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Blurring the Blue Line: African Police, Emergency and the Struggle for Independence in Colonial Northern Matabeleland, 1959-1980

English title Blurring the Blue Line: African Police, Emergency and the Struggle for Independence in Colonial Northern Matabeleland, 1959-1980
Applicant Tischler Julia
Number 172555
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Departement Geschichte Universität Basel
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.04.2017 - 31.07.2021
Approved amount 260'128.00
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Keywords (6)

Decolonization; Intermediaries; Southern Africa; Settler colonialism; Zimbabwe; Police

Lay Summary (German)

Das Projekt beschäftigt sich mit der Rolle afrikanischer Polizisten während der spätkolonialen Unruhen, dem Befreiungskampf und der frühen Unabhängigkeit in Rhodesien/Simbabwe.
Lay summary

Anders als seine Nachbarstaaten Sambia und Malawi, die Anfang der 1960er Jahre die Unabhängigkeit erreichten, hielt sich in Rhodesien (Simbabwe) bis 1980 ein weisses Minderheitenregime an der Macht. Das Projekt untersucht, wie sich afrikanische Polizisten, die im Dienst dieses Regimes standen, angesichts der fortdauernden Unruhen und des Befreiungskampfes positionieren. Wir gehen davon aus, dass eine einfache Zuschreibung als „Kollaborateure“ zu kurz greift. Die Studie untersucht die täglichen Interaktionen dieser Akteursgruppe mit der Bevölkerung und ihr Verhältnis zu den Befreiungsbewegungen sowie zum rhodesischen Staat. Sie fragt nach den Überzeugungen und Motivationen der Polizisten und danach, wie diese sich möglicherweise im Laufe der Ereignisse veränderten.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 31.03.2017

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Name Institute

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
5. African Studies Association of Africa, 2019 Annual Conference, African and Africana Knowledges: Past Representations, Current Discourses, Future Communities Talk given at a conference African Police Recruitment Policy in the British South Africa Police, 1960-1980 24.10.2019 Nairobi, Kenya Ngwenya Brian;
Swiss Peace Workshop: State Trajectories in Africa: On Institutions, Identities, and Governance’ Talk given at a conference African Police Identities in Zimbabwe, 1960-1990 04.07.2019 Basel, Switzerland Ngwenya Brian;
European Conference for African Studies (ECAS) Talk given at a conference Kuyedza: African Police Wives' Club, Identity Politics and Zimbabwe's Struggle for Independence 13.06.2019 Edinburgh, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Ngwenya Brian;
Fifth Swiss African History Days, Pursuing Private Goals, Negotiating Constraints. Non-State Actors, Wealth and Colonialism(s) in African History Talk given at a conference Kuyedza African Women’s Homecrafts Club in Zimbabwe, c, 1960-1980 07.06.2019 Zürich, Switzerland Ngwenya Brian;


Title Date Place
Violence and Intimacy in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa: Global and Local Histories 15.06.2020 Online, Switzerland

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
183577 African contributions to global health: Circulating knowledge and innovations 01.06.2019 Sinergia
175666 Violent Encounters: Practices and Perceptions of Violence in Southern Namibia and the Northern Cape, c. 1880-1910 01.10.2017 Project funding (Div. I-III)


This study examines the different ways through which African police mediated the process of decolonisation during Zimbabwe’s state of emergency and war of liberation (1959-1980). While historical studies have been preoccupied with the coercive nature of policing as central in controlling colonial societies and maintaining the authority of alien rule, this study seeks to understand how African police navigated and negotiated their own lives and work vis à vis the particular ambiguities of decolonization in a settler colonial context. Placing African police at the centre of this enquiry, the study explores the micro-processes of decolonisation through police forces’ daily interactions with traditional leaders, the nascent African middle class, the subject population, their white counterparts, and the settler state. Examining Rhodesia/Zimbabwe’s violent and drawn-out decolonization process through the lens of this particular groups of intermediaries allows us a more nuanced analysis of how groups and individuals understood settler colonial rule and the constraints and opportunities it presented to them. Furthermore, the study traces changes in ideas of liberation and rule, aims at complicating concepts of hegemony and consent, and upsets the binaries of collaboration and resistance.