What value do vana vevhu place on the land?


By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

IN his book On The Shoulders Of The Struggle: Memoirs Of A Political Insider, Dr Obert M. Mpofu wrote this about the contrast between white settler-values on, and about, our land (which are still backed by the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, [ZDERA], and other white sanctions); as opposed to the African values that motivated the Second Chimurenga and the land revolution of 2000-2004. 

On Page 193, for instance, Dr Mpofu wrote: “The willing-buyer, willing-seller land ownership-impediment (to the African revolution) had to be reversed and the land reform played a crucial part in this respect. I am particularly grateful for being allowed to serve as Minister of Provincial Affairs for Matabeleland North at the peak of the fast-track land reform. For me this was edifying as one of the core values of my participation in the liberation struggle was the need to deliver economic equality in Zimbabwe…

On the part of the white beneficiaries of economic inequality (and the theft of African land), there was no conscious conviction and willingness to give away the land. An exclusively commercial conscience motivated the white settlers’ desire to hold on to the land.”

The reason for my intervention through this column is that, contrary to Dr Mpofu’s observation that white settlers were blinded by “…an exclusively commercial conscience…” which made them fail to appreciate the Africans determination to reclaim the land, today’s African elites have adopted the white-settler approach to the land question. A technocratic agribusiness view of the land issue is necessary but it requires an organic and even ecological African value system for it to succeed.  

Naked commerce cannot evaluate itself in relation to popular needs.

Nhaka and the settler-dispossession of the African

The most basic African grievance over land was that the white settler, by dispossessing Africans of their land, had set up a society and property ownership system where white parents could count on leaving a substantial inheritance for their children and grandchildren while the African parent became a sheer burden for his or her children to support in old age and to bury upon death simply because most dispossessed Africans died paupers. Land was the foundation of all other means of production and sustenance, and those who controlled its ownership and use controlled and directed society and its values.

And yet the nhaka approach is so basic that it goes back farther than Biblical times; with the first Book of Kings using the story of Naboth’s vineyard to make the point:

“Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard

in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king

of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to

Naboth: ‘Give me your vineyard, that I

 may have it for a vegetable garden,

because it is near my house, and I will

give you a better vineyard for it; or, if

it seems good to you, I will give you its

value in money.”

But Naboth said to Ahab: ‘The Lord forbid

that I should give you the inheritance of my


After this rebuff, the king went home and complained to his wife Jezebel, that Naboth had refused to give up his inheritance, even for financial gain.  

The queen then arranged for Naboth to be murdered so that the king could take over the vineyard. 

For the murder and theft, Jezebel’s punishment was that her body would be eaten by dogs within the walls of Jezereel.  

For Ahab the king, his own children would inherit disasters; for the king himself had repented.  All this is to underline the importance of land as inheritance.

Except for the gross distortions of the African land revolution through Euro-American sanctions, one would expect that the 400 000 or so households resettled on land reclaimed from white settlers would have youths and children of their own who would be happy to inherit the land and use it.  

If that is not happening and the youths are running away to the Diaspora or to the city to join the ranks of unemployed and unemployable hawkers and tuckshop hustlers, then we must find out why.  

One reason is that Euro-American sanctions, as enshrined in the ZDERA, were meant to turn the reclaimed land into a liability rather than an asset, by making sure that no investment went into the resettled areas which, to this day, white donors and their clients insist on denigrating as ‘disputed land’.

But instead of seeking to moderate the impact of sanctions on the African land revolution, a new breed of technocrats and land speculators have introduced an alien and alienated discourse quite divorced from the values of the land revolution.

Take for example The Herald story on January 16 2021 entitled ‘Underutilised irrigations to go, says Minister’.

The story reads in part:

“Members of irrigation schemes who fail to use their irrigated land as productive farms will be removed and replaced by those willing and with the capacity to do so.

The Government has come up with a Statutory Instrument on irrigable land that will see it repossessing underutilised land in irrigation schemes. The farms will be re-allocated to those showing capacity and potential,” said Dr Masuka, the Minister.

The minster was further quoted as saying:

“Should we find that you are reluctant to improve production, productivity and profitability, we will invoke the Statutory Instrument on irrigable land to evict you from the scheme and invite so many other Zimbabweans who want to be involved in this privilege.”

That this rhetoric contradicts the spirit and letter of the Third Chimurenga is clear:

– The old resettled households being threatened with removal were once allocated the land because they showed both willingness and potential to become successful smallholder farmers.  At the time they were settled, they expected to be empowered through pro-active agricultural policies of the Government on investment, infrastructure, credit and marketing.  For many reasons, including corruption and economic sanctions, the pro-active policies did not materialise.

Now, a new Minister has found a completely new cohort of potential farmers and willing settlers who, in some of the statements, are described as willing youths to replace old and failed chancers!

To make matters worse, the programme being presented is justified as an empowerment scheme, without explaining why households and their youths already on the land should be removed instead of being empowered through the same empowerment scheme? In this confusion, what then happens to inheritance as understood by those who led the land revolution?

Ecology and biodiversity

Despite their dispossession, or rather because of it, vana vevhu understood that one could not control one’s environment and its ecology without controlling one’s own land and its usage. 

Here, it is most profound to note, for instance, that the ordinary people’s fight against both the HIV-AIDS pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic has automatically been linked to the fight to redeem African indigenous nutrition (based on land) which had come to be despised as primitive and backward. 

People living with HIV are now routinely advised to eat muboora, derere, sadza rerukweza, mapfunde, madora, nyimo, nzungu and nyemba.  They are also advised to avoid the so-called refined foods and fizzy drinks brought here and marketed by the whiteman. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw even Pick ‘n’ Pay/TM supermarkets (Mutare) selling fresh zumbani (mushani) bunches. 

All the herbal remedies once used by our ancestors to ward off flu are being redeemed, tested and marketed; but the point is that this revival has been made possible and easy only because the land is still there, accessible and not fully surrendered to the singularly commercial value which has routinely subjected the precious herbs to imported North American and European herbicides, treating the herbs as mere weeds for swift eradication.  

It should not matter that the herbs may be effective only in dealing with symptoms of flu.  

Their efficacy can be proven or refuted scientifically only if they are still available on the land.

The commercial interest, narrowly defined by the white settler and the agribusiness investor, cannot serve as the full or sole measure of the value of the redeemed African soil. 

Commerce itself and its values require evaluation by a human yardstick other than profit.

As we go to press, South Africans are complaining that white-controlled companies are forcing them to eat genetically modified foods (GMOs) while using South African land to grow organic foods for export to Europe, Asia and North America. (See for instance, Rutendo Matinyarare’s lecture on Africa and Colonisation on pan-African Daily TV, January 27 2021).

Reclamation and redemption in the African land revolution means transforming the once stolen soil into a real field for the renewed African heritage.  

The late Dr Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura used to explain this concept of turning the reclaimed land into indigenous African fields of heritage by taking apart the word agriculture, the ‘agri’ stands for the science of farming which remains dangling and diminished until it is unified with the ‘culture’.  

Not only should stolen and desecrated African soil to be reclaimed, resettled and redeemed; the aural and musical sounds which once permeated the indigenous landscape and ecology must be rediscovered, restored and redeemed because, for the dispossessed African population, the lost-colonised land was the very first common arena for freedom of expression.  

It was the fountain and foundation of nutrition, cuisine, poetry, music dance, sculpture, landscaping, weaving, arts and crafts.

This revolutionary concept about land, space, culture and expression is on the resurgence world-wide and it informs the global ecology movement.

Those trained only in white law and white history may view the idea of coming home to African living history as mere nostalgia.  

But homecoming is about land, space and the future.  

As David C. Korten observed in the Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism: 

“The culture of human society is much like what physical scientists call a field… A field is a universal force that permeates space and exerts influence over matter…  Fields are by definition invisible and may be detected and measured only by their material effects.  Similarly, cultures are the invisible organising fields of societies.  Though cultures permeate our social spaces, they are visible only in the observed behaviour (tsika, mhiko, minanzi, madetembo, miteuro ne zvirango) of the individuals who share their values and prescriptions.  They are as essential to any explanation of the coherent function of a society as electromagnetic and gravitational fields are to explaining the organisation of matter.”

Korten goes on:

 “When a cultural field emerges as a consensual expression of the shared experience, values and aspirations of members of a society, it serves as a deeply democratic mechanism for achieving social coherence. But when a small group is able to manipulate the society’s cultural symbols and values to serve its own narrow ends, the processes of cultural reproduction can become deeply undemocratic and destructive.”

Turning reclaimed land into meaningful African fields involves the reunification of science and art on the redeemed land.

We have seen health sciences confirming the health benefits of African small grains such as mapfunde, mhunga, rukweza, nyemba, nzungu and tsumbe.   

We have seen health sciences confirming the medical and health benefits of herbs and vegetables which our ancestors grew in native fields including nyevhe, mutsungutsungu, mukakashango, goo-koo, chitudzu, guku (blackjack) or mutsine, derere-munda, and runanzva-nyoka.

The African ‘road-runner’ chicken is slowly replacing the broiler.  

These are important, if not subtle, responses by communities to the African land revolution.  

They are critical forms of freedom of expression which could not be realised without access to land.

The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement must not only be sensitive to these African values about land; it should also foreground them in all its policies, since the values constitute the original purpose of the African land revolution.


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