Making use of archival documents, period newspapers, and oral interviews, African Police and Soldiers in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1923-80 examines the ambiguous experience of black security personnel, police, and soldiers in white-ruled Southern Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe] from 1923 through independence and majority rule in 1980. Across the continent, European colonial rule could not have been maintained without African participation in the police and army. In Southern Rhodesia, lack of white manpower meant that despite fear of mutiny, blacks played an increasingly prominent role in law enforcement and military operations and from World War II constituted a strong majority within the regular security forces.
Despite danger, Africans volunteered for the police and army during colonial rule for a variety of reasons, including the prestige of wearing a uniform, the possibility of excitement, family traditions, material considerations, and patriotism. As black police and soldiers were called upon to perform more specialized tasks, they acquired greater education and some -- particularly African police -- became part of the emerging westernized African middle class. After retirement, career African police and soldiers often continued to work in the security field, some becoming prominent entrepreneurs or commercial farmers, and generally composed a conservative, loyalist element in African society that the government eventually mobilized to counter the growth of African nationalism. Tim Stapleton here mines rich archival sources to clarify the complicated dynamic and legacy of black military personal who served during colonial rule in present-day Zimbabwe.
Timothy Stapleton —
Timothy Stapleton is Professor of history at Trent University in Ontario.
Stapleton, Timothy. African police and soldiers in colonial Zimbabwe, 1923-80. Rochester, 2011. 313p bibl index afp; ISBN 9781580463805. Reviewed in 2012feb CHOICE.
Stapleton's serviceable history of African soldiers and police in colonial Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) focuses in part on explaining why thousands of exploited subjects volunteered their services to the colonial state for much of the 20th century. For example, on the eve of Zimbabwean independence, Africans made up two-thirds of the Rhodesian security forces. As Stapleton points out, material factors were of central importance, primarily because of the lack of opportunities elsewhere in the colonial economy. However, the author's interviews with black security force veterans reveal other motives: feelings of patriotism; family traditions of service; and a prevailing belief that a future in the security forces promised a life of excitement, purpose, and adventure. As Stapleton suggests, "it is important to understand that African recruits--even as late as the 1970s--did not usually see the contradiction in colonial military and police service that those looking back at the past do today." He also discovered that black police officers and soldiers consistently challenged discriminatory practices in the services, gradually resulting in significant concessions in pay and rank structure.
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. -- J. O. Gump, University of San Diego