History of land and agriculture in Zim: Part 22…World War increases white immigration

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AS part of its drive to maximise the potential of new white-owned farms, especially during the early ‘boom-and-bust’ era, the British South Africa Company (BSAC), launched a wide-scale land settlement programme for white settlers; concomitantly evicting and crowding indigenous people into increasingly unproductive ‘reserved’ areas, often decreasing them in size, especially if the land was particularly good for their agriculture.
As measures to ensure that white farmers maintained their reliable access to markets provided by the emerging railway network, the BSAC often redrew some ‘reserve boundaries’ in order to place the railway lines outside the relevant areas.
Notwithstanding the climactic uncertainties of the unfamiliar territory, tobacco was earmarked for extensive production.
Though its early development was far from stable, tobacco soon emerged as Southern Rhodesia’s most rewarding agricultural product.
Due to its mercurial quality, tobacco developed into the staple crop of Southern Rhodesian.
Tobacco growers rose to dominance; holding considerable political and economic power, with a majority in the Legislative Council from 1911 up to 1923, which marked the end of the British South Africa Company’s rule in the country.
The tobacco industry in Southern Rhodesia was to retain its prominent position for decades afterwards; including during the years of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI 1965-1979).
Meanwhile, Rhodesian authorities continued to explore various measures to build up white immigration into the region that is now Zimbabwe.
One such measure presented itself during the Second World War.
During the build up to the Second World War (1939-1945), the authorities of Southern Rhodesia agreed to assist the British Empire by holding thousands of refugees, mainly German and Italian, the British Empire regarded as potential ‘alien enemies’, from countries such as Germany, Austria and Italy, in internment camps and refugee settlements; paid for partly by the British Government and other colonial territories such as German and Italian African colonies from where alien enemies were also drawn.
The long-term strategy was stimulating the development of settlements and camps in selected areas within Southern Rhodesia, focussing on rural towns.
This would assist in establishing commercial farming and other construction projects, while contributing to the development of white rural towns emerging along the railway line.
On September 3 1939, Britain declared war on Germany.
The message was repeated in all the colonies’ newspapers; accompanied by a proclamation, warning all enemy subjects within the colonies ‘…to register details of their birth, passport and property owned, surrender all arms, ammunition and yourself to the Member-in-Charge of the nearest police station…’
The announcement immediately triggered off the process of alien internment of an estimated 74 000 Germans, 12 000 known active Nazi supporters; an unspecified number of Italians, 1 500 were known Fascists and 8 000 other people resident in Britain at the time, who were considered ‘not safe to leave about’ on the British mainland and nearby various islands.
A further 3 000, mostly German, were taken off ships or captured as prisoners-of-war on the day the war broke out; all needed to be housed for the duration of the war.
The British Government had approached countries within the British Empire, including Southern Rhodesia, to take in quotas of internees, for which the British Government would pay transport and maintenance costs.
13 500 Germans and 8 000 Italians, and between 3 000 and 4 000 Germans and
1 000 Italians were taken off ships operating around the coast of the Union of South Africa (now South Africa).
They were held as alien enemies in internment camps there, at a time when a large segment of the population were Nazi supporters, which encouraged ‘a rising volatile political situation’.
Alien enemies from South West Africa and other Central African British territories, namely: Tanganyika (Tanzania), Kenya, Northern and Southern Rhodesia (Zambia and Zimbabwe), Bechuanaland (Botswana) and Nyasaland (Malawi), swelled the numbers of prisoners-of-war in southern Africa.
Due to the rising ‘volatile local political situation’ Premier General Jan Smuts refused to take many of them in; and categorically refused to take in women and children of those interned.
These were readily welcomed by Southern Rhodesia, where facilities had already been set-up when the question of potential internment of enemy aliens had been secretly considered from the mid-1930s, when the Rhodesian Government, in its unswerving loyalty to the Crown, had ‘unreservedly placed its resources at the disposal of the Imperial Government’.
The Southern Rhodesia Ministry of Justice and Defence, through the police Criminal Investigations Department (CID), was given the responsibility of co-ordinating the identification of enemy aliens in the Central African region.
The structure and the number of internees had been agreed on during consultations by the Southern Rhodesia defence authorities and their counterparts in Pretoria.
The Southern Rhodesia Internment Camps Corp was formed; made up of Europeans and supported by African askaris.
These were paid for by the British Government, together with contributions, on an equal basis, from the territories sending internees to camps in Southern Rhodesia.
An estimated 709 ‘enemy aliens’ from Northern and Southern Rhodesia were interned; physically guarded by a small, obscure ‘Agricultural’ Army Unit, while the CID identified other potential enemy inmates.
Between September 3-4, CID and army details identified and captured 508 Germans who were kept at Chikurubi Prison, of whom 52 men and a woman remained under restriction after interrogation.
The internees were moved to a temporary holding camp at a former primary school in Hartley (Kadoma), where they were soon joined by 64 other aliens seized in Northern Rhodesia.
In time, 4 000 Germans were rounded up in the Iringa region in Tanganyika (Tanzania), and sent to the Union of South Africa; their women and children were dispatched to Southern Rhodesia.
Throughout the war, Southern Rhodesia was hostile to aliens who were ostracised by the mostly white British society at social and work places; this continued even long after the war.
In Harare, the first site selected for internment was located east of KG VI Barracks (now Josiah Magama Tongogara Barracks — JMT), commissioned on October 12, as No. 1 (General) Internment Camp.
In 1942, part of the camp became home to 15 refugees from Iraq; with a small proportion of other refugees, mainly Polish.
As anticipated, after the war, the internees were immediately absorbed into the white minority community, following the official closure of the internment camps and refugee settlements in 1946-1947.
Among the infrastructure inherited by the Southern Rhodesian authorities at the end of the Second World War were the present-day JMT Barracks and Mbare Beatrice Cottages in Harare.
Other sites selected for internment camps were the present Vengere Township in Rusape, Diggleford School premises near Marondera and other structures north-east of the town.
There were also a fully developed
3 000-acre farm in Kadoma, on which the Government Cotton Research and Training Institute operated; a fully equipped workshop in Umvuma (Mvuma) and buildings outside Masvingo, including a small Italian church built by internees, currently a local attraction.
All the while, indigenous people continued to be restricted into designated over-crowed areas; bearing in mind only 21,6 million acres were set aside as ‘native reserves’ for occupation by 900 000 people.
In 1910, as a result of Native Affairs Committee of Enquiry, a further 7,5 million acres, adjacent to the reserves, were allocated as ‘native purchase areas’ (NPA).
Approximately seven million acres were totally unsuitable for agricultural use.
The improper use of the plough, introduced by the settlers, was said to have contributed to some of the irreparable damage to land resources in areas reserved exclusively for indigenous people.
According to a report in 1938, four million acres of land in the reserves were seriously damaged by the apparent improper use of the plough; this rose to eight million acres damaged as the result of the improper use of the plough by 1941.
By 1943 the reserves had deteriorated at an alarming rate. Agricultural production per person, per unit of land declined drastically, exposing the indigenous population to frequent famines; as happened elsewhere in the colonies.
In 1951, the Southern Rhodesian Government introduced the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA), ‘…to provide for the control of the utilisation and allocation of land occupied by natives, and to ensure its efficient use for agricultural producers and to require the natives to perform labour for conserving natural resources…’ in an attempt to tackle the problems of soil erosion, land fragmentation, tenure and migratory labour.
The NLH Act was to eliminate what was seen as destructive communal land tenure system in the rural areas; replacing it with individual land rights.
Under this Act, rights of ownership to small plots of land in the reserves were allocated for agriculture only to registered residents.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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