From at least 1900 on, Africans in Southern Rhodesia, its successor Rhodesia and today's Zimbabwe, have demanded schools and education, leaving behind evidence of their demands in a wide variety of sources: mission records, government reports and the recollections of former students. Even more than demands for land, higher producer prices or higher wages, demands for education were explicit attempts to negotiate not just economic issues, but also a place within Southern Rhodesia's increasingly segregated culture and society. But what, exactly, did students, parents and would-be students want, and were these demands being met? Fathers petitioned for schools for their sons, sons and daughters actively sought or avoided schooling and missions and the administration offered schools as answers to diverse political, social and economic difficulties. This paper will use a close examination of the life of a single ephemeral school at Umchingwe, in the Insiza district of Southern Rhodesia, to explore how senior men sought a school in an effort to rebuild strained ties with young men and restructure their community in Depression-era Southern Rhodesia, and why they failed.
Studies of education in Southern Africa have generally acknowledged that missions, with the help of state grants-in-aid, built and operated schools not merely from humanitarian impulses but because schools were one of the most powerful ways to attract Africans to a mission station and convince them to become Christians. The government helped fund mission schools and built two flagship institutions of its own as part of an effort to use schools to cultivate a useful, disciplined and controllable class of African workers and leaders. Schools were not merely imposed on a resisting African population, though. From the early years of the twentieth century, with increasing volume, Africans requested schools from missions, and from the government. Yet much of what we know about the development and expansion of the schooling in the region has focused less on what that education meant to students and their parents than on how the state, the white population and the Native Administration, worked to channel and modify Africans' educational demands through schools which were designed to produce useful subjects and workers for a settler state (Summers 1994a; Challiss 1982; Vambe 1972).