Hoover opens papers of Zimbabwean political activist Diana Mitchell

Tuesday, July 26, 2011
A postcard distributed to voters during Mitchell’s campaign for Parliament
A postcard distributed to voters during Mitchell’s campaign for Parliament

The Hoover Institution Library and Archives are pleased to announce the acquisition and opening of the papers of Zimbabwean political activist and author Diana Mitchell (1932– ). The Mitchell papers, one of the most extensive African collections to arrive at Hoover in many years, documents political events, first in Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe, during more than forty years through the eyes of a politically engaged writer and activist who avidly collected documentation from a variety of political parties, movements, and nongovernmental organizations, including many in which she participated.

From the days of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Ian Smith’s white-minority government in the mid 1960s to the years following Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, which saw the growth and consolidation of power by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, Mitchell actively campaigned for a multiracial, democratic government in her homeland, as well as for basic human rights, such as equal access to education and freedom of the press. Whether in her campaigns for a seat in the Rhodesian parliament during the 1970s or in her roles as an officer in various nongovernmental organizations, Mitchell created and collected documentation on how opposition political parties and organizations functioned during those decades. In addition, Mitchell took on the role of author and editor in the late 1970s, compiling a series of biographical reference works on Zimbabwean political leaders that areconsulted to this day. Mitchell’s collection contains extensive research files that she used in compiling these works; her thorough knowledge of African nationalist political leaders and parties enabled her to obtain historically useful documentation, such as when she obtained copies of confidential minutes of settlement talks between the African National Congress and the Rhodesian government in the late 1970s, which were distributed by opposition leader Ndabaningi Sithole. As such, Mitchell’s research files will help scholars better understand the nature of political opposition to Ian Smith’s regime in the years leading up to Zimbabwean independence, as well as Robert Mugabe’s devolution into a dictatorial regime in the years since.

The papers of Diana Mitchell join a number of other significant archival collections at the Hoover Archives that document postcolonial African history, including the papers of Kenyan independence leader Tom Mboya; the records of William X. Scheinman, the American businessman who founded the African American Students Foundation, which brought scores of Kenyan university students to the United States in the early 1960s; extensive files on the Congo crisis of the early 1960s and subsequent political rule of longtime strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, collected and donated by the scholar Herbert Weiss; correspondence from the early 1960s with future African leaders such as Kenneth Kaunda and Robert Mugabe, as collected by American aid worker George Loft; and extensive subject collections built by longtime Hoover fellows and curators including Peter Duignan, Lewis Gann, and Karen Fung, which provide hard-to-find ephemeral materials, such as documentation of opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s.