has been much debate about the sincerity of ZANU-PF’s desire to create a socialist state, the new government prioritised the extension of service delivery and job creation, in an attempt to ensure that the economy did not remain solely in white hands. 17 Apart from the apparent fear of the unknown, many white women were aggrieved at attempts to de-racialise the economy. Louise decided to leave Rhodesia, ‘when my husband was told that he would be losing his job after the election so that it could be handed to an ex-terrorist purely because the ex-terrorists had to be kept happy with nice jobs’. 18 Despite some attempts to indigenise the economy, many white Zimbabweans had their public sector jobs guaranteed in “sunset clauses”. Often black Zimbabweans were appointed alongside, not instead of, whites. While economic concerns played a part in motivating white “fears”, many white women also equated Africanisation with a fall in “standards”. As David Goldberg argues, and as is evidenced in the interview process, racist discourses move around, with words such as “standards” being proxies for tropes that are no longer acceptable to articulate. 19

The testimonies of these women, as historical actors, were deeply rooted in colonial discourses associating white minority governance with modernity, progress and civilization. As Martha noted, ‘we knew that we had made the right decision [to leave] when our children came home from school complaining that they could not understand the teacher, a black man who had been transferred into the school as part of the “integration” process, for appeasement’s sake’. 20 Furthermore, Karen left Zimbabwe in 1983 because ‘the bottom dropped out of the schooling’. 21 While Hilda did give ‘the new regime time to settle’, she eventually emigrated because of the ‘deterioration in the schooling and health care system’. 22 Despite the fact that Mugabe preached a policy of reconciliation, Christina suggested that ‘it was crystal clear we were NOT wanted as the “bad whities”. There was no reconciliation, nor attempt to make us feel we had a future in Zim[babwe]’. 23

A large proportion of interviewees claimed that from April 1980 they ‘knew’ that Zimbabwe would ‘fail’ as an independent state; consequently, the memories elicited were ‘clearly shaped by dominant historical narratives’. 24 According to Diana, ‘we had always said that we would not stay in Rhodesia under Robert Mugabe’s rule, as he was a terrorist thug . . . once he gained power . . . we stuck to our decision . . . we did not trust him and history has proved that we were correct’. 25 Similarly, Helen ‘felt like a CLAIRVOYANT, I knew that it would never work . . . I just knew, deep down that this was a disaster in the making . . . that it was only a matter of time before it all collapsed and the honeymoon and the euphoria would be over, to me the writing was on the wall’. 26 Yet despite these deterministic views about the transition to majority rule, some women, such as Robyn, remained ‘open minded and positive for the future of the country’; 27 indeed, Agnes was

‘most surprised at how life carried on’. 28 Furthermore, according to Jessica, ‘the transition to majority rule was smooth and without incident-it did not affect me or my family and we coped in a mature and accepting manner’. 29 While some women reserved judgement on the initial transition to independence, and were cautiously optimistic about living in Zimbabwe, for the most part a picture of a fearful community who were unable, and perhaps more importantly unwilling, to remain in Zimbabwe and meaningfully engage with the postcolonial state apparatus emerges. This is compounded by a highly selective reading of the past, which is clouded by colonial nostalgia and informed by postcolonial anxiety. One such way this reading of the past manifests itself is through understandings of the events surrounding the fi rst signifi cant episode of state sponsored violence, the Gukurahundi of 1983 to 1986. 30

During the period of Gukurahundi , the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, Mugabe’s personal militia, killed around 20,000 people in Matabeleland. 31 As Shari Eppel has observed, ‘as they murdered and destroyed, 5 Brigade told victims that they were being punished because they were Ndebele-that all Ndebele supported Zapu [Zimbabwe African People’s Union], and all Zapu supporters were dissidents’. 32 Consequently, Gukurahundi is a decisive moment in Zimbabwean history in which the “real” authoritarian nature of Mugabe’s regime fi rst revealed itself. Echoing this idea, many women also argued that Gukurahundi was proof that Mugabe was an evil tyrant determined to bring Zimbabwe to its knees. What is most revealing about white attitudes towards the nature of postcolonial politics is the very one-dimensional, detached way that many interviewees discussed the events of Gukurahundi . For Erica, ‘the black Matabele people in the south were systematically murdered off by Mugabe’s Shona people . . . outsiders never really understand that the black people of Africa are totally tribal’. 33 Erica’s ‘unguarded insight’ thus reveals deeply seated beliefs about history, rooted in a particular colonial fantasy. 34 For Christina, the ‘wholesale slaughter of the Matabele’ was one of a ‘legion’ of negatives that followed independence. 35 By seeing Gukurahundi as something that was essentially a ‘tribal’ issue, many whites thus exculpated themselves from failing to challenge the state for the widespread human rights abuses it was committing. The events of Gukurahundi therefore revealed that whites ‘would not raise issues of a political nature with the government as long as their interests were, on the whole, maintained’. 36


Refl ecting on the 1960s, when settler colonialism was at its zenith in Rhodesia, many women felt they knew, or indeed had little to say, about “politics”. Despite this, there were strong views about the declaration of UDI. 38 Patty ‘wholeheartedly’ supported UDI because ‘it was our right’, a sentiment that

was echoed by many other women. 39 As Robyn suggests, ‘I grew up with the belief that UDI was the only way forward for Rhodesia and in a way this brought a nation (predominantly whites) together in a very patriotic way’. 40 Indeed Ruth described herself as being ‘staunchly patriotic and very much behind the government’. 41 Other women such as Martha recollected that ‘my political views were moulded by the views of my parents and my husband and they were strong supporters of the RF. At the time I took a rather wishy washy view of politics and was content to be guided by others’. 42 Similarly for Diana, ‘the political discussions in our circle mainly occurred amongst the males. I did not advertise my political views’. 43 Christina recalled that ‘I guess I did [support UDI], as much as I was able to understand politics & UDI’. Yet Christina claims that ‘we were very “brain washed” & totally supported Smith without question. It was sort of “us versus them”, the David and Goliath saga; we were spoon-fed from parents, school, media’. 44 Although many women supported UDI, it seems that they failed to make the connection that UDI was a political act. Many women claimed to hold few ‘political views’, 45 or that they were ‘not too interested in politics’. 46 Yet, although in the minority for her outlook, Maud explained that ‘by the time I was 18 I realised that my “political” views weren’t common and it was easier to just avoid discussions and thereby nasty arguments’. 47

When refl ecting on the declaration of UDI, many women framed their support for the decision without recognising the fundamentally unequal aspects of colonialism. White women were, as a matter of course, in daily contact with black Africans, particularly in the domestic setting; they often maintained and upheld ‘difference and distance’. 48 Furthermore, ‘women had a particular role in maintaining what was termed “prestige” with regard to Africans; they also played a signifi cant role in the reproduction of class and status on an everyday basis’. 49 Interview responses that were parochial in tone serving to infantilise Africans were commonplace, with many women claiming to be seemingly ‘colour blind’. According to Jessica, ‘my opinion of race relations during this period was that we were all equal. I had servants, who happened to be black, but they were treated as one of the family. I had black friends and my children played and mixed with both races-my children saw no “colour” because we saw no “colour”’. 50 Thus the evident inequality in status, wealth and power between whites and blacks is denied by Jessica through a discourse of “colour blindness” and an “everyday equality” based on familiarity.