Review of African Urban Experiences in Colonial Zimbabwe: A Social History of Harare Before 1925 - African Book Publishing Record
African Urban Experiences in Colonial Zimbabwe: A Social History of Harare Before 1925
2006: (pp: 170) 210 x 145 mm
African Book Publishing Record
Reviewer: Brian Siegel
This brief but remarkable book is a revision of the late author's 1989 doctoral thesis from the University of Zimbabwe. It begins with the creation and regulation of Salisbury's original African location, designed to bind Africans to their jobs, but then traces out the world that migrants made for themselves. This new approach to social history redefines culture as a resource that Africans used in framing their strategic adaptations to early twentieth century urban life.
To begin with, Salisbury had twice as many Africans as Europeans. Seventy percent of the Africans were males, and nearly one-half of these were from Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, or Portuguese East Africa. The adult females, mostly wives, were largely Shona. About one-third of the workers comprised domestics who lived in their employers' yards. Another third – including family men, rent-sharing tenants, and bachelors – were required to live in the municipal location, known for its beer hall, football games and political protests. The other third rented plots in the peri-urban "private locations", where they and their families brewed beer, kept cattle and tended market gardens. Here, progressive, mission-educated family men organized the Rhodesia Native Association in 1919.
Labour migrants came to town in groups. They used kinship, ethnic and regional ties to find lodging, work and recreation, but also to establish regionally recruited mutual aid and beni-style dance societies. These served to promote self-respect and social order, and to defend their migrant workers' world. Migrants often invested their wages in cattle and ploughs, and so maintained their rural interests. Thus when strikes were called during the post-war labour shortage, these worker-peasants were able to force employer concessions by threatening to return home, by keeping their leaders anonymous and by demanding collective imprisonment. They were a definable social class, but were not mere proletarians. Their thoughts and actions can only be understood in terms of their "'wider economic, social, and cultural world'" (p. 119).
African Urban Experiences in Colonial Zimbabwe: A Social History of Harare Before 1925 is a rewarding book and an essential text in the social history of urban Africa.
© The author/publisher