Exploring the history and experiences of mixed heritage persons and inter-racial relationships across the world


Zimbabwe MapThe mixed race or as they are known the 'Coloured' population in Zimbabwe is very small - making up only half of a percent of the population, the majority located in the main urban centres.  Many Coloureds have emigrated over the past decade or so and especially as the economy in Zimbabwe collapsed, with sizeable immigrant populations in the UK, Canada and Australia.  Apart from the UK, the fact that many of them were experienced tradesmen, due to the limited employment opportunities in the past, assisted in making immigration a little easier than it was for the many of the indigenous African Zimbabwean.  The UK's 'one drop' mentality and reduced need for tradesmen made the immigration experiences for all non-white Zimbabweans very similar despite the fact that the vast majority of coloured people are descendants of British citizens.  Amongst the Zimbabweans there is a belief that white Zimbabweans, especially after independence and after the farm invasions, were granted legal immigrant status in the UK quite easily.

A distinct coloured community arose after the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) from the United Kingdom.  The European minority in what was the settler colony of Rhodesia at the time had been worried by the trend of black majority rule independence that was sweeping across Africa.  By declaring UDI in November, 1965, the Europeans hoped to maintain political and economic control of the country and its rich natural resources.  This control was totally lost after an attempt of indigenous appeasement, with multiracial elections in 1979, on Independence Day in April 1980.

The white minority government maintained a sort of apartheid system of segregating the races with the Coloured and Indians being granted a sort of 2nd class citizenship slightly above the indigenous African.  People involved in inter-racial relationships with mixed race children had to live in designated areas and the children expected to attend schools designated for them.  Whilst this was too much of an issue in the large urban areas of Harare (Salisbury) and Bulawayo, this did cause problems for coloureds in smaller and rural areas that did not have access to coloured schools unless they boarded in big city schools.  Many could not afford that luxury.  Employment wise, certain trades were available to the educated Coloured that were restricted to ingenious Africans but positions of authority remained the privilege of Europeans.  It is these trades of motor mechanics, fitters, turners, electricians and boiler-making for males and teaching, nursing and junior secretarial roles in the civil service and banks for the females that made it easier for the community to immigrate to places like Australia and Canada.

It is debateable that the separate identity that grew out of this segregation was helped by the 'Cape Coloured' immigrants who mainly came to teach in Coloured schools.  According to some sources, there was a bit of a power struggle in the community with the Cape Coloureds and the Afro-European sections vying for favour from the European masters.  It is more likely that the presence of the Cape Coloured politicised the Coloured as a community with increasing demands from the community for more school places, new and better residential areas and other demands.  The growth of apartheid in South Africa made many of the South African Coloureds eventually cut ties with the Cape.  The growth of the community was generally increased by marriage within the community as opposed to inter-racial coupling that found no favour in post UDI Rhodesia.

WildlifeBantu black ethnic groups make up 98% of the population of Zimbabwe with the Shona making some 80% and the Ndebele at around 15% and various minority groups such as Venda, Tonga and Kalanga making up the rest.  The Ndebele are descended from Zulu migrations in the 19th century and like the Zulus, assimilated many other minor tribes, not being averse to raiding and assimilating their numerous Shona neighbours when required.  The European population pre-independence comprised of many nationalities with British descendants making up a sizeable proportion and Afrikaner, Greek, Portuguese and Dutch adding to the mix.  Only a small European population remains.  A smaller business orientated Asian community of Indians - mainly of Tamil descent - and Chinese also existed but they rarely married outside their community and many have also left the country.  The Chinese population is now growing with increased investment form China fuelling the growth.

Obviously the vast majority of the mixed heritage population are the results of the admixture of European/Shona or European/Ndebele.  Note, how all Europeans are considered one group while the tribal ones are emphasised a little.  There is a friendly, but not always, rivalry between the Harare (Shona) and the Bulawayo (Ndebele) coloureds.  Into this mix are a number of other groups such as the Asian-African, Portuguese Indian namely Goan from neighbouring Mozambique and even some people who do not have recognisable racial admixture such as the Mozambican 'assimilados' - various Africans who had received formal education and adopted Portuguese customs.

The 'Goffals', the slang name used by Zimbabwean coloureds for themselves and help differentiate them for the other Southern African mixed heritage populations, developed their own cultural and social identity.  Even in the countries where they have immigrated to in significant numbers, they tend to maintain some of that community spirit.  However, as they move into second and third generations, people are moving further apart and are being further assimilated into the societies into which they immigrated.  The use of virtual communities such as web forums and Facebook has kept the original immigrants in touch; it is likely that their children, as in many immigrant populations, will stop seeing Zimbabwe as home.

The immigrants are not the only ones being absorbed into the general population.  Lawful segregation no longer plays a role in keeping the community together in Zimbabwe.  Those who are doing well economically have moved from the traditional residential areas, children within these areas and those outside are attending school and colleges away from the community and are mixing with other groups within society.  There are many poor coloureds and during the period of economic turmoil over the past 10-12 years, many coloured children did not attend school regularly and so have limited economic options.  This, coupled with the greater social mixing, will lead to many marrying outside the coloured community and moving away.

It would also be quite interesting to study how the 'new mixed race' people - i.e. those who are a result of racial admixture post-independence in and outside Zimbabwe fit into the community, if at all.  In the past, there has been some mixed acceptance of those from outside the community such as the 'lost coloured'.  The 'lost coloured' was a term used for a mixed race individual who was brought up in the rural countryside by his indigenous African relatives and usually had very little exposure to both European or Coloured urban cultures, very much, like the mixed race people of Australia that was the subject of the book and film 'The Rabbit Proof Fence'.  I hope to explore this area as part of this project.

The Zimbabwean experience is worth studying over some time.  It will be interesting to see whether the society will survive multiculturalism at home and abroad or will assimilation assure the extinction of this community like what has happened to some older admixture groups in the Far East?  It will also be a good reference point when we get to comparing the various South African coloured communities such as the Griqua.

Further Reading.