Salisbury was founded on 12 September 1890 by a band of British settlers who identified themselves as the Pioneer Column. They were pioneers because the land they were about to occupy was empty and without form, virgin territory, you know, no people, no traditions, nothing.
But the area they conquered, in fact, was under the control of the Mbare people of the Shumba Gurundoro clan. To commemorate this fact and history, The Con will feature pieces that reference the city of Harare. It could be something factual or offbeat; fictional or historical. Some writers will hate Harare, others will celebrate it. Our contributors will write about Harare’s people: its squatters, its leaders, its gangsters, its music, its “founders” and the millions who pass through the rumour capital of the world.
First in this series is Terence Ranger in an excerpt from his just released memoir, Writing Revolt. Ranger, born in 1929, remembers the toxic racial atmosphere of Salisbury and the stirrings of struggle. Ranger went to Salisbury as a young idealist to teach at the university in Southern Rhodesia. His books include Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, 1896-7; Peasant Consciousness and Guerilla War in Zimbabwe: A Comparative Study and, with Eric Hobsbawm, The Invention of Tradition. Ranger is an emeritus fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford.
Reprinted with the kind permission of Weaver Press from Writing Revolt; An Engagement with African Nationalism 1957-67 by Terence Ranger. (Weaver Press, Harare, 2013)
Over to you, professor Ranger:
“Salisbury was the most segregated city in southern Africa. I assumed that it had always been so but I learnt later that it had been made so by ten years’ hard labour since the implementation of the Native Urban Areas Accommodation Act in 1947. For a decade Salisbury’s councillors had worked to ensure that all Africans lived in townships and not in the city; that African domestic servants should not be allowed to keep their families with them in the suburbs; that facilities be strictly segregated; that ‘elite’ Africans be corralled into small areas on the margin of townships. This had taken ten years to attain and had been met with fierce African opposition. And now we came along to propagate residential integration in the College’s Halls of Residence.
The daily papers circled around the Halls of Residence in a feeding frenzy. Race was titillating enough but an added dimension of sex made UCRN irresistible. So press photographers laid siege to the girl students, persuading one to be photographed in an imaginary bubble bath and another to strike a pose as a girl singer in a pretend African band that mainly consisted of wall-eyed black guitarists. The girl concerned, a Miss Gentili from Nyasaland, received an anonymous letter addressed to ‘the University College for foreigners’, telling her that ‘you deserve a good spanking. What exactly is your game? The women of Rhodesia are ashamed of you.’
The university administration was also alarmed by all this. The Registrar told staff that they must ‘keep some sort of soft drinks for Africans at parties’ since ‘by Rhodesian law Africans are not allowed to touch European liquor. It will be very bad if it gets out that Africans are being given European liquor here.’ John Reed records in his diary that I responded to this by muttering, ‘Well, I intend to give it to them.’ But to begin with, the six African students were served no wine at high table. In March 1957 a meeting of Hall representatives decided ‘that there should be a college dance; they would invite partners, but that no person of one race should dance with anyone of another’. The two African representatives ‘took this pretty bitterly’.
And if this sort of discrimination was practised on campus, the African students of course ran into more blatant restrictions and disadvantages off it. UCRN was some way out of town but there was very little public transport and all of it was reserved for whites. City bye-laws provided that no African could be in the town centre after 9 p.m. without a special pass, so John Reed and I issued informal permits as Warden and sub-Warden. And even if an African student could get to town and remain there after 9 no hotel or restaurant or cinema would serve them.
In short, there could hardly have been a worse place to site the Federal University than Salisbury. Africans reacted in two different ways. Despite everything, some welcomed the prospect of university education with joy. The African Cultural Association gave a great reception in March 1957 which, as I told my parents, was ‘tremendous fun’. ‘There were lots of speeches intermixed with hot jazz from an admirable band and some astonishingly good singing – also of the hot variety – by four wine-tuxedoed Africans called the City Quads. A chief spoke with great dignity of his joy that his people were proved capable of European education. “We have two sorts of education in Southern Rhodesia,” he said. “European education and native education. But what is native education? Before the Europeans came we had no education at all.”’ In May, John Reed learnt from one of the Nyasa students ‘of the intense interest the Africans in Harare take in the university; how he was picked up by an African taxi driver as he was walking towards the university … The man knew his name, what he was studying, where he had studied before, and he had the particulars of all the African students in a notebook. “We are noticing you very closely,” he said.’
On the other hand there were the handful of black students themselves. They had experienced enough of Rhodesian society not to believe in the sincerity of ‘partnership’. But as John Reed noted in March, ‘I am half ashamed to be so glad that these Africans who actually suffer have a very wry and humorous rather than the rhetorical sense of their wrongs that the African in England often shows. Style counts. It is almost as if they demonstrate the enormity of the injustice by the sophistication with which they can regard it.’
But one issue strained sophistication. There were three Halls of Residence – and four sexes. There was my own particular charge in that first year – Swinton Hall, the white women’s residence. There was a Hall for European men – Manfred Hodson – and one for African men, Carr Saunders. But there was no Hall for black women. And yet there was a black woman – and one of the most remarkable students at that. She was Sarah Chavunduka, queenly, beautiful, cultivated – an example of a superior race if ever there was one. Many years later I heard Sarah accept nomination as Woman of the Year at a ceremony at the Harare International Book Fair. Her introducer had emphasized that she was the first African woman student, but Sarah said that she had certainly not wanted such a role. She would have been much happier if there had been ten other black women so that she could just be a student. Still, she said, she had to accept the invidious honour and come to terms with it in memory, just as she had to come to terms with it in life.
What was to be done in 1957 with Sarah? She began by living in our spare bed-room at the Swinton Warden’s house, surrounded as all the other early buildings were by mud and building waste. But the Principal, Walter Adams, came to think this was unacceptable. It was certainly no long-term solution, much though Sarah and we enjoyed it. (And I think Adams may have been influenced by driving down to see me one day and finding Sarah pushing a perambulator around the house. Whose it was I never discovered.) Above all, Adams believed he could use Sarah’s individual case to establish the general point of integration. As John Reed noted on 19 March, I told him that ‘Adams reckons to have mixed hostels in a year. I am not sure that Adams’ game is entirely fair. None of us know where we stand – and if in bringing mixed hostels about he disregards individuals, then the resentment of the Africans against the set up will overset the point gained. The idea of reducing segregation to an absurdity in order to do away with it is likely to be quite painful while it is going on. Ranger suggests that Adams was acting on this plan in insisting that Sarah went down to Carr Saunders. It was so patently absurd that she should go that the girls in Swinton would get together and agree to have her with them.’ And this strategy was quite painful while it was going on, especially for Sarah.
For months she became the personal object of a struggle over principle. The girls in Swinton swung to and fro. There was first a majority vote – 16 out of 18 – that Sarah should be invited to join them – though even then only in her own separate corridor and with her own separate toilet facilities. So Sarah joyfully moved in. But then there was a visceral reaction. Parents expressed outrage. Girls came to weep in my study and told me they knew it was wrong but that they could not bear the thought of living in the same building as an African. By 20 July a counter-petition had been organized by the Hall reactionaries asking that Sarah be removed and that a promise be given that there would be no desegregation at UCRN for the next ten years. On 21 July the Sunday Mail carried the story. Sarah, reading the paper over breakfast in Hall, burst into tears. Feeling terrible, some girls began to change sides. Meanwhile the reactionaries overplayed their hands.
Inspirer of the reaction was a parent, a Mrs Gladys Parker, through whose daughter Anne the gutter press learnt of everything that was happening in Swinton. Mrs Parker made me a symbol of wicked integrationism. She attended every event at College and noted my misconduct. After a buffet lunch on 4 July in Carr Saunders Hall to celebrate the Queen Mother’s visit she complained to Adams that ‘it was full of ragged and smelly Africans … ragged and smelly rogues and houseboys’, and how ‘the Warden was talking only to Africans, men, the whole time’. Our confrontation reached an absurd climax in December when Sarah was invited to be bridesmaid at a European wedding in the Anglican Cathedral in Salisbury. I was of course there and vainly tried to prevent Mrs Parker and her photographer from taking intrusive pictures of this scandalous event. There was a moment of chaos when bride, groom and guests were popping in and out of every cathedral door and Mrs Parker and I were squaring off. ‘Mrs Parker affects me in a curious way,’ I admitted to my parents, ‘as almost the palpable presence of evil – flabby, eccentric, dyed.’ I was very rude to her and for her part she pursued me through the Cathedral ‘hissing “Nigger Lover” in a penetrating tone’.
More serious as an attack was a motion presented to the Southern Rhodesian parliament by the leader of the opposition, Aitken-Cade, whose daughter was also a student in Swinton. Fat, florid and mediocre, he asked the House to deplore integration and all those who worked for it. These could be divided into fifth columnists and traitors. The traitors were Rhodesians prepared to surrender their birthright. The fifth columnists were ‘people from England, where no race problems existed, who abused the hospitality given to them by attempting to subvert the Rhodesian way of life. Some of these fifth columnists, who were far from unintelligent, even highly intelligent, exercised in Salisbury an artificial influence over the immature minds of Rhodesian youth. They could, they already had, influenced with their guile, these youngsters that what they were doing was evil.’
Prime Minister Garfield Todd described this motion as the ‘most irresponsible’ ever put before the House and it was defeated by 18 votes to 2. Still, it was not bad going to have been defined as a major menace within six months of arriving in the country!
By the time of the December wedding, in fact, the cause of segregation had already been lost at UCRN. Sarah at last moved into Swinton Hall on 29 June. Soon thereafter the College Council agreed that rather than seek lodgings off campus the surplus of white students expected in 1958 could opt to live in Carr Saunders. All of them chose to do so. In 1958 I moved down to become Warden of this new mixed Hall and began to implement the time-honoured strategies for building up collegiate spirit. In 1959 all three Halls became multiracial. I was delighted, of course, when the Hall Chairman, the great footballer Cornelius Sanyanga, professed that he felt more solidarity with other members of Carr Saunders, no matter their race, than he did with African members of Hodson Hall. The battle for integration on the UCRN campus had been won. I allowed myself another year or two before taking the campaign against the colour-bar onto the streets of Salisbury itself.”