African struggle for independence in Zimbabwe was complicated because of the dominance of white settlers. After World War II, there was an influx of white settlers into Zimbabwe that led to massive expropriation of African land. In 1951, Africans formed the all African confederation convention party that aimed at opposing the formation of the federation of three central African colonies i.e. Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nyasaland (Malawi).When the Federal constitution was imposed in 1953, the African convention fell apart.
The White settlers consolidated their independence in 1970 when the country was proclaimed a republic, white settlers had sealed all hopes of a peaceful transition to independence when Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence in 1965 (unilateral Declaration of independence).
A new nationalist party called the African National council (ANC) was formed. The aim of the ANC was to oppose the British / Rhodesia agreement and ensure that independence was granted to the African majority.
In, 1960, they formed a new political party called Zimbabwe African peoples Party (ZAPU), this part was led by Joshua Nkomo. ZAPU was banned in 1962 and its leaders were detained, but it continued to operate underground.
A split in ZAPU leadership in 1963 led to the formation of Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) led by Ndabaningi Sethote. The disintegration of the federation following the independence of Zambia and Malawi, forced the Rhodesia. Front (political party of the white settlers) to press Britain to grant independence to Zimbabwe under minority rule.
Britain tactfully approved the request and on 11 th November 1965 Ian Smith unilaterally declared Southern Rhodesia independent, since then African nationalist movements were engaged in a prolonged gorilla war until majority rule was declaredin 1980. The following are the factors compelled the African nationalist leaders to use armed struggle:-
1. Banning of nationalists movements: The British colonial government was not ready to grant independence to Zimbabwe, it banned or suppressed many nationalist movements in Zimbabwe making the struggle for independence long and complicated. This position compelled the African nationalists to resort to the use of armed struggle to attain independence.
2. Tribalism: Tribalism hindered the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe. Most of the Nationalist movements were divided along tribal lines; the dominant tribes were the Shona and Ndebele. Due to tribalism the Africa nationalists could not put a common front against the colonialists, thus the only alternative left was to use armed struggle to attain independence.
3. Richness of Zimbabwe: Zimbabwe is so rich in terms of minerals such as gold and diamond and it has enough fertile soil that can support the growth of cash crops that were needed in the metropolitan countries. The richness of the colony made it difficult for the colonial government to grant it independence, this made the Africans to use armed struggle.
4. Establishment of a settler economy: The white settlers had established a settler economy in Zimbabwe where they had invested so much in plantation farms and mining activities. The massive investments made the colonial government reluctant to grant the Africans independence because it would tantamount to scarifying all the wealth in Zimbabwe. This position made the Africans to use armed struggle.
5. Declaration of independence by Ian Smith; The white settlers in Zimbabwe requested Britain to grant Zimbabwe independence but under minority rule i.e. controlled by the white settles. Britain approved the request and in 1965 Ian Smith unilaterally declared Zimbabwe independent, but under minority rule. This action prompted the Africans to engage in an armed struggle to attain their independence.
6. Harshness of the colonial government: The colonial government was very harsh in Zimbabwe; nationalist leaders were imprisoned and the government pursued policies such as forced labor whereby to implement this; travel passes were introduced to try and limit the movement of the people.
7. Disunity: The political parties in Zimbabwe were not united thus it became very difficult for them to present a common front against the colonial government. There were sharp differences between the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Zimbabwe African People’s Party (ZAPU). These differences left African nationalist like Mugabe with no choice but to use armed struggle.
8. Support of the imperialist power: The Zimbabwe minority regime was supported by the imperialist’s powers in order to defend their interests. This was seen when powers like the USA, France and Germany failed to observe the United Nations sanctions code against Ian Smith minority regime.