History of land and agriculture in Africa: Part 14 …effective land use strengthened economy

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THE concept of personal land ownership is, by tradition unknown to the Shona people.
Land belonged to the community, collectively.
The community leader distributed land for cultivation to each family based on the potential of the family unit; taking into account its size, the number of wives in the family and the availability of labour to make effective use of the land.
Grazing land for cattle, sheep and goats was used collectively.
In most Western societies, land is perceived as being exclusive to the individual and is always viewed in economic terms, as well as its capacity to ensure a nation’s food security and realise surplus produce for export.
The history of property rights, especially in Britain, can be traced back to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, to protect privileges and rights of the nobility against state interference.
The land and all within and upon it, became the basis of European colonial exploitation and enterprise in Africa and in particular, Zimbabwe.
Land redistribution was determined on whether the intended beneficiaries put the resource to maximum economic and productive use, according to Western perceptions and thus deemed essential; resulting in the large-scale dispossession of indigenous occupancy.
Thus, land grievance became fundamental to anti-colonial sentiments.
For indigenous people, land is the land of the ancestors.
The people are born into the responsibility to care for their land, today and for future generations.
Land sustains their lives in every aspect: spiritually, physically, socially and culturally.
A Land Commission appointed in 1894, was to deal with the ‘settlement’ of Africans.
This was meant to confine indigenous people within their own land.
Two highly inadequate areas were set aside on the Land Commission’s recommendations for this purpose.
Accordingly, though impracticable, the Gwayi and Shangani Reserves in Matabeleland, measuring approximately
2 486 000 acres were earmarked exclusively for ‘native occupation’.
These unsuitable ‘reserves’ had originally been earmarked as Ndebele resettlements in 1894, but were rejected by them, on the grounds that they were suitable only for ‘burial grounds not dwellings’.
By 1902, an estimated 530 000 indigenous people had been forced to live on these two ‘native reserves’, allowing just over 4,5 acres of land, each on which to survive; against 1 284 hectares of land parcelled out to white settlers for indefinite use.
The system was undoubtedly a carry-over based on their past feudal/manorial strip system, whereby a manor landlord would have several fields, each subdivided into approximately one-acre strips of land.
This being considered the amount of land an ox could plough before taking a rest.
In the idealised form of the strip system, each family got 30 such strips of land.
The compulsory relocation and restriction of people in these two grossly unsuitable areas of land undoubtedly became one of the leading causes of the 1893/1894 First Matabele Uprising, and the Mashona Rebellions or First Chimurenga that followed in 1896.
As a result of the two uprisings, the British South Africa Company (BSAC) was obliged by the Home Government to allot sufficient land for agricultural and pastoral requirements to the people; including access to sufficient water.
Consequently, each family was sanctioned between nine-to-15 acres of arable land with adequate pasture.
In 1910, a Native Affairs Committee of Enquiry was set up, which resulted in very few changes to land allocation for the majority.
It apportioned 19 million acres for Europeans and 21,4 million acres as ‘native reserves’ for African population which had risen to an estimated 700 000.
A further 51,6 million acres remained ‘unassigned’, but available for future ‘alienation’ (or division) for white settler-occupation.
In 1918, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council decided that: “Even though the BSAC may have conquered Mashonaland and Matabeleland, it had acted as an agent of the British Crown,” consequently, the land had become ‘Crown Land’ and belonged to England.
The court acknowledged that the indigenous people of what became Southern Rhodesia, “had previously owned the land, but had lost it through the conquest of the BSAC.”
On the expiry of the Charter, the British Government agreed that the BSAC be allowed to continue administering the un-alienated lands in Southern Rhodesia.
The BSAC was however: “To recover the loss it had incurred in administering the territory either from future sales of these lands or from the British Government.”
In 1920, 83 smaller native reserves of 21,6 million acres were recognised for the exclusive use and occupation of almost 900 000 Africans.
Of this total, about three million acres were unsuitable for agricultural use.
Following the expiry of the Royal Charter and the end of BSAC’s administration of Rhodesia, a review of land apportionment carried out by the Morris Carter Land Commission in 1925, enforced stricter segregation between European and African land; allowing marginally more land for African use.
When the BSAC moved into Zimbabwe in 1890, they laid claim all the land based on the Rudd Concession they had duped King Lobengula into signing, erroneously believing that all the land was under control of the Ndebele, who had themselves settled in today’s Zimbabwe from South Africa in the mid-19th Century, claiming ownership of the land they settled, base on their conquest of the people living there.
Owing to this unfounded belief, the BSAC argued all the land belonged King Lobengula, who in turn, gave them permission to prospect for and mine minerals in Zimbabwe.
The conquers soon asserted their full control over the land.
Fifty five years later in 1925, the Carter Land Commission was appointed specifically to set apart defined areas outside reserves for exclusive acquisition by Africans and exclusive acquisitions by Europeans immigrant settlers.
At the time, 45 percent of land was still ‘un-alienated’.
The settler Europeans held 31 million acres, including nearly all land ‘over 3 000 feet and within 25 miles of railways’.
By 1926, the Carter Report was finalised.
It recommended further land apportionment.
Under the Native Affairs Act of 1927, all administrative, judicial and legislative powers in relation to indigenous Africans was vested in the Native Commissioners.
The Land Apportionment Act of 1930 legalised the expropriation of African land and institutionalised the racial division of land in the country.
Forty-nine million acres that comprised of over half the total farming land in the country was declared exclusively European area.
The country was racially divided into ‘reserves’ to be occupied exclusively by Africans; ‘alienated land’ exclusively for white occupation, on which indigenous people could only live as employees; and ‘Native Purchase Areas’ where in compensation, indigenous farmers were given the right to freehold tenure on the newly created Native Purchase Areas (NPAs).
The Native Purchase Areas were located adjacent to the reserves and covered 7,5 million acres, of which four million were once again of little use since they lay in remote areas of the country and were unsuitable for farming.
By the 1940s, many of the reserves were already showing signs of human and livestock overcrowding, leading to overgrazing, soil erosion and declining productivity.
Land among the Ndebele people, was controlled by the king who divided the land among chiefs and sub-chiefs.
They in turn distributed land among the families, based both on need and on merit; judged by how effective a warrior, a young man had been.
Brave, successful warriors were awarded cattle.
Land use rights, in turn, were distributed based on the number of cattle a family owned.
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field.
For views and comments, email: linamanucci@gmail.com

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