David Coltart is one of the most prominent political and human rights figures in Zimbabwe. In 2000, he was elected to Parliament and, following the creation of a ‘coalition’ government in September 2008, he was appointed Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, a position he held until August 2013. Over the years, Coltart has been threatened, detained, spuriously prosecuted and has survived several direct attempts on his life. For three decades, Coltart has kept detailed notes and records of all his work, including a meticulous diary of Cabinet dealings, the source material for much of his book.
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About the Author
David Coltart is a Zimbabwean citizen, and is resident in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. He has served three terms in Parliament, ending in the Senate.
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The Struggle Continues
50 Years of Tyranny in Zimbabwe
By David Coltart
Jacana Media (Pty) LtdCopyright © 2016 David Coltart
All rights reserved.
"These (MPs) do not deserve to be in Zimbabwe and we shall take steps to ensure that they are not entitled to our land in Zimbabwe. These, like Coltart ... are not part of our society. They belong to Britain and let them go there. If they want to live here, we will say 'stay', but your place is in prison and nowhere else. Otherwise your home is outside the country." – Robert Mugabe speaking to supporters at Harare airport on 5 September 2002
Twenty miles south of Gweru, close to the heart of Zimbabwe, a grove of msasa trees gives way to open rolling hills that seem to flow to all the horizons. The Somabula Flats look more like an American prairie than an African plain, the soil too acidic for all but the hardiest trees. Unlike elsewhere in the country, which is mostly well treed, sweeping vistas of golden grass undulate uninterrupted across the hilltops. In winter, bitterly cold winds blow up from the south, occasionally even freezing the Vungu River, which snakes across the grasslands.
The bridge over the river on the bumpy road from Gweru south to Bulawayo is flanked by non-indigenous poplar trees, reinforcing the notion that one could be on another continent. But just a few miles on, from the crest of a small hill, you can glimpse the glorious mauve outcrops of the granite hills that mark the northern reaches of the uniquely African Matobo Hills (also referred to as the Matopos), which leaves you in no doubt where you are.
I first caught sight of them in August 1961, but, as beautiful as those hills are, at the time I had other things on my mind. At the age of three, I was too impatient to get to our new home to notice much about the landscape. Instead of admiring the view, I focused on the only manmade structure we'd passed for what seemed an eternity – a ruin by the side of the road.
"Is that our new home?" I asked my parents, anxious to escape from our wood-panelled Morris Minor. My mother smiled and patiently explained that the ruins belonged to someone else and that we still had a long way to travel before we got to the house that would be our new home in Bulawayo, where my father had been transferred to open a new bank. Disappointed that the journey was not over, I concentrated on the road ahead winding its way through the hills. I think it was then that I first developed, subconsciously, my deep love and passion for Zimbabwe. The people, hills, rivers, plains, trees, grasses of this land are intoxicating – everyone who visits experiences it: an irresistible attraction that becomes deeply embedded in one's soul.
Although, like the poplar trees that we passed that afternoon when we crossed the Vungu River bridge, I am not originally indigenous to Zimbabwe either, my matrilineal African roots run deep, planted by my great-great-great-grandmother who, as a thirteen-year-old girl named Rhoda Trollip, sailed with her parents and eight siblings from Portsmouth, England to the Eastern Cape of South Africa in January 1820 on a ship called the Weymouth.
They were part of a wave of emigrants fleeing the massive social upheaval that seized Britain in the aftermath of the Napoleonic and American wars. When the Battle of Waterloo ended the former war in 1815, agriculture fell into severe depression, causing spiralling food prices, unemployment, poverty and industrial unrest. The British government opted to defuse things, in part, by resettling the restless in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The governor of the Cape Colony, Lord Charles Somerset, was already anxious to settle the Eastern Cape, albeit for different reasons. His strategy was to provide a buffer of settlers to contain Xhosa tribes east of the Fish River. But he did suggest privately that potential immigrants should be warned of the dangers.
In July 1819, the British government offered emigrants a deal similar to the one they'd earlier deployed in Canada: free passage and food for the voyage to "South East Africa", as it was called; 100-acre grants of land on a "quit rent" payable after the first ten years; and free tents, seed, food and implements so that the settlers could make it through the first harvest. Disregarding Somerset's suggestion, no mention was made of the potential dangers of intruding into areas already inhabited by the Xhosa people; indeed the only mention of the Xhosa people was that they could not be hired as labourers.
Many of the settlers joined "proprietary parties" led by men with capital who recruited workers who contracted to serve them for a given number of years. Rhoda's family were neither wealthy enough to lead such a group nor poor enough to need such indenture. Rather, they joined a joint stock party that was granted assets and land as a group. For many in Rhoda's party, the voyage was the end of the journey; measles raged and eighteen children and four adults died before reaching Africa.
The family cleared a plot of land on the Riet River near Bathurst, just south of the present Grahamstown. They called their farm Standerwyck, after Standerwyck Court near Tytherington, a village in Somerset close to the Wiltshire border. Four years after they arrived, on 6 February 1824, Rhoda married James Collett, who'd arrived two years earlier on the Salisbury. A trader working out of Grahamstown, James had his heart set on farming and, in 1832, he sold all of his merchandise and bought Elephant Fountain, south west of the town now known as Fort Beaufort.
It was a bold, or perhaps risky move, since Elephant Fountain was located in so-called "neutral territory", in fact territory formerly occupied by Xhosa tribes. Throughout his trading career, James had maintained a good relationship with Xhosa and Hottentot people, but his situation changed dramatically with the move to Elephant Fountain, setting up the first, but certainly not the last, of his battles with Xhosa people over land, a struggle all too familiar wherever colonies have been planted. Suddenly, James was no longer providing the Xhosa the trade they wanted; he was living on the land that had been theirs and grazing cattle they envied. Stock theft became a fact of life. In less than a year, he and his neighbours lost 40 oxen, eight cows and twelve horses. By Christmas 1834, violence had erupted, as James described in an urgent note to the authorities on 26 December:
"The feelings of us all on this large establishment this morning can be imagined, but us few can adequately describe them. Nothing but burning homesteads in every direction. Many bodies of ... had passed us in the night and proceeded deeper into the Colony, but fortunately, we were unmolested during the night."
By the new year herds of livestock in the district were being systematically plundered, and within three months James was at the end of his tether. He wrote in his journal:
"O Lord in the greatness of Thy mercy save me from infidelity and unbelief, strengthen my staggering faith in the over ruling providence of thee my God,how can I sink with such a prop as my Eternal God? Why these wicked ... should be suffered to rob me of my three span of valuable oxen I have with such assiduity been for several years matching and training, and all those choice milch cows which supplied us with butter and my dear children and people with milk in abundance."
On 13 May the house was raided by Xhosa tribesmen and Rhoda's younger brother's wife and baby were stabbed with an assegai. She died the next day, although the infant survived. James and Rhoda hung on as an uneasy peace developed. Still, despite ongoing skirmishes, James managed to increase his holdings – to eleven farms on which he grazed over 3 500 sheep. However, in 1841 he moved his family to greener and safer pastures outside the so-called "neutral" lands on two farms near the town of Cradock in the Great Fish River valley, Groenfontein and Dassenkrantz. He sold up the farms in the Fort Beaufort district in 1842 and moved away permanently from the contentious border area. While Rhoda and James' children subsequently had to do military service, the horrors of May 1835 were never repeated again.
Gradually, the colonists cemented their control and their concerns turned from defending themselves from people they viewed as marauding tribesmen to addressing a shortage of labour. The solution dreamt up by Colonial Secretary Lord Grey was to send a shipload of Irish convicts to the Cape, a move endorsed by the unelected Legislative Council for the Western and Eastern provinces. Furious, James dubbed the plan a "diabolical scheme rejected by all colonists!" He supported an Anti-Convict Association, which was formed, and which forced the resignation of all but one member of the appointed Legislative Council. Alarmed at the reaction, in July 1853 the British government agreed to the creation of an elected government for the Cape. While this was a step towards a more democratic order, only white males could vote.
James was elected to this first Parliament on 19 April 1854, but it was almost an election by default. His only mention of it was a diary entry that day: "Rode to Craddock this morning. Felt much discouraged when unexpectedly election over before our arrival. Informed that I had been elected without opposition a member for our new and eventful Parliament." But his was not a long career in politics. After one term, he withdrew; the two-week wagon trek to Cape Town was too much for a farmer who understood how little he could achieve in the city for his neighbours in the Eastern Province.
In the space of 20 years, between 1824 and 1844, James and Rhoda had nine children. The seventh, my great-great-grandfather, Joseph Collett, was born before James and Rhoda left Elephant Fountain farm. Joseph and his wife, Emily Simpson, never settled down on one plot of land, but led a somewhat nomadic existence on a variety of farms in the northern and eastern Cape. The second of their eleven children, Alice, however, never budged from the Middelburg district of the Eastern Province, where she married Fred Every, whose family originally hailed from Wiltshire. Their last child, Ada, my grandmother, was born there on Christmas Eve 1900 in Middelburg town, and my mother Nora was born there too, 27 years later.
Unlike her mother and grandmother, Nora moved well beyond the narrow confines of the Cape. First, she moved to London to study nursing. Then, rather than return to South Africa, she accepted a job at Gwelo (now Gweru) Central Hospital in Rhodesia, a country north of South Africa across the Limpopo, which she had never seen.
Although the Eastern Cape had been settled for 80 years by whites by the time my grandmother was born, the territory then known as Rhodesia had only been relatively recently occupied by white settlers at the turn of the century. A year after Joseph was born in 1838 Ndebele king Mzilikazi commenced his trek north from present South Africa to Zimbabwe. Mzilikazi had fallen out with the Zulu king, King Shaka, in 1823 and he fled Zululand, eventually ending up in the Transvaal (present-day Gauteng). Mzilikazi dominated the Transvaal for a decade, through the Mfecane (which means "crushing" or "scattering" in isiNdebele).
It was here, in 1835, that Mzilikazi met and became friends with the Scottish missionary Robert Moffat. This was to become a lifelong friendship and was deep enough to motivate Mzilikazi to go to extraordinary lengths to assist Moffat in getting supplies to his son-in-law David Livingstone in 1859. With British settlers flooding into the Cape,Dutch-speaking colonists became increasingly irritated by British rule. The vast majority were farmers ("boers") and, seeking greener pastures in southern Africa's hinterland, they trekked north en masse to escape British rule and occupied the Transvaal in 1836, forcing Mzilikazi to flee north two years later. On crossing the Limpopo, Mzilikazi squeezed out disparate weak and smaller tribes and in 1840 established his Mthwakazi kingdom, roughly bounded by the Limpopo to the south, the Kalahari desert to the west, the Zambezi to the north and Portuguese settlers to the east in what is modern-day Mozambique. Under the Royal House of Khumalo and using considerable statesmanship, Mzilikazi was able to meld the many tribes he conquered with his own people into an ethnically diverse but centralised kingdom. He established his capital in Ko-Bulawayo, the present-day Bulawayo. On his death in 1868 he was succeeded by his son Lobengula.
In 1888, Cecil John Rhodes managed to extract an agreement, known as the Rudd Concession, from King Lobengula, which allowed the British to prospect over all the territory under Lobengula's control in exchange for a gunboat on the Zambezi, rifles, ammunition and a payment to Lobengula of £100 per month. Rhodes's emissary, the phlegmatic Charles Dunell Rudd, had given an absolute assurance to Lobengula that the Europeans had no intention of actually settling in the area or seeking land. Rhodes, in a cunning volte-face, used that agreement, the Rudd Concession, and considerable deception to obtain a Royal Charter signed by Queen Victoria in October 1889, enabling his British South Africa Company to occupy Mashonaland, a region well beyond the borders of Lobengula's hegemony. He cobbled together an expeditionary force of 196 farmers, professionals, artisans and soldiers supported by a 500-man police force (the genesis of the British South Africa Police – BSAP) and moved north, despite Lobengula's protestations that the Rudd Concession's agreement was being violated. At first, the troops skirted Lobengula's territory and raised the Union Jack in present-day Harare. But three years later, they invaded the Mthwakazi kingdom, defeated Lobengula and raised the British flag in Bulawayo, on 4 November 1893, 25 years to the day after Mzilikazi had been interred at Entumbane in the Matobo Hills.
From its curious beginnings as a state run by a company, and absurdly named after a living human being, Southern Rhodesia developed rapidly. Unlike so many other colonies, the white people who settled there weresettling for life and they invested heavily in constructing solid infrastructure. In 1923 the British government allowed the all-white electorate to choose by referendum whether to become a province of the Union of South Africa or a "Responsible Government". Despite a vigorous campaign by the legendary Boer War general Jan Smuts for the Union cause, the largely English-speaking Rhodesians opted for a more independent course out of fear of being swallowed up by South African Afrikaners.
Shortly after the conclusion of World War II conditions became more favourable for a federation in Central Africa. An association with Northern Rhodesia (present-day Zambia) was mooted in 1915 but the latter's relatively weak economy and the fear of being overwhelmed by black people deterred white Southern Rhodesians. The subsequent discovery of copper in Northern Rhodesia made an economic association more palatable. In addition the extremist political attitudes in South Africa, following the accession to power of the National Party in 1948 and the spread of African nationalism in the north, left English-speaking white Southern Rhodesians feeling isolated. This resulted in the formation of the Central African Federation in 1953, comprising Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
The new Federal government went on a recruiting drive. Many English-speaking South Africans were attracted north across the Limpopo and my mother, who had just completed her nursing course at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, was one person who responded. She was posted to Gwelo Central Hospital. My mother had emigrated from South Africa partly for the adventure and partly to escape the strictures imposed on South African society by the overtly racist National Party. At the very time that apartheid was taking root in South Africa, the Federation of Central Africa, of which Southern Rhodesia was the dominant part, was offering hope to whites for a vibrant and more liberal society.
Excerpted from The Struggle Continues by David Coltart. Copyright © 2016 David Coltart. Excerpted by permission of Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd.
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Table of Contents
2 Storm Clouds Gather 1957–1965,
3 Phoney Precursor to War 1965–1970,
4 The Calm before the Storm 1970–1975,
5 Peace is Over and Done 1975 and 1976,
6 All Out War September 1976–February 1978,
7 Devil's Madness 1978–1980,
8 Transitions April 1980–1983,
9 Gukurahundi January 1983–July 1984,
10 "You'll Be Seeing Fire" – The Annihilation of ZAPU July 1984–1987,
11 A De Facto One-Party State and All its Trappings 1988–1990,
12 True Peace? April 1990–February 1994,
13 Breaking the Silence 1994–1997,
Photographic Insert I,
14 Prelude to Mayhem 1997–1999,
15 Strike Fear into Their Hearts The 2000 referendum and election,
16 Parliamentary Battleground July 2000–February 2001,
17 Terrorists and "Terrorists" March 2001–December 2001,
18 The 2002 Presidential Election and its Aftermath January–June 2002,
19 Treason and Other Nefarious Activities July 2002–March 2003,
20 Underground – A Triumph of Courage over Fear March 2003–December 2003,
21 "Contempt of Parliament" January 2004–March 2005,
22 The MDC Falls Apart April 2005–June 2006,
Photographic Insert II,
23 A Hellhole in the Wilderness June 2006–January 2008,
24 Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth January 2008–February 2009,
25 Drawing Back from the Brink February 2009–May 2010,
26 Reaching Out May 2010–August 2011,
27 Towards a New Constitutions – The End of the Beginning August 2011–March 2013,
28 Back to the Future March 2013–December 2014,
29 Endurance Inspired by Hope 2015 ... and beyond,
Appendix: List of Acronyms,