Even Africans were colonizers!

by Tendai Ruben Mbofana

There were two questions that troubled me immensely this morning.

I watched a story on local news on the Museum of African Liberation under construction in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

Immediately, I wondered which part of ‘African liberation’ the museum would be recording for posterity.

From my understanding, this centre is expected to exhibit as much history as can be gathered on how the people of the continent were colonized and the subsequent struggle for independence.

That is all well and good.

However, I began asking myself what exactly ‘colonialism’ meant.

What is colonization?

According to the Oxford dictionary, colonization is ‘the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area’.

Wikipedia defines colonization as ‘a process of establishing control over specific territories or peoples for the purpose of cultivation, possibly involving settling’.

This got me thinking.

Was this process only carried out by one race over another?

In other words, can ‘colonization’ surely only be viewed from the perspective of white people ‘conquering and occupying’ black people and their lands?

Based on the definitions I have provided, the term ‘colonization’ is not restricted to one race having domination over another.

What then does this mean?

The act of ‘colonization’ can actually occur between people of the same race.

The basic concept of ‘colonization’ entails ‘establishing control over specific territories or peoples’.

With that in mind, is this not how every other tribal or ethic group in Africa (and across the world) grew and expanded its territory, power, and influence?

As a Zimbabwean, I will give our own local examples.

How exactly did the Mutapa Kingdom grow to become such a powerful empire – extending from the Tavara area to the Indian Ocean (now Mozambique) – between 1430 and 1760?

Although founded by Nyatsimba Mutota, his son Nyanhewe Matope is credited with this phenomenal expansion.

He overran the Manyika, Kiteve, and Madonda kingdoms, as well as the Dande, Tonga, and Tavara – which all came under the control of the Mutapa Empire.

Was this not ‘establishing control over specific territories or peoples’?

In other words, was this not a form of colonialism and colonization?

This was a common occurrence during those periods.

The same can be said of the Rozvi Empire established by Changamire Dombo (1660 to 1866).

Even the name Rozvi says a lot – which was derived from ‘kurozva’, meaning ‘to plunder’.

This empire took control of the old-day Zimbabwe and also expanded westward into what is today called Botswana and southward into northeast South Africa.

Similarly, in the 19th century, the Khumalo (Northern Ndebele) under Mzilikazi arrived in present-day Zimbabwe, where they conquered the Rozvi and Karanga kingdoms.

In fact, the name ‘Mthwakazi’ – the traditional name of the proto-Ndebele people and Ndebele kingdom – is Zulu for ‘something which became big at conception’.

This paints a picture of conquest and conquering.

Furthermore, were all these conquered groups not the indigenous people of those areas – who were not only overran but occupied by a more powerful ruler coming from elsewhere?

Let us also not forget that these were military conquests – where lives were lost and massacres committed.

I could go on and on, but the point has been made.

Africans also colonized each other.

As such, when we talk about colonization and even the history of our liberation in Africa, it would be disingenuous omitting this vital component of our past.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that two questions came into my mind this morning.

After pondering over this issue of what constituted ‘colonization’, I then wondered why, as Africans, we failed to acknowledge that we oppressed one another.

Why is it that we only see white oppression whilst completely disregarding what may be termed ‘black-on-black subjugation’?

The fact that we totally ignore the colonization that occurred between blacks has had far-reaching consequences in our modern society.

Is that not why we seem not to take seriously the gross abuse of human rights and brutal repression of Africans by our own fellow black leaders?

Our history has never failed to frown upon (justifiably, I may add) the oppression we endured under European colonization.

Nevertheless, when blacks harm other blacks, there is relative silence.

Let a white man kill one black guy, and there will be a global uproar and outrage.

Is that not what we witnessed with the killing of African American George Floyd at the hands of white police officer Derek Chauvin on 25th May 2020?

Nonetheless, where are records of the late Zimbabwe dictator Robert Gabriel Mugabe savagely massacring over 20,000 innocent unarmed civilians in the Midlands and Matebeleland provinces between 1982 and 1987?

Will this undeniable genocide – classified as such by Genocide Watch in September 2009 – be exhibited at the Museum of African Liberation?

(Yes, Chief Fortune Charumbira, Gukurahundi was, in fact, declared a genocide!)

Can we expect to see a memorial on the hundreds of opposition supporters who were butchered in 2008, after Mugabe lost elections to opposition leader Morgan Richard Tsvangirai?

What about the suffering and oppression we have faced under Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa?

Ironically, this museum’s construction is actively being promoted and supported by Mnangagwa’s regime.

Will it also carry stories of the opposition and social justice activists who were abducted, or arrested, or killed merely for exercising their constitutional rights?

Will pictures and even prison garbs of brave men and women as Job Sikhala, Jacob Ngarivhume, Hopewell Chin’ono, and Fadzayi Mahere be on display?

How about Itayi Dzamara, Cecilia Chinembiri, Netsai Marova, and Joanna Mamombe?

Are we going to hear harrowing stories of the struggle for ‘liberation’ of the people of Zimbabwe who have gone endured unimaginable poverty for decades?

Where are the narratives of the nearly seven million Zimbabweans living in abject poverty – who earn less that US$2 a day and can not put even one decent meal together?

This, on account of a ruling elite that never tires looting and plundering our national resources for their own personal enrichment – as the country loses US$3 billion each year to corruption.

Are repeated rigged elections in Zimbabwe going to be shown at the museum – whereby the people’s right to vote for leaders of their choosing has been perverted on numerous occasions?

Will copies of the SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) final report on the shambolic and sham 23rd August 2023 Zimbabwe elections to feature at this museum?

Why not, when these elections were declared falling short of the country’s laws and regional guidelines governing democratic elections?

Or, is oppression and colonization only a white thing?

Are we to conclude that blacks can not subjugate other blacks?

Is it not colonization when Africans ‘establishing control over specific territories or peoples’ of their own colour’?

Has the world accepted blacks brutally oppressing other blacks as normal?

● Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please feel free to WhatsApp or Call: +263715667700 | +263782283975, or email:, or visit website:

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