Ignoring the Obvious: What Explains Botswana’s Exceptional Democratic and Economic
Performance in Sub-Saharan Africa.
By Robert D. Woodberry
Project on Religion and Economic Change Working Paper #05
Notes on this manuscript:
These cases studies were conducted as part of the review process for
Woodberry, Robert D. 2012. “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.” American Political Science
Review 106(2): 244-274.
The reviewers asked me to conduct cases studies of India and China and matched case
studies from somewhere else in the world that tested my argument. I knew that Botswana had a
history of being unusually democratic and Lesotho and Zimbabwe did not, and I know that all
three were landlocked British colonies one with a large white settle population and the others
not. Thus, they helped “control” for other competing explanations. However, I did not know the
missions history in any of three African case studies. Thus, I thought they would be a good test
for my argument, a test I did not know the answer to before I started. However, because of the
extensive work that went into these cases studies, I did not want to merely publish them as
additional online appendix. Thus, I reserved 12 statistical tables that the reviewers had requested
(showing the robust association between Protestant missions and the intervening variables) and
all the case studies to be published elsewhere. I then chose names for these documents that
would allow me to cite this work without publishing it as appendixes. Thus, despite its title, this
document is still written in the form of an appendix – not a stand along document.
Appendix III: Southern African Case Studies
The main paper outlines the relationship between conversionary Protestants (CPs) and several
intermediate mechanisms: mass education, mass printing, civil society, and colonial reform. These
intermediate mechanisms are associated with democracy in the statistical and comparative historical
literature. However, for some scholars it is more convincing to see the concrete historical processes
whereby Protestant and Catholic missionaries influenced democratization in a specific set of countries.
Appendix III analyzes the association between missions and democracy in three land-locked
southern African countries: Botswana, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe. Although these three countries are
similar in many ways, they have had dramatically different experiences with post-colonial democracy.
Since independence, Botswana has had the most consistently high level of democracy of any country in
continental Africa, whereas Lesotho and Zimbabwe have been primarily autocratic.
The historical evidence suggests that Protestant missionaries consistently promoted democratization
in all three contexts – at least when the Protestant missionaries were not primarily supported by white
settlers (e.g., the South African Dutch Reformed Church). White settlers consistently opposed the
extension of democratic rights to Africans. The British colonial government occasionally supported
democratization, but almost only when forced to via the Protestant missionary lobby. Most Catholic
missionaries did not initially support democratization, but in the 1960s and 1970s radically changes in the
Catholic hierarchy enabled segments of the Catholic Church to become vocal advocates of transferring
power to Africans in some contexts (e.g., Zimbabwe).
In all three countries Protestant missionaries initiated education, printing and civil society for
Africans and initiated all the major colonial reform movements prior to the 1960s. Moreover, (in blunt,
over-simplified terms) where Protestant missionaries had greater influence (i.e., Botswana), the country
became a democracy; where other groups had sufficient influence to counteract the Protestant missionary
influence (i.e., Lesotho and Zimbabwe), the countries became autocratic. The case studies tell a somewhat
more complex and nuanced version of this story, but the general pattern is there. Thus, the case studies
support the arguments outlined elsewhere in this paper.
Botswana is an outlier in most theories about democracy and economic development (Lange 2009;
Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson 2003). It is a landlocked Sub-Saharan African country that was
administered indirectly by the British. The British assumed the protectorate would eventually be absorbed
into South Africa as an unskilled labor reserve. Thus, they invested as little as possible in the country and
actively undermined efforts of Batswana
to set up businesses (Parsons 1988, xix; Ramsay, Morton and
Morton 1996, 101, 116, 239). Only between 1957 and 1966 did the British invest significantly in
infrastructure and education (Lange 2009, 154). Thus, at independence, Botswana was one of the poorest
countries in the world – with a per capita GNP of $97 and almost no middle class or working class. The
closest thing to a working class was migrant peasants who worked intermittently in South African mines
(Frank 1981, 189; Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 237; Lange 2009, 152). Herding was the traditional
means of wealth and thus was tied to control of land and water (which are not transportable and thus in
many theories of democracy should inhibit democratization). Thus, economic, geographic and class-based
theories about the rise of democracy do not fit the Botswana case (e.g., theories by Rueschemeyer,
Stephens and Stephens 1992; Geddes 1999; Acemoglu and Robinson 2006).
Moreover, a strong state developed only after stable democratization and thus cannot be the cause of
that democratization - contra Lange (2009). At independence, few Batswana had the education or
experience to run government institutions or companies and almost half of government revenues came
from aid (Morton and Ramsay 1987, 187, 191; Lange 2009, 152). There were few Europeans during the
colonial period to establish European institutions (less than 3,000 whites at it height),
and the British
formerly called the Bechuanaland Protectorate
Botswana is the country, Batswana are the people, Setswana is the language and Tswana is the tribe.
Moreover, as late as 1952, 42 percent of the senior and mid-level officers overseeing the protectorate
lived in South Africa, not Botswana (Lange 2009, 145-6).
blocked the development of local democratic institutions until just before independence. Even in the
1950s British colonial officials strongly advocated traditional chiefly authority over any semblance of
democracy (Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 144). The first legislative council met in 1961 – five
years before independence. It included some indirectly elected representatives, but whites controlled two-
thirds of the seats. The first direct national elections were held in 1965 – the year before independence. In
fact, Bechuanaland Protectorate was one of the last British territories to establish a legislative council or
hold elections (Benson 1960, 262-3; Morton and Ramsay 1987, 161-162). Elsewhere in Africa this type
of last-minute preparation for independence is associated with state failure and autocracy.
In addition, Botswana has the “resource curse” of huge diamond deposits. Elsewhere huge oil and
diamond deposits are associated with despotism, corruption and civil war (e.g., Ross 2001). Moreover,
Botswana had substantial tribal diversity (Schapera 1952; Lange 2009, 159) which can foster ethnic
conflict and undermine democracy. Thus, almost every theory of democracy suggests Botswana should be
autocratic, corrupt, and unstable, yet it has been the most stable democracy in Africa (Brockman 1994,
218; Lange 2009) and has a higher democracy score than any other country in Africa (89.58 on the 100
point Bollen/Paxton scale). However, Botswana fits the theories outlined in this article well.
Protestant mission influence began well before Europeans controlled Bechuanaland.
missionaries were shocked by white settlers’ abuses of indigenous peoples and complained vociferously
against them. For example, Dr. John Philip wrote Researches in South Africa (1828) to catalogue abuses
and traveled through Great Britain mobilizing opposition to them. Philip and his colleagues lobbied
powerful Evangelicals in England (e.g., William Wilberforce, Thomas Fowell Buxton, James Stephens
and Lord Glenelg) to pass legislations in 1828 and 1829 granting “of all the natives of South Africa, the
same freedom and protection as are enjoyed by other free people of the Colony whether English or
Bechuanaland is the historic name of Botswana.
Dutch” (legislation quoted in A. Ross 1986, 109).
This legislation became the foundation of the 1853
constitution of the Cape Colony – which barred any law based on race and remained in effect until the
Union of South Africa in 1910 (Holmberg 1966, 12-30; Stanley 1990, 91-8; A. Ross 1986; 1995; Hincks
However, the constitution was only enforced in the Cape Colony and white settlers continued
to confiscate Tswana land – particularly areas with water and good soil.
During the first Tswana-Boer War (1852-1853), Boers tried to disarm the Batswana, steal their
cattle, enslave their women and children, and establish regional hegemony. Missionaries like David
Livingston, Robert Moffat, and Joseph Ludorf helped Batswana acquire arms and ammunition to resist
the Boers and publicized Boer abuses. In response the Boers sacked and burned mission stations
(Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 25, 130, 133, 152).
In the following decades, missionaries repeatedly intervened to protect Batswana land. Joseph
Ludorf tried to unite Tswana chiefs so they could better resist European encroachment (Ramsay, Morton
and Morton 1996, 133). John Mackenzie, an LMS missionary working in the area, decided the only way
protect Batswana land from European settlers was to form a British protectorate that guaranteed
indigenous land rights and barred white settlers and Cape Colony officials from serving in the
protectorate’s administration. In 1864 Mackenzie published a book arguing for a protectorate and returned
to England to write, speak, and lobby on behalf of the Batswana (Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 136;
Sillery 1974, 53-63). Initially the British were not interested. However, after the second Tswana-Boer
War (1881-1884), Evangelical lobbying, together with geo-political concerns, convinced the British to
Lobbying by Philip also helped remove two Cape Colony governors opposed to his liberal agenda: Lord
Charles Somerset and Sir Benjamin D’Urban (Hincks 2009, 181).
Missionaries lobbied heavily for this constitution. However, although Anglo missionaries ultimately lost
the struggle when Boer settlers took over the South African government in the 20th century, they did
influence colonial policy for almost a century and earned the ire of white settlers in the process (e.g.,
Ferguson 2002, 278; A. Ross 1986; 1995; Langworthy 1996; Parsons 1998).
form a protectorate– although the British provided almost no development funds (Holmberg 1966, 5-11,
45-148; Hermans 1974, 90-91).
Initially Mackenzie was the deputy commissioner, but because of strong opposition in the Cape
Colony, the British replaced him with Cecil Rhodes (a diamond mining magnet and South African
politician trying to gain control of mining rights in the interior).
Still, Mackenzie convinced General
Charles Warrant (who established the protectorate) to mandate a land commission to investigate land
titles and return land that whites had obtained unfairly. Rhodes and his allies fought and postponed the
commission, so Mackenzie returned to England to mobilize political support. After eight years the
commission finally began investigating (Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 136; Sillery 1974, 64-67, 75-
79, 100-102). The historian Anthony Sillery claims the investigation was “…probably the most positive
single act of the local British administration in the first decade of the Protectorate’s life. Its effect was to
eliminate a number of parasites before they had taken good hold on the country; and a true estimate of its
achievement may be formed if we consider the case of Swaziland, where wholesale concessions and too
narrow review of them combined to rob the Swazi of a large part of their land” (1974, 102).
However, these victories angered white settlers and made future victories more difficult. Moreover,
in 1886 gold was discovered in the Transvaal – mines which produced a quarter of the world’s gold
supply by the 1890s (Robinson and Gallagher 1961, 210). Thus, the Boers’ power increased dramatically.
The British tried both to contain the Boers by colonizing a circle around them and to mollify the Boers by
giving white settler interests greater preference (Robinson and Gallagher 1961, 210-253). In this context,
Cecil Rhodes formed the British South Africa Company (BSAC), colonized Northern and Southern
Rhodesia (i.e., Zambia and Zimbabwe), and pressured the British to guarantee eventual transfer of
Bechuanaland to the BSAC.
Rhodes founded DeBeers and was a member of the South African Parliament. He later founded the
British South Africa Company, became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, and was a major architect of
British colonial policy in southern Africa.
When the Tswana chiefs learned of this plan, one of them, Khama III,
decided to appeal to the
British government in person, and asked missionaries for help. Two other chiefs joined him, but all three
were illiterate, could not speak English, had never left southern Africa, and had no contacts in the British
government. Missionaries organized their trip, arranged meetings with government officials and Queen
Victoria, transported the chiefs around Great Britain, and translated for them on speaking tours to raise
public awareness and organize petition drives. This speaking tour stirred the Nonconformist conscience to
such an extent that Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain had difficulty continuing to support Rhodes’
plans (Parsons 1998; Greenlee and Johnston 1999, 36-38, 53, 71; Stuart 2008; Rutherford 2009, 57-63).
Chamberlain created a new agreement, protecting much of the three chiefs’ land, but giving other Tswana
chiefs’ land to the BSAC. However, the BSAC tried to invade Transvaal from Bechuanaland – which
helped spur the disastrous Anglo-Boer War.
The angry British administration postponed the handover of
Tswana land to the BSAC indefinitely (Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 231-2; Sillery 1974, 108-110;
Rutherford 2009, 54-65). From this point on, Tswana chiefs used the Chamberlain settlement to try to
stave off encroachment by white settlers and colonial officials.
Still, much additional lobbying was necessary to prevent the British from merging Bechuanaland
with Rhodesia or South Africa (Parsons 1988; 1998; Dachs 1998; Stuart 2008; Lange 2009, 144-154).
Khama III had a close mentoring relationship with John Mackenzie. Mackenzie and other missionaries
had already popularized Khama III internationally as an ideal Christian chief who had worked hard to
Christianize and reform his tribe. Khama had already banned polygamy, witchcraft, bride price, extreme
corporal punishment, killing of twins, and enslavement of Bushmen. During and after this visit the
missionary press continued to burnish and extend his reputation (Benson 1960, 28; Tlou, Parsons, and
Henderson 1995, 6-8; Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 115, 131-132).
The chiefs sufficiently hampered Rhodes’ plans that he wrote angrily to his agent Dr. Rutherfoord
Harris, “It is humiliating to be utterly beaten by those niggers [sic.]” (cited in Rutherford 2009, 62).
Rhodes had hoped to spur an uprising and gain access to the huge gold supplies of the Transvaal.
The 1910 Act of Union provided for South Africa to incorporate Bechuanaland. But the British colonial
minister conceded that as long as Khama III remained alive “the bare suggestion of handing him over to
the Union [of South Africa] would bring the whole missionary world and others upon me at once” (cited
in Parsons 1998, 259). When Khama III died, his son Tshekedi Khama
made several trips London to ask
the British to restrain monopoly trade companies and foreswear joining Bechuanaland to South Africa
without Tswana consent. In each case, missionaries encouraged him, arranged his contact with leading
government officials, and mobilized popular support. The missionary Rev. Albert E. Jennings also
arranged Tshekedi’s legal counsel – Douglas Buchanan (Buchanan also came from a missionary family).
Moreover, on each of Tshekdi’s trips missionaries traveled with him – serving as an advisor in all his
meetings with government officials (Benson 1960, 63-66; 75-80,113-7, 215-255; Parsons 1998, 259; Rey
1988, 16, 25, 29, 204 n. 12). Public opinion in Great Britain was sufficiently strong that government
officials did not feel they could transfer Bechuanaland to South African control without guarantees of
indigenous land and legal protections. Developments in South Africa made such guarantees increasingly
implausible (Sillery 1974, 120-123).
Still, between 1930 and 1937 Resident Commissioner Charles Rey (who believed unification with
South Africa was desirable and inevitable) promulgated laws that allowed the British to remove chiefs at
will, that undermined tribal consultative procedures, and that increased the influence of white settlers and
trade companies. Rey also tried to transfer land and concessions to British and South African mining
Tshekedi was regent for Khama III’s grandson and heir, Seretse. Tshekedi was educated at Lovedale
and Fort Hare (both Protestant mission schools) and remained a committed Christian with close ties to
missionaries throughout his life (Benson 1960, 43, 66, 88-89, 144, 182, 207-8, 277, 304-5; Scott 1958;
Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 23, 46, 60-1, 72, 116). In a 1956 speech for the Africa Bureau he
said, “Africa still has open fields for missionary educationalists; medical missionaries; missionary
agriculturalists, missionary engineers and even missionary politicians” (cited in Benson 1960, 288).
companies in the face of resistance from chiefs.
However, via missionaries, the chiefs mobilized
pressure in England against Rey and his new laws. Missionaries contacted British government officials,
mobilized their supporters, passed information to newspapers, and provided legal counsel. At one point,
Rey removed Tshekedi from power, but mission-mobilized popular pressure in the UK forced Rey to
reinstate him (Benson 1960, 91-4, 108, 124-134; Rey 1988, 16, 25, 29, 141, 152-6, 240, 267; Morton and
Ramsey 1987, 54-63; Lange 2009, 148).Thus, Rey considered Protestant missionaries his “mortal foes.”
His journal is full of angry comments about Protestant missionaries defending chiefs, undermining his
authority, stirring up African nationalism, and mobilizing political campaigns in Great Britain (Rey 1988,
14, 16, 19, 20, 24-25, 29, 39, 48-55, 63, 67, …).
Rey had a much higher opinion of Catholic
missionaries because “they encourage the people to respect the government, obey the laws and become
good citizens” (Rey 1988, 26).
The British legal system was less helpful than missionary lobbying for blocking abuses of power. In
fact, in July 1936, Rey won a court case which overturned the treaty of 1895 and ruled that the Crown had
“unfettered and unlimited power to legislate for the government of … the native tribes of Bechuanaland
Protectorate” (cited in Parson 1984, 22). Still, partially as a result of missionary lobbying, Bechuanaland
was not absorbed into South Africa, the traditional chieftaincy remained largely intact, and the British had
In addition, British hut taxes forced Batswana to work as migrant laborers in South African mines, trade
restrictions reduced the value of local products, and discriminatory legislation (e.g., the 1923 Credit Sales
to Natives Proclamation) effectively prevented Africans from becoming traders (Parson 1984, 23).
For example, he wrote, “The Church of Scotland mission run an institution in South Africa called
Lovedale … and apparently all the unrest among natives is due largely to those who come out of
Lovedale … I wish I could induce my savages to start a pogrom of missionaries and eat the lot.”
Elsewhere he wrote, “I’d like to stick my missionary crowd down a mine onto a stick of dynamite and
blow the whole damned lot to the heaven they’re always bleating about” (Rey 1988, 19, 51).
difficulty removing or installing chiefs. The chiefs also maintained close relations with missionaries –
who served as advisors on many issues (e.g., Benson 1960; Sillery 1974, 72).
Of course, chiefly rule was not unambiguously beneficial for democracy. Chiefs also abused power
and some tried to block higher education for commoners (Morton and Ramsey 1987, 64-101, 163).
However, both the rise of a young, mission-educated elite and conflict over chiefly succession helped
moderate chiefly power and channel leaders toward democracy (Morton and Ramsey 1987, 123, 130,
In 1945 SeretseKhama
(Khama III’s heir) went to England to study law. There he met and married
a white woman, Ruth Williams. TsekedeKhama (Seretse’suncle and regent) challenged Seretse’s right to
Before independence, Protestant missionaries provided virtually all Western education and medicine
(Barrett 1982, 185). After independence, Protestant missionaries continued to supervise state hospitals
and teacher training colleges (e.g., Alfred Merriweather, Howard Moffat, Brian Bailey, John Rutherford)
Tshekedi raised Seretse Khama from age four and educated him at Tiger Kloof, Adams College,
Lovedale, and Fort Hare (all Protestant mission schools). This infuriated Charles Rey, who mobilized
pressure for Seretse to attend Domboshawa (a Southern Rhodesian government school). Rey thought
Seretse would imbibe African nationalism at Protestant mission schools. In fact, Seretse met most of the
major, contemporary, southern African nationalists during his studies (Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson
1995, 20, 31-59).
Seretse’s uncle, aunt and grandmother also tried to instill Christian values in Seretse, but he
resented the pressure and attended church irregularly after he reached maturity. Still, he was never hostile
to Christianity and maintained close friendships with Protestant missionaries throughout his life (Benson
1960, 88, 173-4, 251, 271, 288; Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 23, 28, 60, 163). Seretse’s wife was
an active Anglican and his sister-in-law Muriel was a missionary in Northern Rhodesia. Muriel originally
met Seretse when she led a Bible study for African students in Seretse’s hostile. She later introduced him
rule because he had not asked the tribe’s approval and would make a non-Tswana the “Queen mother.”
The British government reacted strongly as well. They feared South Africa would leave the
Commonwealth if the British allowed a chief married to a white woman. Thus, Colonial Office lied to
Seretse to trick him to come to England and then refused to let him leave. The British also banned
Tsekede from his tribal area.
Some missionaries (particularly Michael Scott) spent years trying to reconcile the Khamas and to
pressure the government to revoke the expulsion orders (Benson 1960, 186-278; Tlou, Parsons,
Henderson 1995, 116-134). To facilitate the process, Scott helped form both the Africa Bureau
Council for the Defense of Seretse Khama and the Protectorates in 1952. The leader of the Council was
Fenner Brockway, an MP and the son of LMS missionaries. Seretse’s friend John Collins (an Anglican
priest) also mobilized the organization Christian Action against the expulsions. These organizations
mobilized sufficient pressure to almost win a no confidence vote in Parliament and collapse the
government, but the banishments remained in place (Tlou, Parsons, Henderson 1995, 126-134, 147).
However, the government’s position became increasingly untenable. In 1953 the National Party won
a decisive victory in South Africa. The new Prime Minister, J.G. Strijdom, was a strident Afrikaner
nationalist and bitter opponent of the British Commonwealth. Strijdom removed the British government’s
excuse of trying to keep South Africa in the Commonwealth. Then from March to June 1956 a barrage of
unfavorable publicity about the South African government opened the way for change. First, the Anglican
to her sister Ruth at party (Andrew and Andrews 1975, 198; Tlou, Parson, Henderson 1995, 69-71, 163;
Stepping Stones International 2007; Stuart 2008, 315).
The attempt to fight the Khama’s banishments convinced Michael Scott and his allies that they needed
a permanent organization not tied to any political party that could both help African leaders lobby the
British government and educate British public opinion. Thus, a group of missionaries, church leaders, and
academics formed the Africa Bureau – which helped speed and moderate the process of British
decolonization throughout Africa (Scott 1958, 267-9; Benson 1960, 277-278; Chater 1962, 16-17).
missionary Trevor Huddleston published Naught for your Comfort, a devastating critique of South
African racial policies which helped turn British public opinion against apartheid. Concurrently, the South
African government published the Tomlinson Report - which advocated making Bechuanaland a labor
reserve in the apartheid system. This made British policy politically awkward.
Tshekedi saw this as his chance. He asked Michael Scott to help him both write a statement and
workout a compromise with Seretse. As part of this agreement, both Khamas renounced the chieftaincy
for themselves and their children (fulfilling British government demands), but retained the right to
participate in politics. The British government grabbed the opportunity to be freed from a problem that
had dogged it for seven years. In August 1956 Seretse returned triumphantly to Bechuanaland and
Tshekedi re-entered the Bamangwato reserve (Scott 1958, 270-4; Benson 1960, 223-245, 251, 255; Tlou,
Parson, Henderson 1995, 271-2). The British attempt to depose Seretse greatly enhanced his prestige in
Bechuanaland, and despite his renunciation of chieftaincy, most still considered him to be so.
For many years Tshekedi had pressured the British to allow a legislative council. In this struggle, he
again enlisted the support of Michael Scott and other missionaries. However, senior colonial officials
strongly advocated the superiority of traditional authority over any semblance of democracy in local
councils (Benson 1960, 232, 235, 258-67, 283; Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 134-4, 144).
However, after Tshekedi and Sereste returned, they became close friends and cooperated in organizing an
elected council for their tribe – the first of its kind in Bechuanaland. This system of assemblies quickly
spread to the other regions – creating pressure for an elected assembly at the national level. Initially,
Tshekedi was elected Tribal Secretary of the Bamangwato Council. However, on June 10, 1959, Tshekedi
died and Seretse replaced him as Tribal Secretary. But the seeds of democratic institutions had been
planted; just before Tshekedi’s death the British promised a partially elected Legislative Council, to start
in 1961 (Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 133-4, 174-7; Benson 1960, 262-72, 282).
Before his death, Tshekedi also negotiated an important mining contract. Because he was able to
negotiate from a position of strength when Bechuanaland was clearly moving towards independence, he
won very favorable terms for the Batswana. Moreover, because they were signed so late in the history of
the protectorate, the flood of revenue only began after independence and remained under government
control (Benson 1960, 276, 281-2, 302; Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 143-5).
In 1961 Seretse formed the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) and was elected Prime Minister
of the new Legislative Council in the first national election. At independence five years later, he was
elected the first president of Botswana. He and the other African representatives in the national assembly
were almost entirely educated at Protestant mission schools (particularly Tiger Kloof) and many had close
contact with missionaries (Sillery 1974, 141; Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 42, 259; Ramsay,
Morton and Morton 1996, 232-33, 251,…; Rutherford 2009, 218).
In fact, although Protestant missionaries did not lobby for particular political parties, Seretse
integrated them into his government and civil service. Most conspicuously, he nominated the missionary
Rev. Dr. Alfred Merriweather as the speaker of Bechuanaland’s first Legislative Council and after
independence nominated Merriweather as the first speaker of the National Assembly.
confirmed unanimously, and he vowed to safeguard the rights of the minority parties (Merriweather
1969,90-92; Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1966, 145). When Merriweather stepped down in 1968 to run a
state hospital and become Seretse’s personal physician, Seretse nominated the missionary Rev. Albert
Lock to become the next Speaker – who remained Speaker until 1979 (Barrett 1982, 185; Botswana
Parliament 2010; Grant 2009). The first mayor of the capital city was also a Protestant missionary: Rev.
Derek Jones (Scrimgeour 1999).
Placing missionaries in key government positions accomplished several goals. First, it allowed
Seretse to signal Botswana’s white-ruled neighbors that whites were not excluded from power. Second, it
helped maintain close ties with England, ties Seretse could use to mobilize international pressure against
any South African attempts to either annex or interfere in Botswana. Third, it allowed the government to
use the skills of talented administrators who were committed to the welfare of Botswana, who did not
have close ties to South African or white settler interests, and who were less likely to be corrupt.
The constitution allows the legislature to pick a speaker not directly elected to Parliament.
Seretse Khama and the BDP won a decisive victory at independence (capturing 28 of the 31 seats in
parliament in 1965, 24 in 1969, 27 in 1974 and 29 in 1979). They could have used this overwhelming
victory to rewrite the constitution, create a one party dictatorial state, and absorb the wealth of
Botswana’s copper, nickel, and diamond mines. But they did not. Seretse and the BDP expanded civil
liberties, freedom of the press, and other economic and political rights. Seretse was also able to balance
between competing factions because he was a chief who had renounced his cheiftancy, was a black
married to a white, and was a traditional ruler who had been opposed by the British. Profits from
Botswana’s huge mining industry are controlled by the government, but have been reinvested in public
works and social services at a level unprecedented elsewhere (about a third of GDP goes to social services
– especially education). Corruption has remained low, economic growth is among the highest of any
country in the world, and the level of democracy is higher than any other country in Africa (Frank 1981;
Parson 1984, 32-33, 47; Brockman 1994, 218; Lange 2009).
From the 1950s on, both Tshekedi and Seretse Khama advocated “non-racialism” – an attempt to
remove all laws based on race, fight both white and black racism, and gain independence without spurring
white flight. In this endeavor the Khamas drew on ideas from and cooperated with a number of
missionaries: particularly Colin Morris, Michael Scott, Guy Clutton-Brock, and Muriel Williams
Sanderson. Moreover, when Seretse first went to London, Dr. Harold Moody (a black, Jamaican-born,
medical doctor) was the chairman of the Africa Committee of the LMS and attempted to take Seretse
under his wing. In 1931 Moody had founded the League of Coloured Peoples and remained its president
until his death. Thus, the white LMS missionaries who dominated mission work in Botswana were under
the authority of a black “civil rights” leader – something rather unusual for other organizations in the
1940s (British Medical Journal 1947; Rush 2002; Stuart 2008, 314).
Through the League, Moody tried to fight racial discrimination in Great Britain and her colonies. In
1945 the LMS also published a Manifesto against racial discrimination (Stuart 2008, 314).
In Africa, the Rev. Colin Morris and Kenneth Kaunda initially popularized the concept of non-
racialism in Northern Rhodesia. However, Seretse had a close link with developments there through his
sister-in-law Muriel Williams Sanderson – a Congregational missionary who renounced her British
citizenship and became Zambian in protest to British racial policy. She was a member of Kenneth
Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) (Andrews and Andrews 1975, 198; Stepping
Stones International 2007; Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 206).
Similarly, Tshekedi Khama and Michael Scott together attempted to develop non-racial projects. For
example, in the 1940s they invited Guy Clutton-Brock to come to Bechuanaland to create an agricultural
development project in which whites and blacks would work as equals. However, because both Tshekedi
and Seretse were soon banished, Clutton-Brock went to Southern Rhodesia where he established a non-
racial agricultural development project at St. Faith’s Mission and, later, one at Cold Comfort Farm. Once
released from exile, Tshekedi visited Clutton-Brock in Rhodesia to see how his non-racial project was
working and re-invited him to Bechuanaland to do similar work. When the Rhodesian government
expelled Clutton-Brock, he and his wife came to Bechuanaland to form the Bamangwato Development
Association, where he worked closely with both Tshekedi and Seretse (Benson 1960, 208, 293-6; Chater
1962, 189-192; Hastings 1979, 97, 151; Todd 1995; Grant 2005).
However, while the Khamas all worked closely with and were heavily influenced by missionaries,
the Khamas were not subservient to them. Khama III expelled missionaries who displeased him. Tshekedi
recruited Michael Scott after Scott was expelled from South Africa and asked him to lead various projects
on his behalf (e.g., the campaign to prevent South Africa from annexing South West Africa/Namibia).
Similarly, Tshekedi asked the London Missionary Society to take care of Seretse when he was in London.
(Benson 1960, 57, 153-161, 177; Tlou, Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 61-8; Rutherford 2009).
Moreover, Seretse’s motivation for non-racial policies was no doubt enhanced by his marriage to a
While many factors led to democracy in Botswana, Protestant missionaries helped Batswana leaders
maintain their independence from white settlers, monopoly trade companies, and British colonial
meddling. Thus, Botswana avoided the fate of the surrounding states (Namibia, South Africa, Zambia,
Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Angola), where white settler minorities clung to power and where blacks
only won control through violent revolutions and decades-long international social movements.
Moreover, because missionary-sponsored-legislation kept out most white settlers and returned land whites
had illegally confiscated, most land remained in Batswana hands. Consequently, after independence the
government was not plagued by conflict over redistribution of land and mining facilities from whites to
Protestant missionaries provided virtually all the education in Botswana prior to independence. The
only successful non-missionary school prior to the 1930s was Bakgatla National School built in 1923.
The British gave some grant-in-aid for schools starting in 1919, but the funds were inadequate for
educational development. Catholics began providing secondary education in 1944 (Sillery 1974, 141;
Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 67-68, 128-129, 132; Rutherford 2009, 216-219).
Protestant missionaries also enabled written communication in Setswana. They reduced the language
to written form, printed the first Setswana book in 1830, and printed the first Setswana newspaper in
1856. Other Protestant missionary newspapers followed in 1857 and 1883. When Batswana printed the
first non-missionary newspaper in 1901, the editors were graduates of Protestant mission schools
(Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 133, 149-50, 155-156, 170). Thus, the journalists, teachers, labor
union leaders, bureaucrats, and chiefs who formed the first political parties and nationalist organizations
were virtually all graduates of Protestant mission schools (Sillery 1974, 141; Tlou, Parsons, and
Henderson 1995, 42, 259; Ramsay, Morton and Morton 1996, 67-68, 128-129, 132; 232-33, 251,…;
Rutherford 2009, 216-219). Some of the other parties were more radical than Seretse Khama’s BDP and
had more tense relationships with missionaries and other whites (Morton and Ramsay 1987). But these
young leaders absorbed education, organizational tactics, and printing techniques from Protestant
missionaries and partially owed their ability to organize without violent repression to Protestant
When similar young radicals gained power in neighboring African states, it did not lead to stable
democracy. In Botswana a moderate party was able to win partially because so few white settlers entered
Botswana and thus had less influence to resist the expansion of black power. In countries such as
Southern Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Northern Rhodesia, where whites resisted the
expansion of black power, black moderates were marginalized and black radicals won the post-
independence elections and/or came to power at the head of a revolutionary armies.
In addition, Botswana initially had few trained and experienced bureaucrats and administrators.
Missionaries helped fill some of these roles until Batswana could replace them. Missions provided free
social services and competent, well trained, non-corrupt bureaucrats during the period when Botswana
was building its infrastructure.
Moreover, because Khama III banned polygamy in the 19th century, he and his descendents had only
one wife at a time – a pattern that spread to other Tswana chiefs. While some chiefs (e.g., Sebele) resisted
missionary teaching and took a second wife, the numbers of wives and children were very small relative
to their Sotho and Swazi neighbors (Chirenje 1977, 233-7, 247). This prevented the rise of a large class of
chiefs – a class that fought democratization in Lesotho and Swaziland.
Interestingly, the Bamangwato clan was only one of eight Tswana clans officially recognized by the
British as controlling a “reserve.” Nor were the Bamangwato chiefs (Khama and his descendants) from
the most prestigious chiefly line. But Khama III and Tshekedi were more devout converts than other
chiefs and Khama, Tshekedi, and Seretse had closer relationships with missionaries than did the other
chiefs. Perhaps as a result, the Khamas had far more international influence and spearheaded resistance to
colonial restrictions, mining company concessions, and attempts to incorporate Botswana into South
Africa. Standard histories of Botswana give far more space to the Khamas than all the other chiefs
combined. Moreover, the Khamas led the movements for democratization of their country – both before
and after independence. Other chiefs initially resisted democratization and joined political parties only
after their traditional influence was restricted (Morton and Ramsay 1987, 170; Ramsay, Morton and
Morton 1996, 12, 111-112, 150).
Finally, in Botswana religion did not become stratified along class lines. Protestantism spread among
both chiefs and commoners. Islam was largely absent and Catholicism had little influence (Hastings 1979,
242). Thus, religion linked chiefs, the new educated elite, and ordinary people – fostering stability.
Obviously, Protestant missionaries and congregants do not deserve all the credit; Tshekedi Khama,
Seretse Khama and other Batswana made crucial choices that shaped the future of their country, and
fortuitous events (such as the BSAC’s failed raid on Transvaal) helped prevent transfer of much Batswana
land to monopoly trading companies. But missions also played an important and underappreciated role. It
is unlikely that Botswana would even be an independent country without their repeated, direct
interventions. Moreover, missionaries helped create the institutional, cultural and political context where
decisions for democracy were more plausible and sustainable. Botswana’s neighbors did not fare as well,
partially because European settlers had more influence, Protestant missionaries were severely restricted,
and/or religion became stratified along class lines.
In many ways, Lesotho is similar to Botswana, but Lesotho has been far less democratic since
independence. Both Lesotho and Botswana were British protectorates, became independent in the same
week, and entered the same international political environment. The dominant ethnic groups in each
country (i.e., the Basotho and Batswana) are related and had similar consultative councils. Both were
traditionally cattle herders and both were threatened by Boer expansion, but had few white settlers. Both
countries are landlocked, were surrounded by countries with white minority rule, and are dependent on
South Africa for most of their trade. Moreover, missionaries were extremely influential in both places and
neither country would probably exist without repeated missionary interventions.
Formerly called the Basutoland Protectorate
In fact, according to most theories of democracy, Lesotho was advantaged over Botswana. Unlike
the Batswana, the Basotho were unified under a paramount chief prior to colonization (Chief
Moshoeshoe) and were more ethnically homogeneous. Elsewhere, national unification is associated with
greater stability and democracy. Lesotho does not suffer from the “resource curse.” Its diamond
production is 1/30th as large as Botswana’s and is mined by small-scale diggers, not a multinational
corporation. Moreover, at independence, Lesotho had far more experience with democratic institutions
than Botswana and had substantially higher education rates. (e.g., Weisfelder 1976, 22; Hincks 2009, 184,
197, 213, 248, 271, 546, 968).
However, the missionary movement developed differently in each country, with long-term
consequences. For example, in Botswana Protestants were the main religious group and religion was not
divided along class lines. Whereas in Lesotho Catholics were the main religious group and religion was
divided along class lines – with Catholicism predominating among the chiefs and rural population and
Protestantism among educated commoners and residents of the main towns. Protestants and Catholics
also had different approaches to education, civil society, indigenization, and separation of church and
state – each of which had political implications.
In Lesotho (Basutoland) French Protestant missionaries arrived in 1833. The Paris Evangelical
Missionary Society (PEMS) remained the main Protestant mission group until independence. They
became close advisors to Paramount Chief Moshoeshoe and introduced printing, newspapers, Western
education, and a wide variety of agricultural crops and crafts (Haliburton 1977, xxvi; Hincks 2009, 125-
130, 251-252). They helped Moshoeshoe negotiate the Napier Treaty of 1843 which forbad white settlers
from encroaching on Sotho land and helped him navigate relations with Europeans (Haliburton 1977, 31,
Despite the Napier Treaty, Boers invaded Sotho land in 1865. During the invasion the Boers burned
down mission stations and expelled missionaries because they considered missionaries too supportive of
Sotho interests. Missionaries used this expulsion to persuade the British government to form the
Basutoland Protectorate in 1868 and force the Boers to abandon most of their Sotho conquests (Hincks
2009, 197-198, 212, 247, Haliburton 1977, 22, 74, 84-85, 139, 153, 168; Rosenberg et al. 2003, 170). To
shore up the treaty, a mission delegation accompanied Moshoeshoe’s son Tsekelo to see Queen Victoria
in 1869 (a precursor to Khama III’s more famous delegation to Queen Victoria). Tsekelo’s trip infuriated
the British High Commissioner, who threatened to support the introduction of Catholic missions to punish
the PEMS. The delegation went anyway, but despite a favorable reception, had limited success because
Mashoeshoe feared retaliation by the High Commissioner and withdrew official support for the mission
(Machobane 1990, 44-47). Two years later the British transferred the administration of the Basutoland
Protectorate to the Cape Colony – much to the consternation of both Basotho and missionaries. Both
preferred direct colony rule from England – where white settlers had less influence and missionaries more
In 1880, the Cape Colony government forbad the Basotho to own guns. The Basotho were ordered
to turn over their weapons, but would receive no compensation for them. The Basotho feared that without
guns, they would be vulnerable to future invasions by white settlers. PEMS missionaries (who owned the
only press in the country) refused to print the decree.
Instead they sent both petitions and a delegation to
the Cape Colony parliament to oppose the law (Haliburton 1977, 85-86; Eldredge 2007, 73; Machobane
1990, 52). However, their protests failed. When soldiers from the Cape tried to confiscate Basotho
weapons, fighting broke out. However, the war proved so costly to the Cape, that in September 1883, the
Cape government gave Basutoland back to the British. Yet, the British still believed unification with
South Africa was inevitable and invested almost nothing in infrastructure or education (Hincks 2009,
In 1908, when the British were planning the Union of South Africa, Protestant missionaries
arranged for the Paramount Chief to meet King Edward VII and got assurances that Lesotho would never
be incorporated into South Africa without Sotho consent (Haliburton 1977, 61, 143). In fact, throughout
the colonial period, Protestant missionaries repeatedly interceded on behalf of Sotho political and land
As a result, the mission lost the lucrative contract to print all colonial government publications.
rights (Holmberg 1966, 19-23, 30; Haliburton 1977, 28, 41, 60-61,66, 84-86, 133-134, 139,144;
Machobane 1990, 29, 44-46, 117-118; Rosenberg et al.2003, 170; Hincks 2009, 184, 248, 271, 968).
However, unlike in Botswana, religion became stratified along class lines. In 1849 the PEMS tried
to end Sotho cattle raiding – which was an integral part of how chiefs gained wealth and prestige. After an
extremely successful raid against long-term enemies (who had raided the Basotho), PEMS missionaries
threatened to excommunicate all who did not return the booty. The missionaries argued that cattle raiding
was theft and led to starvation in effected tribes. Instead, most of the chiefs left the church, never to
return. Henceforth, Protestantism was a religion for commoners (Hincks 2009, 195-6). PEMS criticism of
polygamy and “buying wives with cattle” (lobola) helped accentuate this problem.
Shortly afterwards, Catholic missions entered Lesotho. Initially they spread slowly. By 1900 only
1.3% of the population was Catholic. However, they turned a blind eye to polygamy – which helped them
spread among chiefs (Rosenberg et al. 2003, 353; Eldredge 2007, 36, 38). In 1912 the Paramount Chief
Griffith Lerotholi converted to Catholicism and the fortunes of the Church changed radically. Chief
Griffith actively promoted Catholicism, gave choice land to the Church, and pressured other chiefs to
convert (Hincks 2009, 485, 566-567; Haliburton 1977, 55, 155). From 1912 until Griffith’s death in 1939,
the Catholic Church grew from about 10,000 members to about 143,000 members, becoming by far the
largest religious group in the country – a position it still retains (Rosenberg et al. 2003, 355).
In 1930 French-Canadian Oblates (OMI) took over control of the Catholic mission in Lesotho. This
resulted in a huge increase in personnel and resources. The new missionaries mostly came from Quebec,
where resistance to Protestant domination infused many with religio-nationalist fervor (Hincks 2009, 486-
487). Competition with Protestants intensified dramatically and already strained relations disintegrated.
Moreover, Protestant and Catholic missionaries in Lesotho initially had different attitudes about
Catholic missionaries were less involved in disputes with settlers and colonial officials (Rosenberg et
al. 2003, 352).
education, printing, civil society, social organization and the relationship between church and state. This
accentuated an organizational and political divide between them.
Printing & Newspapers: Protestant missionaries introduced printing to Lesotho in 1841, printed the first
Sesotho book in 1842, and the first Sesotho newspaper (Leselinyana) in 1863. Catholics did not open
their first press in Lesotho until 1933. However, by 1950 the Catholic newspaper Moeletse had the largest
circulation of any paper in Lesotho and at independence in 1966 it had three times the circulation of
Leselinyana (Haliburton 1977, 22, 51, 82-4; Rosenberg et al. 2003, 354; Hincks 2009, 251-252, 490).
Because of the early Protestant emphasis on vernacular printing, the earliest nationalist newspapers
(Naledi, first printed in 1904, and Mochochonono in 1910) were printed by Protestants who had worked
at the PEMS press (Machobane 1990, 128-129, 150; Hincks 2009, 375). These Protestant editors and
journalists led movements to restrict chiefly power, expand democratic freedom, and gain political
independence (Machobane 1990, 80-81, 112, 128-129, 150). However, the massive circulation of the
Catholic newspaper allowed the Church to mobilize political support for their preferred party during the
elections just prior to independence.
Economics: Protestant and Catholic missionaries also took different approaches to economic
development. The PEMS embraced capitalism and tried to develop a middle class of hard working,
market oriented Christians by emphasizing 1) education and leadership skills, 2) a cash economy based on
private property, thrift and individual enterprise, and 3) an active role of women in the economy and
social life. Despite the orientation of most PEMS missionaries, in the 1950s and ‘60s some Protestant
nationalists embraced socialism and a few became Marxists. On the other hand, Catholic missionaries
resisted both capitalism and communism. They preferred a village-based communalist model of
development and tried to organize their communities into hierarchically-organized model Catholic
villages (Hincks 2009, 544-550).
Protestants and Catholics also developed distinct development organizations. Protestant-initiated
organizations were lay-led and not overtly religious. For example, the wives of several prominent
Protestants formed the Morija Native Women Famers’ Club, the Unity Club, and the Basutoland
Homemakers Association to train women in hygiene and modern agricultural techniques. In response
Catholic missionaries formed the Ladies of St. Anne (which taught similar things, but had missionary
leadership) and discouraged Catholics from belonging to “secular” organizations. Catholics also
organized cooperative buying programs such as the Catholic Economic Association – so that by buying in
bulk, Catholics could get lower prices and avoid using stores (Hincks 2009, 547-549; Haliburton 1977,
As a consequence, Protestants and Catholics tended to belong to completely different organizations
and these organizations had different levels of independence from foreign influence (Hincks 2009, 534).
Education: Missions provided virtually all the education in Lesotho prior to independence – over 98% of
all schools (Eldredge 2007, 38; Hincks 2009, 526). Initially, this was primarily Protestant education. The
PEMs opened their first school in 1835 – two years after arriving. They were Calvinists and emphasized
both mass literacy and academic education: opening their first teacher training in 1868, preparatory
school in 1872, theological college in 1887, and technical school in 1906. They sent other students for
advanced study in South Africa at Lovedale, Tiger Kloof, Adams College, Ohlange Institute and Fort
Hare University College (Hincks 2009, 526; Machobane 1990, 127).
On the other hand, Catholic education focused on religious content and vocational training. It did
not emphasize reading or academic training until shortly before independence. Initially, Catholic
This caused resentment by non-Catholics.
These institutions were also founded by Calvinists: i.e., Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Although
the Ohlange Institute (originally called the Zulu Christian Industrial School) was founded by John Dube
(a Zulu), he was a Congregational minister employed by the American Board of Commissioners for
Foreign Missions and established the school with funds he had raised while a pastor in the US.
missionaries believed only priests and chief’s sons needed academic training (Hincks 2009, 527). Thus,
by 1899 Catholics had only 12 schools, whereas the PEMS had over 150 (Hincks 2009, 491; Machobane
1990, 127). Moreover, arguing that “ignorance is better than error,” Catholic missionaries threatened to
excommunicate anyone who attended a Protestant school – along with their parents (Hincks 2009, 534).
However, several things fostered Catholic educational expansion. First, after Paramount Chief
Griffith’s conversion in 1912 he began giving the Church land for churches and schools around the
country. Second, the Phelps Stokes reports of 1920 and 1924 surveyed education in Africa and tried to
promote industrial education. The reports spurred a major increase in British educational funding and the
Catholic Church did not want to miss out on it. Thus, the Pope sent Arthur Hinsley as a special Visitor-
Apostolic to encourage Catholic missions to cooperate with state educational policy and expand education
in British Africa. A comparable expansion in education did not occur among Catholic missions in French,
Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, or Belgian colonies (Hastings 1994, 562-3).
Third, the transfer of the
Basotho Catholic mission to French-Canadians in 1930 unleashed a massive increase in resources and
personnel. As elsewhere, Catholic educational expansion was led by clergy from Protestant dominated
societies where the Catholic Church had invested heavily in education to prevent Protestantization of their
flock (i.e., Ireland, Canada, the US, the UK, and the Netherlands) (Hastings 1994, 562, 565).
In Lesotho, education became the main way to compete with Protestants for converts. After 1930,
Catholics opened schools at a dizzying pace. Protestants responded. It became a headlong rush to claim
territory before other denominations could enter (government regulations banned building schools within
According to the Catholic historian Adrian Hastings, “Protestant educational work of the highest
quality precedes the Phelps-Stokes Reports, but there was absolutely no Catholic equivalent of Lovedale
in South Africa, Waddilove in Rhodesia, or the Hope-Waddell Institute at Calabar. The 1920s sees
government take up the Protestant example and then Hinsley making Catholics do the same. It is rare to
find any Catholic institution one could describe as of secondary standard prior to his mission.” (1994,
three miles of each other). Typically, education quality in Catholic schools was very low and Protestants
reduced their standards to facilitate rapid expansion (Hincks 2009, 496, 529-534). Although the
competition gave Lesotho the highest literacy rate in Africa (80% literacy at independence in 1966), it
exacerbated relations between Protestants and Catholics – with long-term consequences (Hincks 2009,
Because the Protestants started educating earlier, offered higher quality education, and had more
advanced schools, Protestants filled almost all civil service and formal sector posts requiring Western
education. Most of the national leaders of civil associations, political parties, and newspapers were
Protestant. Thus, Catholic missionaries realized that as the power of chiefs declined and was transferred
to the new educated elite, their influence would dissipate (Machobane 1990, 127-129; Hincks 2009, 534).
Catholic missionaries responded by opening Pope Pius XII Catholic University College in 1945, by
creating Catholic civil associations, and by creating a political party to represent Catholic interests
(Hincks 2009, 492, 547-549, 551-557, 586; Machobane 1990, 283-287).
Indigenization: Protestants also emphasized training local clergy and devolving control of organizations
to Africans earlier than did Catholics. The PEMS formed a school to train local clergy in 1882 and in
1898 formed a synod to oversee the PEMS church in Lesotho in which ordained missionaries and
ordained Basotho had an equal vote. By the early 1920s Basotho clergy outnumbers missionary clergy
and could outvote them. Gradually the presidency and most of the major positions transferred to Basotho
hands. In the 1930s the clergy discussed giving the church independence from the mission, but this was
delayed partially because most felt the church needed outside funds to compete with Catholic expansion.
However, in 1964 (two years before Lesotho’s independence) the PEMS transferred complete control of
all their institutions to the Lesotho Evangelical Church (Haliburton 1977, 86; Rosenberg et al.2003, 171-
172; Hincks 2009, 478,495). The experience of democracy within PEMS religious organizations
influenced the rise of Basotho civil and political organizations (Weisfelder 1974, 398). The indigenization
process also made Protestants less threatened by nationalists’ desire to nationalize mission schools and
indigenize control of organizations.
On the other hand, Catholic missionaries resisted indigenization. The Papal encyclicals Maximum
Illud (1919) and Rerum Ecclesiae (1926) instructed Catholic missionaries to educate and ordain local
clergy, but real change took time (Sundkler and Steed 2000, 626-628). By 1939 the Catholic Church had
ordained only four Basotho priests out of a population of 139,000 Catholics. By 1961 only 12 of the 133
priests were Basotho and many white clergy were hesitant to trust Basotho in leadership positions. White
priests both founded and remained in charge of most Catholic organizations and institutions (Haliburton
1977, 34; Rosenberg et al. 2003, 355; Hincks 2009, 495, 553). Thus, for Catholic missionaries the
prospect of the government nationalizing schools and indigenizing other institutions seemed threatening.
The Rise of Basotho Nationalism and Representative Institutions: Partially because of these differing
approaches to education, printing, civil society, and indigenization, Protestants dominated both early
nationalist organizations and calls for democratization of power. Starting in the 1890s the PEMS
newspaper Leselinyana began advocating a Basutoland National Council to advise the Paramount Chief
(Machobane 1990,80-81). In 1903 Paramount Chief Griffith Lerotholi finally created the Council (to
which he appointed other chiefs) and used the Council to codify traditional law.
commoners became increasingly upset that chiefs continued to violate the laws codified by the National
Council. In 1904 a group of PEMS-trained Basotho began to publish the newspaper Naledi – which they
used to advocate reforms. Moreover, in 1907 the Rev. Cranmer Sebeta and other educated commoners
formed the Basutoland Progressive Association (BPA) – the first political organization established by
commoners. The members were mostly teachers and clerks who had graduated from Protestant mission
Other factors in the rise of the Council seem to have been the Ethiopian Movement (to indigenize
control of African Christianity) and the African Methodist Episcopal lawyer Conrad Rideout (Hincks
schools (Eldredge 2007, 36; Hincks 2009, 37-40, 374-375; Haliburton 1977, xxxi; Weisfelder 1974, 397;
Rosenberg et al. 2003, 37-38; Machobane 1990, 126-129).
As negotiations progressed to create a Union of South Africa, both missionaries and Basotho
became concerned that the British would integrate Basutoland into South Africa. The chiefs (with
missionary logistical and political support) sent a delegation to the UK in 1909 to fight this possibility.
The PEMS also mounted a major international pressure campaign to ensure the Basotho (1) were given “a
large amount of self-government,” (2) had exclusive rights to the Territory such as to “make impossible
for any South African Ministry of Parliament to every confiscate it, or any portion of it, under any pretext
whatever,” 3) that the laws governing the National Council were to continue to be promulgated by the
British colonial administration, 4) that no alteration should be made to the Basutoland Charter without the
free consent of the Basuto tribe represented by the Chiefs, the National Council and the Imperial
Parliament, 5) that tax revenues would be spent by the Resident Commissioner on the advice of the
National Council, and 6) that the continued existence of the National Council be secured in the charter.
All these recommendations were accepted, and, as a result, in 1910 the National Council was given a
building, a permanent footing with statutory force, and an expanded role as advisory council to the
Resident Commissioner (Machobane 1990, 117-123).
The National Council was composed of 95 representatives appointed by the Paramount Chief
(mostly other chiefs) and 5 representatives appointed by the Resident Commissioner. In practice, all five
were educated commoners recommended by the PEMS (Machobane 1990, 82). The PEMS also argued
that “means be found to give [the National Council] a more representative character and to gradually
increase its power so as to lead eventually to representative institutions” (cited in Machobane 1990, 117).
In 1912 political agitations were further spurred by two events: the formation of the South African
Native National Congress (which later became the African National Congress) by a group of Protestant-
mission-educated Africans and the conversion of Paramount Chief Griffith to Catholicism. Chief
Griffith’s active promotion of Catholicism further alienated educated commoners (most of whom were
Protestant). Educated commoners considered most chiefs uneducated and resented chiefs’ abuse of power.
In addition, educated commoners wanted to expand the representativeness of the National Council though
formal elections (Machobane 1990, 129; Hincks 2009, 374-375). They mounted pressure through their
representatives on the National Council, through newspapers, and through public rallies (Weisfelder
1974, 398; Machobane 1990, 129, 166-167; Rosenberg et al. 2003, 38; Hinckes 2009, 439).
Over time the BPA’s and newspaper’s critiques of both the chiefs and the British colonial
administration became more pointed. In response, the High Commissioner attempted to limit freedom of
the press – but criticism soon reemerged. Paramount Chief Griffith also tried to shut down BPA
demonstrations, but this backfired (Machobane 1990, 150-153; Rosenberg et al. 2003, 38; Weisfelder
1974, 401). Through the 1920s and 1930s, BPA membership expanded to as many as 5,000 members –
virtually all of whom were Protestant (Weisfelder 1974, 398-399). The Catholic Church continued to
discourage membership in secular organizations or fraternizing with Protestants and continued to support
the chiefs (Hincks 2009, 547-548). The BPA continued to press for an elected segment of the National
Council and for firm action against arbitrary chiefly rule (Weisfelder 1974, 399; Machobane 1990, 158).
From 1938-1946 the colonial administration instituted a series of reforms to broaden popular
participation and, ostensibly, rationalize chiefly rule (e.g., limiting the number of recognized chiefs,
limiting their ability to keep court fines, and paying a small number of chiefs out of the national treasury).
Moreover, in 1948 nine elected district councils were formed. Each district council elected four
representatives to the National Council. In addition, each of the six officially recognized associations sent
one representative to the National Council. By 1950 the National Council had the power to approve any
rules passed by the Paramount Chief before they were sent to the High Commissioner. The impetus for
these reforms came from the BPA (Weisfelder 1974, 399; Machobane 1990, 187; Rosenberg et al. 2003,
37; Hincks 2009, 518-519). However, having achieved its main goals, the BPA lost drive and was later
blamed for problems that followed reform. Moreover, a younger generation of activists were more radical
than the BPA and were impatient for change (Weisfelder 1974, 399-400).
In 1952 Ntsu Clement Mokhehle formed the Basutoland African Congress. It became the first
political party in the country and changed its name to the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP). Mokhehle
was a graduate of Fort Hare University (a Protestant missionary college) and head of the Basutoland
National Teachers Association. As with the BPA, most of the members of the BCP and the teachers union
were Protestant (Hincks 2009, 522, 534, 551-552; Machobane 1990, 127-129).
Increasingly Catholic missionaries felt threatened by the Protestant elite. Protestants filled almost
every civil service and formal sector post requiring Western education. Most of the leadership of civil
associations, independent newspapers and political parties were also Protestants educated at PEMS
Catholic missionaries realized that if power transferred from chiefs to the new educated elite,
Catholic influence would decline (Hincks 2009, 534, 551-552; Machobane 1990, 128-129). Two factors
accentuated Catholic missionaries’ concerns: (1) some BCP leaders began to call for the nationalization of
all mission schools (Catholic missionaries considered schools their main way of recruiting converts); (2)
the most radical wing of nationalists became increasingly critical of white missionaries – particularly
Catholic missionaries (Hincks 2009, 440, 523; 556-558, 586; Machobane 1990, 159-161).
In response, Catholic missionaries helped form the Basutoland National Party (BNP) in 1959. They
helped write the party manifesto, constitution and policies, gave Catholic teachers paid time off to form
the party, recruited members, provided money and in-kind donations to the party, and exhorted all
Catholics to vote according to church guidelines to avoid falling into mortal sin. To reduce BCP influence
among Catholics, the Catholic hierarchy quietly fired teachers in Catholic schools who supported the
BCP. Moreover, Catholic missionaries attacked the BCP as pro-communist and anti-Christian
sermons and in the Catholic newspaper (which had by far the largest circulation of any paper in the
Even Chief Leaubua Jonathan, who later led the Catholic-linked Basutoland National Party, attended a
PEMS school and was a BCP member before converting to Catholicism (Machobane 1990, 287;
Brockman 1994, 157-8).
Scholars do not support either claim. Some BCP leaders were Marxists, but most were not, and the
party leader was not. BCP leaders were also not anti-Christian – most were church members. They fought
white missionary control of institutions, not Christianity (Machobane 284; Hincks 2009, 555-556).
country) (Haliburton 1977, xxxii; Frank 1981, 185; Rosenberg et al. 2003, 355; Machobane 1990, 283-
287; Hincks 2009, 524, 554-557, 585-586). In response to these attacks, BCP leaders intensified their
criticism of Catholic missionaries, creating a vicious cycle (Hincks 2009, 557-558). The PEMS took a
different tack than the Catholic Church. In 1959 the PEMS conference passed a resolution saying:
“The Church … must take an interest in national affairs, and should criticize or commend the
Government or political parties as necessary. But it must not co-operate with a political party
or make itself into a party, or encourage its members to join a certain political party. They
must be free to vote as they [see] fit. Christians should not hate those who [hold] different
political views … [The conference forbids] the holding of political meetings in Church
buildings and [bars] its ministers from either becoming members of political parties or
standing for election” (cited in Hincks 2009, 554).
At the time, religious organizations were much better organized and had broader national reach than
any political parties. This was especially true of the BNP, which was a loose patron-type organization
with rudimentary auxiliary structures. Thus, the support of a major denomination like the Catholic Church
was crucial for running a successful national campaign (Weisfelder 1976, 27-30).
In 1960, the National Council became a Legislative Council capable of passing laws. The BCP won
a majority of the democratically-elected seats. However, half of the seats on the Legislative Council were
reserved for chiefs and for British appointees. Thus, the BNP and unelected officials could defeat BCP
initiatives – to the increasing consternation of BCP leaders.
Lesotho’s new constitution was very similar to Botswana’s: most power was vested in a lower
house which chose a Prime Minister, who then served as the executive. An upper house of chiefs could
compel reconsideration of legislation, but not reject it. The Paramount Chief was denied any executive
power. An independent judiciary and civil service were designed to check executive power, and broad
civil and political rights were guaranteed (Rosenberg et al. 2003, 67, 70).
However, between 1960 and 1965 the strength of the BCP diminished. Some BCP supporters left
the BCP became of frustration with the party leader Mokhehle (who seemed autocratic). Moreover,
suffrage expanded to include women, which gave greater influence to the Catholic Church – and thus the
BNP. Finally, following the 1960 election, Catholic missionaries intensified their campaign against the
BCP and increased their financial and other supports for the BNP. The South African government also
favored the BNP and only allowed BNP politicians to campaign in the South African townships where
many Basotho migrant workers lived (Franck 1981, 185; Machobane 1990, 283-284, 294; Hincks 2009,
583-586). Thus in the 1965 election, the BNP won a slight majority. Although the party leader Chief
Leabua Jonathan lost his election, he was later able to win a seat in a bi-election with substantial financial
support from South Africa (Hincks 2009, 583). Thus, the BNP led Lesotho into independence in 1966.
The BNP leader Leabua Jonathan framed the victory in theological terms: “The present government
of Lesotho is an answer to the prayer of the Church of God that God’s Will be Done. Any group or
individuals who might attempt to defeat the aims and purpose of this government would in effect be
offering a challenge … to God’s own disposal sought through the prayers of His Own Church” (May 3,
1968 speech cited in Frank 1981, 181). Leabua Jonathan labeled anyone who supported the BCP a
communist (Frank 1981, 186). The Catholic press also labeled the BCP as communist and anti-Christian
(Hincks 2009, 554-557; Machobane 1990, 283-287; Frank 1981).
At independence Lesotho had a small police force and no army. However, the BNP immediately
began expanding the police and guided controversial security laws through Parliament. BNP leaders
heavily recruited BNP supporters into the police force and civil service and dismissed BCP supporters
(Weisfelder 1976, 26-28; Rosenberg et al. 2003, 360). The year after independence the BNP began using
the police against BCP rallies (Rosenberg et al. 2003, 360). In addition, the BNP created the National
Youth Corps – which they later used to suppress opposition (Weisfelder 1976, 28). The BNP lacked depth
among Western educated elites and so also relied on British and South African whites to fill senior posts
in the police, judiciary, and other key ministries (Rosenberg et al. 2003, 360; Weisfelder 1976, 25).
However, the BNP’s autocratic policies turned people against them, and the BCP won the 1970
election. Yet, rather than relinquish power, Leabua Jonathan declared a state of emergency, suspended the
Constitution, and ruthlessly suppressed the opposition with widespread killing, raping, arson, and looting
by the police and National Youth Corps. The vast majority of those killed and attacked were Protestant. In
addition, Chief Leabua purged the civil service and education system of Protestants and BCP supporters
and suppressed Protestant and independent newspapers – although Catholic papers were allowed to
continue printing (Hincks 2009, 653-5, 662, 667; Haliburton 1977, xxxiii; Frank 1981, 195; Weisfelder
1976, 28). The British and South African police chiefs and judges either actively supported the repression
or did not resist it (Weisfelder 1976, 25; Rosenberg et al. 2003, 360).
In addition, the BNP arrested virtually all the BCP leadership. Several months later the government
released some BCP leaders, but they were all Catholic. This made Protestants in the BCP fear Catholics
had made a secret deal with the BNP. In reaction, Mokhehle (the head of the BCP) barred the released
Catholics from BCP offices – which caused the BCP to split along religious lines (Frank 1981, 186).
The coup also fractured the country religiously. Many Catholics praised Chief Leabua for saving
the country, whereas Protestants complained of terrorization (Haliburton 1977, xxxiii). The coup
weakened some Catholics’ support for Chief Leabua, and some local priests criticized particular
government actions, but Leabua continued to have the strong support of the core of Catholic missionaries
(Khaketla 1971, 284-289; Hastings 1979, 189-190; Weisfelder 1976, 30). While many priests and devout
Catholics seemed to dislike the violence, they disliked the BCP more and saw the BNP as the only
practical defense against an anti-Catholic, “communist” takeover. Moreover, throughout the period of
BNP rule, the Catholic Church continued to benefit from preferential government support and drastically
increased their dominance over the educational system (Weisfelder 1976, 30; Hincks 2009, 665-666).
A failed coup in 1974 led to a further reduction in freedom. The BNP clung to power until 1986
when another military coup toppled the government. After more turmoil, elections were held in 1993 and
the Congress Party won all but one seat in the National Assembly. This overwhelming victory led to a
violent reaction by National Party supporters. Botswana and South Africa sent in troops to restore order.
Major constitutional changes were made in 1996 and again in 2001 to insure significant minority
representation in government – i.e., so one party would never control virtually all the seats after an
election. Democratic elections have continued since then, but Lesotho is yet to have a non-violent
government transition. Thus, scholars continue to view democracy as unstable in Lesotho (Rosenberg et
al. 2003, 71-73; Hughes 2010).
Of course there are no guarantees that Lesotho would have democratized stably without the
intervention of Catholic missionaries and the polarization of politics along religious lines. Ntsu Mokhehle
(the leader of the BCP) exhibited some autocratic tendencies even before independence (Machobane
1990, 283-284, 294) and many dictators in Africa were Protestant graduates of Protestant mission schools
(Robert 2000). Nor should the actions of pre-Vatican II French-Canadian missionaries in Lesotho be
taken as the example of how Catholic missionaries always behave – certainly the Catholic Church has
fostered a number of democratic transitions since the 1970s (Philpott 2004). Still, Lesotho is consistent
with theories outlined in this article.
Historically, Protestants had a greater role in initiating mass education, mass printing, newspapers,
and independent civil society. Protestants ordained local clergy and devolved power to non-Europeans
earlier than Catholics did (although not as pervasively as many nationalists wanted). Protestants were also
more likely to advocate separation of church and state. Moreover, the organizational structure and
practices of some Protestant denominations educated people in democratic procedures. Thus, the early
educators, bureaucrats, newspaper editors and reporters, and founders of voluntary organizations and
political parties were disproportionately Protestant, even though Catholics made up a larger proportion of
the population. As in places like Argentina, the Catholic Church in Lesotho willingly supported a regime
that undermined democracy in order to preserve its institutional interests. Moreover, as in other areas of
the world, when religion polarized along class or ethnic lines, it undermined democracy.
Compared to Botswana, at independence Lesotho had more education, greater experience with
democratic institutions, a more vital civil society, less ethnic diversity, a more diversified economy (less
dependent on mining), and more economic development. Both countries had virtually identical
constitutions, tribal consultative institutions, and financial dependence on South Africa. Both also had no
militaries and small police forces. But Botswana has been stably democratic and Lesotho has not. The
differential pattern of Protestant and Catholic missions in the two societies seems to be a plausible
Zimbabwe is a third land-locked, southern African country colonized by the British. If white
settlers, direct British colonization, or healthy climates promoted democracy, we would expect Zimbabwe
to be democratic, but it has not been. Zimbabwe had a much large white settler population than Botswana
or Lesotho (Hastings 1979, 15). British colonial institutions also had much greater influence on
Zimbabwe than in Lesotho and Botswana. Zimbabwe was a crown colony from 1923 until 1965, whereas
Botswana and Lesotho were protectorates. Zimbabwe had a Legislative Council from 1899 on, a
Legislative Assembly with the right to pass laws from 1924 on, multiple political parties, and many
democratic elections, before independence (Rasmussen 1979, xxiv-xxv).Although most blacks were
excluded from voting until two years before independence, that is not much different from Botswana.
Moreover, up through independence Zimbabwe had one of the highest standards of health of any country
in Africa(Rasmussen 1979, 113)– which, according to Acemoglu, Johnson and Robinson’s theory, should
enhance its potential for democracy (2001; Acemoglu and Robinson 2005).
Zimbabwe also had significant Protestant mission influence, but white settlers and colonial officials
repeatedly undermined the education, civil society, and other means through which Protestant
missionaries promoted democratization. Settler intransigence finally drove black Nationalists to violent
revolution using militaries funded and trained by the Chinese and Soviets. When white rule finally ended,
Robert Mugabe was able to impose a one-party, quasi-Marxist state, with his guerilla army becoming the
national army. He has been able to cling to power and undermine democracy ever since.
Historical Background: In what became Zimbabwe, the relationship between missionaries and the
tribe that dominated the region was much less cordial than the relationship between
missionaries and the dominant tribes in Botswana or Lesotho. Cecil Rhodes was able to manipulate this
Formerly called Southern Rhodesia.
At the time the Ndebele were called the Matabele, and the area, Matabeleland.
conflict for his advantage and gain control of the area for his company, the British South Africa Company
(BSAC). Rhodes also learned from experience in Bechuanaland/Botswana that it was better to divide and
co-opt portions of the missionary lobby than to fight it directly. Thus, BSAC and white settlers gained
much more influence in Zimbabwe than in Botswana and Lesotho.
Missionaries resented the Ndebele because they regularly raided other tribes, taking their cattle and
enslaving their women and children. Missionaries repeatedly saw the consequences of these raids.
Although the Ndebele chief Lobengula allowed two Protestant and one Catholic mission stations in
Ndebele territory, he kept missionaries away from the centers of power, did not consult with them
regularly, threatened to kill Ndebele who converted to Christianity, and forbad missionaries from working
with other tribes under his domination. Both Protestant and Catholic missionaries working in the region
believed that unless the Ndebele were defeated and/or colonized, Ndebele slaving and tyrannical rule
would continue and would prevent effective missionary work (Holmberg 1966, 151-188; Rasmussen
1979, 155-156; Hastings 1994, 425; Isichei 1995,114-115). Local missionaries considered the Ndebele
“not a tribe to be protected, only to be protected against” (Holmberg 1966, 171).
In addition, gold was discovered in the area and various groups began trying to gain concessions. In
October, 1888, chief Lobengula signed a mining concession with Charles Rudd – who worked for Cecil
Rhodes. The written agreement gave the concessioners exclusive rights to mine metal in most of
Lobengula’s territory in exchange for money and weapons. The concessioners also made verbal promises
limiting the number of foreigners to enter the territory, pledging to defend the chief in times of war,
confirming the chief’s control of the land, and so on, but these promises were not stated in writing. A
Protestant missionary, C.D. Helm, translated the negotiations and signed the treaty as a witness. He
believed the concessionaires would keep their verbal promises (Holmberg 1966, 167-194). Rhodes had
carefully instructed Rudd about how to deceive everyone involved (Holmberg 1966, 178).
When other concession seekers learned of the Rudd Concession, they convinced Lobengula he had
been duped, and Lobengula repudiated the concession. He sent emissaries to England accompanied by
two disgruntled concession seekers as translators: Johannes Colenbrander and Edward Maund. However,
Colenbrander and Maund were motivated by financial interest, not conviction (unlike the missionaries
who accompanied Batswana and Basotho emissaries). Cecil Rhodes bought them off and both abandoned
Lagengula to work for the BSAC.
The missionary lobby in the UK (led by Rhodes’ old nemesis, the LMS missionary John
Mackenzie) fought the Rudd Concession and tried to keep Rhodes out of the region. Mackenzie and his
allies wanted the British to establish a protectorate (not a colony) and disallow all monopoly trade
agreements (Holmberg 1966, 200-204), but Rhodes defeated the mission lobby, for several reasons. First,
Protestant missionaries were divided. While mission leaders opposed the concession, missionaries in the
field considered it better than the other options (i.e., better than continued Ndebele raiding, colonization
by the Boers or Portuguese, or a flood of unregulated settlers and concession seekers).
groups of missionaries hoped the British would keep the Boers and Portuguese out of the region;
missionaries feared that the Boers and Portuguese would allow slavery and treat Africans far worse than
the British (Robinson and Gallagher 1961, 210-253).
Second, Rhodes bought out his mining competitors – silencing their complaints. Third, to
undermine concerns that the BSAC would abuse Africans, Rhodes proposed incorporating the BSAC
under a royal charter, thus making the company “more directly subject to control by Her Majesty’s
Government” (cited in Holmberg 1966, 206). Fourth, Rhodes convinced Albert Grey to join the BSAC
board. Albert Grey was the 4th Earl Grey, member of the House of Lords, private secretary to Queen
Victoria, and typically a strong supporter of humanitarian causes sponsored by missionaries. Grey
claimed his position would prevent abuses of Africans, but the position also helped Earl Grey’s flagging
financial situation (Holmberg 1966, 205-206). Fifth, Rhodes gained the support of the most influential
segments of the British press (Holmberg 1966, 205). Sixth, the discovery of huge gold reserves in the
Transvaal gave the Boers substantial leverage: the Transvaal produced about a quarter of the world’s gold
Unregulated immigration of settlers and concession seekers had previously led to alienation of
indigenous lands and deterioration of the condition of indigenous people in Swaziland and South Africa.
supply when the currencies of Western countries were based on gold reserves. The British government
hoped to encircle Transvaal with British colonies to restrain Boer influence, keep Transvaal dependent on
the Cape Colony, and keep Boers in the Cape Colony from rebelling against British control (Robinson
and Gallagher 1961, 210-253).
Finally, the British government considered the mission leaders’ plan too expensive. Creating a
protectorate would cost the government money, whereas Rhodes promised to pay all administrative
expenses for a colony (Holmberg 1966; 199-209). Thus, although the Rudd Concession dealt only with
minerals and was almost immediately repudiated by Chief Lobengula, the British government used it to
force Lobengula to submit to a Chartered Company with wide administrative powers. Lobengula was
never consulted and had never granted anyone land rights, powers to make laws, or authority to settle
disputes. The British government disregarded this. The influence of the BSAC was great enough that the
letter “from the colonial office” to Lobengula informing him of the changes was written almost entirely
by the BSAC and totally ignored Lobengula’s stated desires (Homberg 1966, 213-215).
The next year (1890), the BSAC sent in troops to occupy Mashonaland. The BSAC paid Lobengula
the money and most of the weapons promised under the Rudd Concession – which Lobengula accepted,
although still disputing the concession’s validity. The BSAC also deceived Lobengula into signing an
additional concession – which he thought was with the BSAC’s rivals. Finally, in 1893 the BSAC used a
Ndebele raid on the Shona as pretext to declare war. Lobengula was defeated and died. From then on,
BSAC based its claims on the “right of conquest.” Missionaries complained about abuses that occurred
during the war, but the investigation was entrusted to Francis Newton (an intimate friend of Rhodes) and
the report exonerated the company (Holmberg 1966, 218-220; Rasmussen 1979, 156-157). The BSAC
began distributing land and large numbers of white settlers moved into Southern Rhodesia.
After Rhodes’ victory, missionaries were beholden to Rhodes and other white settlers to gain land
for mission stations. Although Rhodes was an atheist, he used land to curry favor with missionaries and
mollify their resistance to company rule. He particularly favored Anglicans and Catholics (Holmberg
1966, 216; Hastings 1994, 427; Sundkler and Steed 2000, 448-450). The huge tracts of land he granted
missions associated missionaries with settlers in the minds of many Africans (Hastings 1994, 426).
Moreover, missionaries had to be more circumspect in their criticisms of colonial policy than in
Botswana (Sundkler and Steed 2000, 448-450). Tensions built between missionaries and settlers over land
rights for Africans, confiscation of Africans’ cattle, the hut tax, forced labor, and different legal standards
being applied to whites and blacks. However, the local government was already firmly controlled by
white settlers and mining interests. Thus, missionary complaints were repeatedly ignored (Holmberg
1966, 217, 220-223). In addition, the large white population divided the interests of most religious
groups. Many denominations tried to serve both whites and blacks and many mission families had close
friendships with white settlers. These divided loyalties put many missionaries in an awkward position.
Finally, in areas like Botswana and Lesotho where missionaries arrived before white settlers or
colonial governments, they tended to make closer relationships with African leaders and tended to be far
more critical of colonial governments and white settlers. Once ensconced as advisors and spokesmen for
African chiefs, they generally kept that role. For example, in Nyasaland (Malawi), Acting Commissioner
Sharpe wrote in 1894 that “[missionaries] in the eyes of the natives of the Protectorate are an Opposition
Party to [His Majesty’s] Administration” (cited in Hastings 1994, 428). However, in Rhodesia missions
were not well established prior to colonization and most missionaries were less outspoken.
Thus, as blacks and whites polarized politically; missionaries tended to be too radical for white
settlers, but not radical enough for black nationalists. Still, missionaries and their offspring were the main
group of whites that mobilized on behalf of black economic and political interests (Rasmussen 1979, 72,
148, 190-194, 312, 323, 327, 347; Isichei 1995, 319-320; Sundkler and Steed 2000, 802, 810, 981).
Without missionaries the conditions for blacks would have been far worse.
The Struggle for Democratic Institutions: In 1898 Southern Rhodesia was given an advisory Legislative
Council (Legco) with four “unofficial” members elected by white settlers and five “official” members
nominated by the British South Africa Company (BSAC). The British Resident Commissioner presided as
a nonvoting member (Rasmussen 1979, 150). Although Legco originally had limited power, white settlers
mobilized to expand that power and gain greater representation on the Council. However, once both these
goals were forthcoming, the elected representatives tried to block black voting rights.
In 1903 fifteen Protestant missionary organizations banded together to form the Southern
Rhodesian Missionary Conference (SRMC). The Methodist missionary John White and the Anglican
missionary Arthur Shearly Cripps helped transform the SRMC into a strong lobbying body for African
rights and education (Rasmussen 1979, 347; Thomas 1998c).
The SRMC soon became involved in a
struggle with Legco over the voting rights and land ownership of black Africans – which at the time were
In 1906 the elected representatives in Legco drew up the “Native Franchise Ordinance.” The
ordinance forbade the registration of any blacks beyond the 51 blacks who were already registered. The
High Commissioner was sympathetic, but thought the Colonial Office would veto any law based
explicitly on race because of the influence of the missionary lobby (i.e., Exeter Hall) (West 2001,
87).Thus, white settlers followed a different approach, raising the land holding qualifications necessary to
vote and restricting black access to land. In 1912 the government raised the land holding requirement for
voting, which reduced the number of black registered voters to 20 (West 2001, 87).
Moreover, in 1911
and 1915 the Commercial Department and the Reserve Commission tried to confiscate much of the black
held land. Anglican and Methodist missionaries mobilized to block this – and were partially successful
(Ranger 1982, 40-41). In 1911, the government also tried to institute a program of forced labor. The law
forced blacks to provide labor to whites without compensation. If they refused they could be beaten, have
their wives kidnapped, or have their land confiscated. Again, Anglican and Methodist missionaries
Other early Protestant missionaries who fought for black interests were Edgar & Elaine Lloyd,
Archdeacon Upcher, Samuel Christelow, and Amos Burnet (Ranger 1982, 34-37, 40-41; 1999, 187-88).
The missionary lobby was commonly referred to as Exeter Hall after the building where many were
mobilized a pressure campaign in England and some of the officials involved were reprimanded, demoted
or fired – although white settlers treated these officials as heroes (Ranger 1982, 34-7, 40-1).
In 1918 the Privy Council decided that all “unalienated land” belonged to the British Crown, not
the BSAC. This convinced the BSAC to give up running Southern Rhodesia, and the British transformed
the country into a Crown Colony. However, the Council’s decision also increased political competition
over who would control the “undesignated” land. Anglican and Methodist missionaries mobilized
pressure through the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society
on behalf of reserving more land
for Africans, lowering franchise qualifications, creating Native Councils for Africans to discuss colonial
policy, and appointing two members of Legco to represent black interests. Missionaries argued that blacks
should elect their representatives directly, but that in the meantime, the representatives should be
nominated by the Aborigines Protection Society. The Colonial Secretary approved some of these
recommendations (e.g., Native Councils), but white settlers blocked them (Steele 1975, 162; Zvobgo
1988, 30-31; Weiss 1999, xviii).
In response to white settlers’ attempts to restrict black voting and representation on Legco, elite
blacks began to organize voter associations. Wealthy, Protestant-mission-trained, South African
immigrants formed the first of these: the Union Native Voters Association. Initially no native Rhodesians
had the property and education qualifications to vote. Other associations followed: voter associations
were small (less than 100 blacks were registered voters), but welfare associations were larger. Protestant
mission schools fostered the new elite that formed these early voter and welfare associations (Ranger
1975, 93-94; West 2001, 85-86). In 1919 a group of Methodists (mostly local preachers) formed the
Rhodesian Native Association, in 1922 other Methodists formed the Union Bantu Vigilance Association,
and in 1923 an Anglican teacher formed the Rhodesian Bantu Voters Association; a Methodist (John
The Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society was run by the former Baptist missionaries John
and Alice Harris, who had helped spur the campaign against the rubber abuses in Belgian Congo (Zvobgo
1988, 30; Hochschild 1998, 216, 242, 273; Grant 2005, 39-78).
Wesley Sojini) became General Secretary (Peaden 1975, 147-148; Ranger 1975, 93;Sundkler and Steed
2000, 801-802; West 2001, 89, 96).
In 1923 the British allowed settlers to take over administration of the colony from the BSAC and
created a Legislative Assembly with power to pass laws. The Colonial Office retained some power in
order to “protect African interests.” But in practice, the British government never overruled any Assembly
decisions affecting Africans (Rasmussen 1979, 69, 149). Initially missionaries were optimistic, but local
control merely intensified white settlers’ efforts to disenfranchise blacks and prevent them from gaining
the wealth and education necessary to vote (West 2001, 88).
In 1924 the Wesleyan Methodist Synod of Southern Rhodesia passed a resolution calling for two
representatives of African interests on Legco. Although white settlers criticized them and told them to
stay out of politics, John White (the head of the Synod) retorted, “Someone must speak on [black
African’s] behalf….[Missionaries] must call attention of all concerned to the claims of this large mute
constituency for better education, voice their need for wider opportunity of industrial development, plead
that some appropriate form of political representation be ceded to them and that they have a fair share of
the land in the country of their birth” (White 1924, 68-69, cited in Zvobgo 1988, 32).
In the same year (1924) John White was also elected head of the Southern Rhodesian Missionary
Conference (SRMC) – which he had co-founded in 1903. By this time it was one of the most powerful
lobbying bodies in the country and the government considered it a valid representative of African
interests. White and his colleague Arthur Shearly Cripps had nurtured it into a strong lobby for African
rights (Rasmussen 1979, 347; Thomas 1998c). Two years later (1926) African clergy formed the Native
Missionary Conference (also called the Native Christian Conference). Most of the leadership was
Methodist and had worked closely with John White. The Native Conference sent representatives to the
SRMC and Native Conference resolutions were communicated to the government through the SRMC,
making it the only African organization with anything like an official voice in government (Rasmussen
1979, 312; Ranger 1995; Bhebe and Ranger 2001b, xxxv-xxxvi).
However, the land question still festered. The government set up the Morris Carter Commission
(1925-1926) to make recommendations about what to do with the 45% of the land that was still
“unassigned.” The Commissions recommended segregating blacks and whites and giving virtually all the
“unassigned” land to whites. This upset both Africans and missionaries. The proposed legislation allowed
missions to lease land to blacks, but only with one year leases, and the government had to approve each
lease (Chater 1962, 31; Rasmussen 1979, 197-198; Grant 1980, 126-127). In response, black Africans
began to organize politically. Almost all the new black leaders were Methodists and many had worked
directly with John White (Peaden 1975, 147-48; Ranger 1975, 93-94; in Ranger 1995, 174, n. 49; Bhebe
and Ranger 2001b, xxxv-xxxvi; West 2001, 96 n. 16). The missionary lobby also began to ratchet up
pressure against the legislation (Chater 1962; 133; Hastings 1994, 433; Sundkler and Steed 2000, 802).
In addition, John White and his missionary allies fought to reform the legal system. They protested
that white juries often acquitted whites of murder and other crimes when the victims were black and that
the police used torture and intimidation with black detainees (Andrews 1935, 128-9, 164-5). White and
the SRMC fought successfully to lift restrictions on religious liberty – blocking a law that required all
African preachers to register with the state and only preach when they had state approval (Andrews 1935,
130). SRMC fought legislation that allowed Europeans to indenture black children found “loafing” in
urban areas and to whip them if they disobeyed. The law still passed the Rhodesian Parliament, but the
protest in the UK was so great that the law was never used (Andrews 1935, 130-1, 151-4). The SRMC
also fought for black suffrage and black access to additional land (Andrews 1935, 130-2). L.P. Hardaker,
a later secretary of the SRMC, said “I think it can be safely said that no act affecting African life ever
became law in Southern Rhodesia without John White having something to say on it” (cited in Andrews
The influence of the SRMC was further increased by Howard Unwin Moffatt (the son and grandson
of missionaries), who became the Minister of Native Affairs and then, from 1927 to 1933, the second
Premier of Rhodesia (Rasmussen 1979, 194). Moffatt was liberal for his day and actively resisted
segregation against both strong popular support and pressure from politicians like Godfrey Huggins.
During Moffatt’s administration African civil society initially flourished. In 1927, Clements
Kadalie sent Robert Sambo to Southern Rhodesia to form a branch of the Industrial and Commercial
Union (ICU) (in South Africa it was originally called the Industrial Christian Union). Both Kadalie and
Sambo were graduates of the United Free Church of Scotland school in Livingstonia.
During the process
of establishing the union Kadalie corresponded extensively with the Anglican missionary Arthur Shearly
Cripps. Cripps was especially useful in providing international contacts (Pachai 1969; Steere 1973, 131-
32; Steele 1975, 168-69).
During this period, John White became so involved in fighting discriminatory legislation that some
missionaries thought he was going too far and was making missionaries unpopular with white
Moreover, the Conference expanded in the 1920s to include denominations that supported a
more conciliatory stance towards the government.
Thus, SRMC members did not re-elected White as
head of the Conference in 1928. Shortly afterwards, White was diagnosed with cancer and returned to
England in 1930 where he died(Andrews 1935, 149-156, 166-68). For the next twenty years, the main
Still, one of the three most important local organizers, Charles Mzingeli, was Catholic. Mzingeli led the
Reformed Industrial and Commercial Union after 1946 (Cary and Mitchell 1977, 1; Rasmussen 1979,
261). Robert Sambo later rebelled against organizations under the leadership of whites and became a
founding pastor in the African National Church in Nyasaland.
Kadalie’s contacts with Scottish missionaries in Nyasaland also helped keep him out of prison (Pachai
1969, 12). However, most other missionaries were more distant from the union and some union leaders
began to criticize them (Rasmussen 1979, 124, 133-34).
Many missionaries had settler friends and sent their children to study in schools with white settlers.
Some missionaries and many of their children also stayed in Zimbabwe and became settlers themselves
(Brand 1977, 73).
Both the Catholic Church and Boer-financed Dutch Reformed Churches tried to moderate the political
involvement of the Missionary Conference (Linden 1979, 21-22).
public agitation by whites on behalf of African interests was organized by the Wesleyan Methodist Synod
where Herbert Carter, who followed White as president of the Wesleyan Methodist Synod, continued
espousing political rights for Africans.
Moreover, much of black associational life disappeared during
the Great Depression – including the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU). African political
leadership shifted even more to the Native Missionary Conference, which became the training ground for
the next cadre of black political leaders (West 2001, 90).
In this climate of reduced influence of the SRMC and black political organizations and of increased
pressure from white settlers, Moffatt followed the recommendations of the Morris Carter Commission
and passed the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 that gave the vast majority of the best land to whites,
although he did it against strong opposition from the SRMC (Rasmussen 1979, 119, 194, 197; Sundkler
and Steed 2000, 802).
However, white settlers were still not satisfied. In 1933 Parliament passed a resolution urging the
government to abolish the African franchise, but Premier Moffatt refused to implement it. Moffatt was
rejected in the next election and Godfrey Huggins – who espoused a more uncompromising segregation
agenda – was elected Prime Minister
in 1934 (West 2001, 88).
Carter argued that “Africans would become politically competing if they were given political
responsibilities in Native Councils…[There is] little hope that Africans [will] achieve their aspirations as
long as whites monopolised all political and industrial power. The Christian Church should demand for
the African a real share in the New Order, not only in principle but in practical ways including universal
education, real power in Native Councils, representation in labour disputes under the Indusial
Conciliation Act, in recruitment and employment of industrial works and, as soon as possible, in the
election of members of Parliament.” (W.M.M.S., S/M/S/R/B. 1940-1945, Minutes, 1941: The Chronicle,
11th January, 1941, cited in Zvobgo 1988, 33).
Up until 1933, the head of government was called the Premier; after 1933, the Prime Minister.
Thus, the influence of the SRMC waned further. Godfrey Huggins’ United Party continued to
dominate Rhodesian politics until 1962. Huggins was Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia until 1952
and then Prime Minister of the Central African Federation of Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and
Huggins and his administration fought for European rights, not black advancement. He
actively promoted segregation according to his “two pyramids” model and renewed the campaign to
disenfranchise Africans (West 2001, 91).
Bucking this trend, Herbert Carter and the Wesleyan Methodist Synod maintained that Africans
were ready to participate in politics and that it was unfair to allow Europeans to nominate and elect white
to represent Africans in the Rhodesian Parliament. He argued that Africans should be allowed to elect
their own representatives to parliament and maintained that government proposals to take away they
franchise from those already qualified were unacceptable (Zvobgo 1988, 34).
Also in 1934, and in reaction to Huggins’ election, a group of teachers, evangelists and ministers
formed the Bantu Congress. The key leaders were also members of the Native Missionary Conference and
drew heavily on Christian principles in their platform and speeches. Again, many had worked closely
with the Methodist missionary John White: e.g., Thompson Samkange and Esau Nemapare (Peaden 1975,
148; Ranger 1995, 87, 94; Bhebe and Ranger 2001b, xxxv-xxxvi).
World War II heightened black Africans’ sense of discrimination, and after the war African
demands for political rights expanded rapidly. After all, Africans had fought on behalf of democracy in
Europe; the victorious Allies established democracies in Germany, Italy and Japan; and the British
Northern Rhodesia became Zambia and Nyasaland became Malawi.
Carter argued, “The habit of conference and debate is developing tremendously among Africans and
there is a sharp point as well as fluency in what they say: Africans are rapidly reaching the point at which
it will be an absurdity to deny them some voice in choosing representative legislators in their native land
and in giving them opportunity to making their communal wants and wishes known” (cited in Zvobgo
government allowed India and Sri Lanka to move rapidly towards independence. Yet, the British seemed
intent on perpetuating their control in Africa. In reaction, the Methodist minister Thompson Samkange
revitalized the African National Congress (ANC). He promoted the ANC through the Native Missionary
Conference drawing on ideas of “Christian civilization” as a motivation for change (Bhebe 1995,203-05;
Ranger 1995,94). In addition, Samkange created links between the ANC and labor unions and began
pressing for broader African suffrage (Ranger 1995,95-123).
The prospect of a cross-class coalition of
Africans so frightened Prime Minister Godfrey Huggins that he dropped his attempt to restrict the African
franchise (West 2001,93).
Even before this major increase in ANC activism, missionaries sensed that the war had changed the
playing field and increased their pressure for political rights for Africans. In 1945, the Wesleyan
Methodist Synod passed a resolution urging the government to establish Local Government Councils for
Africans, to allow an African Electoral College to elect four Europeans to represent African interests in
to retain the franchise for all Africans who already qualified, to establish Provincial
Councils to which Africans could be elected, and to immediately consider allowing Africans to represent
themselves in Parliament (Zvobgo 1988,34-35).
Thompson Samkange had worked closely with John White. Samkange was the head of the Native
Missionary Conference and had been sent to the World Missionary Conference in India in 1938. On the
trip, he met nationalist leaders in South Africa, Sri Lanka/Ceylon, and India – including Gandhi and
Nehru. He also learned that in India and Sri Lanka Protestant denominations like the Methodists were
rapidly indigenizing control of the church – something still neglected in Africa. He was heavily
influenced by the conference themes of building up the younger churches to stand on their own feet and
tried to implement what he learned when he returned to Southern Rhodesia. However, this created
tensions with some white missionaries and many white settlers. Over time he became increasingly
radicalized (Ranger 1995, 63-86; Robert 2000).
At the time, parliament had 30 members.
According to Herbert Carter, “To deny citizenship because of colour is indefensible in principle and
will have to be abandoned in practice… Parliamentary franchise in a suitable form is an inherent right of
all the people of a modern State which is governed through a parliament. The franchise for civilised
Africans cannot be made other than equal to that of the civilised non-Africans” (The Rhodesian
Methodist, XXI, 11, February, 1946, cited Zvobgo 1988, 35).
The next year, the Methodists passed the Waddilove Manifesto which petitioned the government to
reformulate its education policy and massively expand funding for African education in preparation for
extending political rights to Africans. The Manifesto advocated that “…definite lines of development of
the Africans be initiated so that they reach the full and unrestricted citizenship which we believe is
unquestionably their right” (Methodist Church 1946, cited in Mungazi 1992, 49).
In 1946, for the first time a Catholic publication, The Shield, advocated expanding black suffrage.
Finally, in 1949 a non-religious organization, the Capricorn African Society, was organized by white
settlers to advocate an expanded, though limited, version of black suffrage.
The Capricorn Society
advocated universal suffrage, but advocated multiple votes for those who made greater “civic
contributions” – i.e., wealthy and highly educated people. This system would have assured continued
white political dominance (Rasmussen 1979, 46).
During the 1940s, two politicians with missionary roots, Robert Clarkson Tredgold and Garfield
Todd, also began gaining influence and eventually instigated major policies on behalf of black African
interests. Robert Tredgold was the grandson of the Protestant missionary John S. Moffatt and the brother
of Barbara Tredgold – who formed an Anglican religious community in which white and black women
worked together (Rasmussen 1979, 327; Sundkler and Steed 2000, 804). Robert Tredgold was elected to
The Capricorn African Society was formed by Col. David Stirling (an English Catholic) to resist both
racial discrimination and African nationalism. A number of missionaries and liberal settlers and a few
African nationalists became members. By 1957 it had started to disintegrate and by 1965 if was defunct
(Rasmussen 1979, 46; Hastings 1979, 99).
the legislative assembly in 1934, served in the cabinet from 1936 -1943, became a High Court Justice in
1943, Chief Justice in 1950, and Chief Justice of the Central African Federation in 1955. Tredgold was
highly regarded for his integrity and had a liberal (although paternalistic) attitude toward Africans.
Garfield Todd was a Protestant missionary from 1934–1946. He opened a school and a clinic, and
several future leader of Zimbabwe (including Robert Mugabe and Rev. Nadabaningi Sithole) worked with
or studied under him there. Through his mission work, Todd became increasingly sensitized to the
unequal treatment of blacks and decided that the best way to improve their treatment was to enter
In 1946 he ran for parliament with the United Rhodesia Party and won a seat (Casey 2007;
In 1953, Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland joined as the Central African
Federation. Most of the senior members of the party took positions in the Federation. Prime Minister
Huggins wanted to demonstrate to the British that the Federation would not just benefit white settlers and
so moderated his stance on segregation, advocating “partnership” rather than “two pyramids.” As part of
this charm campaign, he nominated Todd to replace him as Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia (Weiss
1999, 71; Rasmussen 1979, 120).
However, after winning the election, Todd initiated a number of reforms. Throughout his
administration he met black nationalists and leaders – something unusual among other white politicians.
He made the first serious attempt by any Southern Rhodesian administration to improve African
education – the number of government primary schools more than doubled, grant-in-aid to mission
schools increased, and he encouraged missionaries to open more secondary schools and teacher training
colleges (Bridgeland 2002). His administration amended laws to make it easier for blacks to acquire land
He wrote his supporters in New Zealand to explain his motivation: “I would be able to give a major
contribution to the solving of the greatest problem before this country, which is the relationship between
African and European” (G. Todd 1946, 8). Todd’s predecessor at the Dadaya mission, F.L Hadfield, had
also entered politics and served as a member of parliament in the 1920s (Brand 1977, 73).
and allowed mixed race labor unions to form – unions which became important for the political
mobilization of blacks. Prior to this time the Industrial Conciliation Act barred blacks from being called
‘workers’ or from joining labor unions. Todd formed the Plewman Commission to investigate the
conditions of black urban housing and provide funds to improve them. He increased the minimum wage
for blacks and tried unsuccessfully to prevent the passing of a new miscegenation law. These activities
soured his relationship with much of the white community and engendered false rumors that he had
fathered children with black women (Weiss 2007, 71-116).
During Todd’s tenure, civil society began to change as well. In 1954 the (black) Native Missionary
Conference and the (white) Missionary Conference joined to form the Southern Rhodesian Christian
Conference(SRCC) – thus allowing blacks and whites to vote as equals in the same association. As
denominations increasingly passed leadership to black Africans, the Christian Conference became an
important voice for African interests.
In 1957, a new, more diverse generation of leaders reformed the African National Congress (ANC).
Although most still came from Protestant backgrounds, a few, like James Chikerema, came from Catholic
backgrounds as well.
Initially the Anglican missionary Guy Clutton-Brock was heavily involved in
helping craft the ANC constitution – which called for a true partnership of all inhabitants based on “non-
racialism” (Time 1959; Rasmussen 1979, 12; Mister 1995; Todd 1995). However, after helping create the
founding documents and organizational structure, Clutton-Brock purposely took a back seat so Africans
could lead themselves (Chater 1962, 130-137, 153). The Todd government allowed these developments to
However, the major crisis came when Todd tried to expand black suffrage. Robert Tredgold
(mentioned earlier) oversaw the commission assigned to study the expansion of suffrage. Tredgold
recommended allowing both whites and blacks to vote, but dividing the roles into “ordinary” voters who
had higher incomes and education and “special” voters with lower incomes and education. The weight of
Chikerema renounced his Catholicism while in South Africa (Cary and Mitchell 1977, 62).
“special votes” would be reduced in any constituency where special voters exceeded one third of the
population. This proposal caused outrage among whites. Thus, Todd proposed a more limited franchise.
In Todd’s proposal, blacks with ten years of education and an income of ₤15 per month could vote and all
votes would be weighted equally. However, white’s reacted so strong that his own party forced him to
resign. He created a new party, but it did not win any seats in the subsequent elections. Increasingly, Todd
became a vocal opponent of white-minority rule (Keatley and Meldrum 2002; Bridgeland 2002; Johnson
2007; Casey 2007, Weiss 2007, 106-122).
The collapse of Todd’s government in 1958 radicalized both whites and blacks. Blacks realized that
if Todd’s moderate policies were too radically for the white electorate, there was no hope for multiracial
cooperation. Blacks increasingly moved into more radical nationalist organization (Weiss 2007, 117-122).
A younger generation of nationalists who came to power in this period expressed frustration with both
missionaries and the earlier generation of nationalist leaders for not being radical enough (Ranger
Edgar Whitehead became the new Prime Minister and tried to reverse many of Todd’s moderate
policies. In 1959 he banned the ANC. The next year, he banned and arrested the leaders of the National
Democratic Party – which blacks had created to replace the ANC. These arrests sparked riots. The
Whitehead government then passed the Law and Order (Maintenance) Act which declared any group of
three or more blacks an unlawful assembly and imposed heavy prison sentences on people who
participated in proscribed gatherings. Chief Justice Robert Tredgold refused to enforce it and resigned in
protest. However, future governments continued to strengthen the act (Rasmussen 1979, 148). However,
white settler opinion radicalized so quickly in this period that soon, even the Whitehead government was
not segregationist enough. In 1962 Whitehead lost the election to the Rhodesian Front.
After independence Robert Mugabe appointed Todd to the Zimbabwean Senate, but Todd became
disillusioned with the violence Mugabe used against his opponents and resigned in 1985. Eventually,
Mugabe revoked Todd’s Zimbabwean citizenship.
In 1965, to prevent British interference in the process of decolonization, Prime Minister Ian Smith
and the Rhodesian Front unilaterally declared Southern Rhodesian independence from Great Britain.
Smith tried to silence Todd by putting him under house arrest and then in prison. However, the attempt to
maintain white-settler rule spurred 15 years of bloody civil war. Although black Africans tried to form
non-violent political parties, the Rhodesian Front banned them as quickly as they could be formed.
During the 1960s and 1970s African nationalist organizations took center stage, not missionary
organizations. However, the SRCC, the Methodists, the United Church of Christ and the Catholic Church
were vocal critics of the regime and often exposed abuses by the Rhodesian government and military
(Brand 1977; Linden 1980; Grant 1980; Dodge 1986; Weiss 1999). During the late 1960s and 1970s the
previously quiescent Catholic Church hierarchy became the government’s most vocal critic, and a number
of priests and nuns actively supported Robert Mugabe and his political parties/liberation army (Linden
1980; McLaughlin 1996).
Still, even during the 1960s and 1970s Methodists and Protestant ministers played a
disproportionate role in forming and leading the major African political organizations. In fact, of the main
party leaders during this period (Rev. Canaan Banana, Robert Mugabe, Bishop Abel Muzorewa, Joshua
Nkomo, and Rev. Nadabaningi Sithole), four were Protestant, three Methodist, three ordained ministers
and one a Methodist lay preacher (Nkomo), all had studied at Protestant mission schools, two had worked
with Garfield Todd at Dadaya Mission School (Mugabe and Sithole), and four had been sponsored by
Protestant missions or individual Protestant missionaries to study abroad. One was Catholic (Mugabe) –
but he first became interested in politics while studying at a Protestant missionary university (Fort Hare)
and he later worked at a Protestant mission school (Dadaya) (Brand 1977; Cary and Mitchell 1977,18-19,
135-36, 167-68, 228-238; Hastings 1979,141; Rasmussen 1979,26, 232; Grant 1980,123, 127; Brockman
1994,243; Sundkler and Steed 2000,983).
In the 1970s, as the liberation struggle became increasingly violent, the religious leaders who
formed the moderate wing of the nationalist movement were increasingly marginalized, and guerilla
leaders like Robert Mugabe came to the fore (e.g., Bhebe 1995, 207). Guerilla military leaders were
armed and trained by the Soviets and Chinese – and thus heavily exposed to communist ideas about
religion. Military leaders were also recruited more broadly than political leaders. Many had limited formal
education and little direct contact with missionaries. Elite political leaders distinguished between white
settlers and missionaries (Brand 1977, 75-76), but lower level guerillas sometimes did not (Söderström
1984, 188-189). Moreover, many missionaries were more ambivalent towards nationalism than were the
missionaries highlighted in this case study.
Thus, some mission stations were burned and some
missionaries were killed during the guerilla war. However, over time these attacks diminished, as the role
of missionaries in exposing abuses by the Rhodesian military, and in providing services regardless of
Africans’ political attachments, became clear (Linden 1980; Söderström 1984, 181-182; Bhebe and
Ranger 1996, 12-14; Maxwell 1996; McLaughlin 1996; Ranger and Ncube 1996; Weiss 1999).
Not all missionaries supported African nationalism and some were radically opposed to it. However, on
average, missionaries were far more supportive of both African nationalism and of attempts to increase
Africans’ education, economic development, land ownership, and direct political representation than were
white settlers and colonial officials. “…The ambivalence [of African nationalist towards missionaries]
was deepened by the fact that [blacks] experienced on some ‘progressive’ missions a greater measure of
equality than existed virtually anywhere else in the country. They had caught a glimpse of the possibilities
of a new order, but in the end were disappointed, and sometimes embittered, by the apparent reluctance
and inability of [many] European missionaries to pursue justice in the wider public sphere and make such
equality a reality for all. … [For missionaries] getting more closely involve with the political aspirations
of the Africans could only estrange them further from the settler population and render them vulnerable to
complete ostracism from the white community, to official harassment, and to possible deportation”
(Brand 1977, 80). Moreover, many politically active missionaries were deported – which encouraged
other missionaries to moderate their public political statements in order to continue their religious work
(Hastings 1979, 216; Grant 1980, Isichei 1995, 320; Todd 1995; Sundkler and Steed 2000, 810).
In 1974 a military coup in Portugal precipitated the independence of Angola and Mozambique in
1975. This radically changed the military calculations of the Southern Rhodesia government. Prior to this,
guerillas had limited access to ports or supplies and Southern Rhodesian whites had the backing of the
surrounding white minority governments. However, after a Marxist government came to power in
Mozambique, Mugabe’s guerilla army (which was based there) suddenly had easy access to supplies and
safe havens and could attack white Rhodesians more vigorously. Ian Smith and the Rhodesian Front
began to look for a diplomatic solution.
In 1978 Garfield Todd was released from house arrest and went to the United Nations. He
persuaded Andrew Young, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, to persuade President Jimmy Carter to
pressure the Smith government to yield to nationalists. Initially Smith signed an agreement with Bishop
Muzorewa and Rev Sithole. Muzorewa became Prime Minister, but the new constitution reserved seats in
parliament and the cabinet for whites and both Nkomo’s and Mugabe’s guerilla armies kept fighting
(Brockman 1994, 251).
In 1980 full independence was achieved and the British oversaw national elections. Robert Mugabe
won (although he used guerrilla army to intimidate opposition candidates). After the election, Mugabe’s
guerrilla army became the core of the national army – helping him maintain his grip on power (J. Todd
2007). Mugabe’s army then attacked and crushed elements of the military loyal to Nkomo (Werbner
1996). Moreover, tensions over land remained high because whites controlled most of the arable land.
Thus, as Mugabe’s rule grew increasingly unpopular, he violently confiscated land from white settlers and
distributed it to his political supporters.
This summary of Zimbabwe political history reveals the important role of missionaries and those
trained by them in the rise of African political organizations and in attempts to moderate abuse by white
settlers and colonial officials. However, as elsewhere in Africa and the world, Protestant, Catholic and
secular constituencies acted differently concerning African economic development, education, printing,
indigenization, colonial reform and so on. The fact that these patterns match the patterns elsewhere
suggests that these differences are partially caused by cultural factors, not merely local contextual factors
(although contextual factors may be important as well).
Education: Like elsewhere, Protestant missionaries initiated secondary education for black Africans in
Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. The Anglicans opened a teacher training school in 1897 (Knight-Bruce
and the Methodists opened Nenguwo Teacher Training Institute in 1900 (later called the
Waddilove Institute) (Atkinson, 89; 1973; Peaden 1973). Lobbying by the Southern Rhodesian
Missionary Conference (SRMC) – which at the time was entirely Protestant – led to the Native Education
Ordinance of 1907. The government began to partially fund missionary education, and enrollments of
blacks increased from roughly 4,000 in 1907 to 40,000 in 1918. SRMC lobbying also led to the formation
of the Department of Native Education in 1927 (Rasmussen 1979, 312, 347; Thomas 1998c). However, a
dark side of government funding was that the government pressured missions to provide segregated
industrial education for blacks (Rasmussen 1979, 82).
Direct involvement of the government in educating blacks lagged well behind Protestant missions.
The government opened two industrial training schools: Domboshawa in 1920 and Tjolotjo in 1921 (Rey
1988, 258), but did not open a teacher training school until 1955 (Mungazi 1992, 147).
Catholic education for blacks also lagged. The Catholic Church opened a secondary school in 1934
to train black priests – Chishawasha Seminary. This was followed by Kutama School in the late 1930s.
For almost twenty years, these remained the only Catholic secondary schools open to blacks (Linden
1979,30, 68-9). Conversely, the Catholic Church pioneered secondary education for whites. The Jesuits
opened the elite St George’s College for white boys in 1896, but did not admit any black students until
1964 (Atkinson 1973,93; Linden 1979,69). Thus, while Catholic schools educated much of the white
elite, they trained few African nationalists prior to the 1960s (Linden 1979, 72, 76).
“College” in this context refers to a secondary school, not a “university college.” This is also true for
St. George’s College and others’ uses of the word in Rhodesia during the 19th and early 20th century.
The initial waves of African nationalists were trained almost entirely at Protestant mission schools
– particularly Waddilove and Dandaya – and most were Methodists (Cook 1975; Peaden 1975, 147-8;
Ranger 1975, 93-4; 1995, 174 n. 49; Rasmussen 1976, 26, 62, 208, 232, 301; Brand 1977,69, 76; Hastings
1979, 141-2; Brockman 1994,42-3; Bhebe 1995, 206-7; Sundkler and Steed 2000, 801-802, 981; Bhebe
and Ranger 2001b, xxxv-xxxvi). Similarly, most early North Rhodesian/Zambian and Nyasa/Malawian
nationalist leaders were trained at Livingstonia – which was run by the United Free Church of Scotland
The association between particular missions and nationalism is not merely the result of education –
other schools existed. Few nationalist leaders listed in African Nationalist Leaders in Rhodesia: Who’s
Who attended government or Catholic high schools (Cary and Mitchell 1977), and colonial officials and
settlers at the time perceived Protestant education as promoting nationalism and Catholic and State
education as mitigating it (Ranger 1982, 42-43; Rey 1988,19, 26; Hastings 1994, 433, 542-43; Tlou,
Parsons, and Henderson 1995, 38). Similarly, in Malawi other schools did not have the same association
with nationalism that Livingstonia did (Cook 1975, 102, 108-9, 122-5, 134). However, the Methodists,
Church of Christ, and the United Free Church of Scotland all worked harder than other denominations to
indigenize church leaders and create an independent middle class, and in the process they nurtured
Africans with the skills and incentives to create other institutions (Cook 1975, 102, 122-5, 134).
Later nationalists included some raised Catholic (e.g., James Chikerema and Robert Mugabe), but
many of them were also influenced by Protestant mission education. For example, Mugabe attended Ft.
Hare College in South Africa and taught under Garfield Todd at Dandaya School (Cary and Mitchell
1977, 167-168; Weiss 1999). Thus, the pattern of the spread of education and nationalism mirrors
Botswana and Lesotho – Protestants initiated education and others followed. Moreover, most of the early
nationalist leaders were Protestant, although they were not necessarily the people who came to power
As African nationalism flourished, the Rhodesian government increasingly tried to undermine
missionary education and keep it under white control. First, the government passed a law forbidding
anyone from being the principal of a high school or teachers’ training school without a university degree,
a post-graduate teaching diploma, and at least three years of teaching experience at the high school level.
At the time, there were no Africans in Zimbabwe with those qualifications. Thus, the Methodists and
United Church of Christ (UCC) began sending African educators overseas for training. For example, the
UCC sent Rev. Ndabaningi Sithole to the US to gain higher education. While in the US he wrote the book
African Nationalism and then returned to become a major nationalist leader (Grant 1980, 127)
the Methodists sent the Rev. Abel Muzorewa and Rev. Canaan Banana to the US for training – Muzorewa
later became presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, leader of the African National
Council, and president of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia from 1978-1980. Banana co-founded the African National
Council and became president of Zimbabwe from 1980-1988 under Prime Minister Mugabe (Rasmussen
1979, 26, 208; Brockman 1994, 42-43).
In 1970 the segregationist Rhodesian Front (RF) government tried unsuccessfully to force churches
out of educating Africans. RF wanted local community organizations (which were easier for the
government to control) to assume responsibilities for schools. In 1971 RF cut back funding for mission
schools and required all African primary teachers’ salaries to be cut by 5%. At the time, about 95% of
government educational expenditures went for non-black students, and government funding provided only
a fraction of mission school expenses, but still, missions could not easily adjust to rapid change in their
finances (Rasmussen 1979, 81; Mungazi 1992, 87, 148).
Printing: The same pattern holds for missionary printing. Protestants opened printing presses and
newspapers much earlier than Catholics. For example, the Methodists began printing the vernacular
newspaper Umbowo in 1918 (Linden 1979, 71, n. 31). In fact, throughout the colonial period the
Sithole wrote, “The state has treated us Africans as if were counted for nothing whereas, the church,
with all its shortcomings, has treated us as if we counted for something. This has given us the inner
strength to endure” (Sithole 1970, 99).
Methodists did more than any other denomination to promote vernacular literacy and literature (Ranger
1999,178). In 1931, the non-religious Native Mirror/Bantu Mirror began publishing. The editor was
trained in a Protestant mission school in Nyasaland/Malawi (Pachai 1969, 10). Finally, Catholics started
their first newspaper designed for black Africans in 1959 – what became the semi-vernacular monthly
Moto (Linden 1979, 69). Although initially Moto focused on anti-communism, by 1962 it began to take a
far more pro-nationalist stance. Moto grew to have much wider circulation than any Protestant alternative
and became an outspoken critic of government policies. After 1964, when the Rhodesian government
banned all national newspapers supporting black African viewpoints, only the Catholic newspaper Moto
and the Methodist newspaper Umbowo expressed African political aspirations to a wide readership
(Linden 1979,69-72). Thus, until they were banned in the mid-1970s, they were crucial for spreading
information about African nationalism to the general public.
Indigenization: Catholics were also slower to indigenize the clergy than Protestants. Despite the
encyclicals Maximum Illud (1919) and Rerum Ecclesiae (1926), there was no seminary to train black
Rhodesian priests until 1934. Even then, many of the local Catholic missionaries resisted ordaining blacks
and opening secondary schools for them. The bishop was forced to “highjack” some French Canadian
Marists from another church province to run the schools (Linden 1979, 29-33). Yet, even by the 1960s
there were only a handful of African priests (Linden 1979, 69). By this time, Protestant denominations
already had a large pool of African clergy, and by 1968 the Methodist church was already under the
jurisdiction of an African bishop (Brockman 1994, 251).
Colonial Reform (and the Transformation in the Catholic Church): The pattern of church/state
relations for Protestants and Catholics also mirrored the pattern elsewhere. Initially Protestant
missionaries critiqued abuses by the state (particularly Methodists and Anglicans) (Anderson 1935; Steele
Moto was banned in1974 and Umbowo in 1976 (Linden 1979, 71).
1975; Ranger 1982, 34-7, 40-1; Zvobgo 1988). Initially, however, Catholic missionaries did not (Hastings
1994, 433-4; Linden 1979). There were some exception – e.g., Father Richartz fought attempts to raise
the hut tax (Linden 1979, 19). But the hierarchy worked hard to promote close relationships with the state,
and the Catholic Church maintained close connections with influential segments of the white elite through
elite Jesuit schools (e.g., St. Georges).
Although the Catholic Church joined the Southern Rhodesian Missionary Conference in the 1920s,
the Catholic Church fought to soften and diminish the critiques the Conference sent to the government
(Linden 1979, 21-22; Rasmussen 1979, 312). Moreover, in the 1920s, the Catholic hierarchy threatened to
excommunicate any black Catholics who joined organizations likes the Industrial and Commercial
Workers Union (Linden 1979, 26). Through the 1950s, Bishop Chichester praised government legislation
like the Land Husbandry Act. In addition, during the period of the Central African Federation of the two
Rhodesias and Nyasaland, the official Catholic newspaper The Shield criticized the African National
Congress in Nyasaland and its leader Hastings Banda, as communist. Like in Lesotho, the Church even
unsuccessfully tried to create a competing political party in Nyasaland.
These actions helped make the
Catholic Church highly unpopular among black nationalists at the time (Linden 1979, 46-49, 61, 69).
Thus, white settlers and government officials perceived Catholic missionaries as less critical than
Protestant missionaries (Hastings 1994, 433-434)
and rewarded the Church with large tracts of land
(Linden 1979, 25-26). So for example, by 1972 the Methodists had 16,635 acres whereas the Catholic
Church had 184,325 acres – over 11 times more land although at the time there were only about twice as
The Catholic Democratic Party was led by an ex-seminarian Chester Katsonga and supported by
Archbishop Theunissen and other Catholic missionaries (Linden 1979, 69, n. 29).
According to one white settler, “Of all the missionaries the Roman Catholics did the least harm for they
never preach equality, nor allow the native to approach the level of equality in any way. Therefore,
politically as well as socially the Roman Catholic missionaries are to be congratulated” (Mansfield 1911,
many Catholics as Methodists (Linden 1979, 300, 303). At the time the Catholic hierarchy was focused
on institution building and considered what served the institutional interests of the Catholic Church as the
best things for Africans (Linden 1979).
However, after the Rhodesian government declared a state of emergency in 1959, this pattern
changed. First, experiences in World War II taught some priests that a close association with the state –
particularly Fascist-influenced regimes – would undermine the Church’s long term interests (Linden
1979, 39-40). Second, an influx of Irish clergy (whose views of British colonialism were shaped by Irish
history) took a much more critical stance to British colonialism in Africa than earlier non-Irish priests
(McLaughlin 1996, 94; Sundkler and Steed 2000, 810). In 1957 the Irish Carmelite Donal Lamont was
consecrated Bishop of Umtali and became an increasingly outspoken critic of the government. In 1959,
Bishop Lamont ignored explicit instructions from the other Rhodesian bishops and published 1,000
English copies of a letter criticizing the state of emergency – this was the first significant criticism of the
government by anyone in the Catholic hierarchy (Linden 1979, 43, 50-51). Finally, Vatican II and the rise
of Liberation Theology in Latin America intensified these earlier trends.
Thus, through the 1960s and 1970s the proclamations of the bishops and actions of the clergy
became increasingly radical – more radical and critical than Protestant denominations. At the same time,
Anglican clergy were becoming increasingly pro-white. From the end of WWII through the early 1970s,
large-scale immigration of white settlers flooded the ranks of the Anglican Church. These white settlers
increasingly used their financial dominance of the Anglican Church to channel the clergy towards pro-
white-settler positions (Charter 1962, 134-35; Hastings 1979, 142, 215; Lapsley 1988, 119-20). The
Dutch Reformed Church (supported by South African Boers) remained consistently aloof from black
nationalism (Brand 1977).
However, most Protestant denominations remained in an uncomfortable middle ground between
white settlers and militant African nationalists. Protestant missionaries associated themselves most
closely with nonviolent moderate African Nationalists – nationalists who lost credibility in the 1970s
during the bloody civil war (Brand 1977; Hallencreutz 1988; Bhebe 1995, 207; Ranger 1995). By way of
contrast, a number of Catholic bishops and clergy developed cordial relations with even the most militant
nationalist organization, ZANU (under the Catholic-raised Robert Mugabe). Liberation theology made
Catholic missionaries much more comfortable with ZANU’s Marxist ideology than were most Protest
missionaries (Linden 1979; Hallencreutz 1988, 76-77, 92, 100-1; Maxwell 1996, 76; McLaughlin 1996,
Thus, in the 19th and early 20thcenturies the pattern of critique mirrored Lesotho and Botswana –
Protestant missionaries were originally the most vocal critics of government abuses (as long as they were
not financed by white settlers). However, in the late 20th century this pattern changed in Zimbabwe.
Because Zimbabwe became independent later than Lesotho and Botswana, there was more time for the
Catholic Church to adjust their policies on church-state relations in light of World War II and Vatican II.
Moreover, the influx of Irish Catholic clergy created a hierarchy with a more critical stance to British
colonialism. However, by the late-1960s and 1970s African nationalism was increasingly channeled
through liberation armies financed by the Chinese and Soviets. The Marxist and quasi-Marxist leaders
who came to power at the head of revolutionary armies did not tend to be very democratic.
Other factors that may have hampered democratization in Zimbabwe was a small black middle
class and tribal conflict. Both of these were partially caused by white settler policy.
Economic Development: Missionaries introduced Western formal education as well as new farming
techniques and crops. These investments helped create a new black economic elite – which was initially
almost entirely Protestant (Ranger 1982, 46; Ranger 1999, 180). However, as black businesses and farms
began to undercut white establishments and as more blacks began passing the educational and economic
requirements for voting, whites instituted a series of new laws to diminish the quality of African
education, to restrict black land ownership, to undermine the competitiveness of black businesses, and to
raise the requirements for voting. These laws designated most of the best land for white use only and
confiscated many farms blacks had already purchased by designating the area for whites only. These laws
also banned blacks from owning businesses in the cities – forcing them to work in the less lucrative rural
areas. Moreover, white trade unions tried to block blacks from moving into skilled professions and to
prevent Africans from even being designated as workers (Ranger 1982, 46; 1999, 180; Bhebe and Ranger
2001b, xL; West 2001, 88).
At the same time, missionaries tried to inculcate concepts of private property among black Africans,
but whites showed no respect for blacks’ property rights. Even before the Reserves Commission of 1915
and the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 (which formally designated most of the best land for whites),
Native Commissioners moved hundreds of thousands of African families from good land so that white
farmers could occupy it (Bhebe and Ranger 2001b, xxxiii).
By 1961 the government eschewed any attempt to modernize rural areas and tried instead to
reestablish communal tribal life – which they previously had tried to eradicate. White settlers believed
that tribalism helped keep blacks “in their place” (Ranger 2001, 38).
Thus, white settlers actively undermined the development of a black middle class, preferring a
system of poor blacks and wealthy whites. Throughout the colonial period, only a handful of blacks
gained the financial qualifications to vote, while most whites qualified (there were 51 black registered
voters in 1907, 20 in 1912, 60 in 1923, 258 in 1948, and 441 in 1953) (Rasmussen 1979, 263; Zvobgo
1988, 36-38; West 2001, 87).
A prominent white settler said, “I am a great believer in the tribal system. I think it is a superb system,
absolutely grand. Just use the damn thing, get rid of all the ridiculous European ideas and use it. … Once
you’ve got away from the sort of sickly belief of the white man, that human life is sacred, life becomes a
hell of a lot easier…. You know, having once handed over power to them, you’ve got to let ‘em use it.
Because the black man isn’t squeamish about using power. They don’t mind seeing teeth and eyeballs
littered all over the place. It just shows them the boss is on the job doesn’t it?” (cited in Ranger 2001, 39)
Tribalism: Prior to European contact, the Ndebele dominated the less warrior-like Shona.
Missionary education helped reinforce tribal identities by solidifying writing and education in
tribal languages (Ranger 1999, 178).
Yet, other mission institutions – such as the Native
Missionary Conference and the Wesleyan Methodist Synod united leaders from different tribes
into the same organization. Perhaps as a result, early political organizations were not stratified by
tribe (Cary and Mitchell 1977, 2; Bhebe and Ranger 1996, 29, 32).
However, during the civil war ZAPU operated out of Zambia and ZANU operated out of
Mozambique – thus each political/military organization recruited most heavily from people
along these respective borders – which indirectly produced tribal differences between each
organization. After the war, tensions between ZANU and ZAPU increasingly aligned ethnically.
Mugabe (part of the larger Shona tribe) defeated Nkomo (part of the smaller Ndebele tribe),
purged Nkomo’s ZAPU supporters from the military, and crushed opposition in Matabeleland,
using extreme violence (Bhebe and Ranger 1996, 29, 32; Werbner 1996). Since then, tribal
divisions have played an important role in Zimbabwean politics.
Thus, in Botswana, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe Protestant missionaries (when not supported by the
state or white settlers) initiated mass education, printing, newspapers, civil society, and colonial reform
movements and they inculcated democratic skills through churches, church synods, and ecumenical
missions conferences. In Botswana – where there were few white settlers and no religious divide with
Originally, the government tried to undermine tribal authority, replacing traditional tribal leaders with
leaders selected by and paid for by the government. However, in the 1960s the government changed
tactics and tried to re-establish communal tribal life as a means of keeping Africans poor and under
control (Ranger 2001, 38-39).
Catholics to counteract these influences – these factors helped foster a stable democracy. In Lesotho –
where polygamy created a large chiefly class, where religious cleavages divided both civil society and
class groups along religious lines, and where institutional concerns encouraged much of the Catholic
hierarchy to back a dictatorial regime – Protestant mission influence was not sufficient to establish a
democracy. Finally, in Zimbabwe – where white settlers resisted black economic development, education,
land ownership, and political organization and forced African nationalists into a revolutionary war –
Protestant mission influence was not sufficient to establish a democracy. In both the Lesotho and
Zimbabwe cases, Protestant missionaries promoted the same type of democratic-friendly behaviors and
institutions, but these were undercut by other groups.
The Zimbabwe case also illustrates the transformation of the Catholic Church during the 20th
century, a transformation that has helped the Catholic Church promote democracy in Eastern Europe, the
former Soviet Union, the Philippines, and elsewhere (Philpott 2004). This transformation illustrates that
although historic religious patterns are important in explaining which societies have democratized,
religious traditions are not frozen in time and can begin to promote the type of democracy-friendly
patterns that conversionary Protestants did in previous generations.
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