“Am I A Man?“: Gender and the Pass Laws in Urban Colonial Zimbabwe, 1930-80

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Gradually, feminist historians are building up a formidable challenge to androcentric studies of Africa; new thinking about the personal and public lives of men and women is beginning to reflect the breadth and depth of gender structures in African societies. This article focuses on the dynamics of one such structure in the society of colonial Zimbabwe (Ranger 1985; Phimister 1988; Sylvester 1991; Schmidt 1992). This was a construction at the intersection of nationality, gender, identity, and citizenship known as the pass laws. The pass laws were developed and used in complex, gendered ways. Sharing with neighboring South Africa a concern with enforcing racially exclusive definitions of nationality, identity and citizenship, the Southern Rhodesian preoccupation with reducing labor mobility meant that the pass laws transcended the merely bureaucratic. In combination with disenfranchisement, a severely discriminatory land tenure system and crippling labor legislation, the pass laws were used for nothing less than control of the economic options of working African people. For example, passes (generally known as chitupa or plural, zvitupa) stipulated for whom and for what level of payment an African man could work; where he could travel; where and with whom he could live. They were the linchpins in a system which routinely paid workers at levels below subsistence (Ibbotson 1943; Howman 1945; Plewman 1958).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-81
Number of pages23
JournalAfrican Studies Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • men
  • towns
  • colonial law
  • police
  • gender identity
  • criminal arrests
  • African culture
  • working women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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