History of land and agriculture in Zimbabwe: Part 17…the plight of indigenous folk

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Salisbury first public auction 1891 on Pioneer Street Rhodesia

THE Second World War, fought from 1939 to 1945, was the most extensive global war in recent history.
It involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries, including Africans; also including servicemen from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) that comprised several regiments of Rhodesia African Rifles (RAR), made up of indigenous men.
The major contestants in the war had invested their vast economic, industrial and scientific resources into the war effort, including military and civilian resources against Adolf Hitler and his allies, who believed certain races were inferior.
As a result, he relocated and massacred millions of people, especially Jews in his pursuit to create a perfect ‘Aryan’ race.
The Second World War became the deadliest conflict in human history marked by mass civilian deaths.
Between 1937–1945, over 24 million military personnel and 49 million civilian deaths were recorded – accounting for an estimated total of 73 million people killed; including approximately 11 million killed during the holocaust.
In the 1940s, especially after the end of the war, any African still living on land designated as ‘European land’ had to move off the land.
By this time, there was no space left in the ‘native reserves’ for the interminably evicted African families forced by the Native Commissioners into the already overcrowded areas.
Many of the ‘reserves’ were in an abysmal state, and completely uninhabitable, by 1943.
They could not support life in some areas due to scarcity of water, while other areas were ruined by overpopulation and overstocking.
Although according to settler-judgment, the areas had been ruined by destructive methods of cultivation.
It is a proven fact that in the pre-colonial period, Africans were expert land husbandry people, unaccustomed to environmental degradation.
In reality, destructive methods of cultivation came about during the colonial period as a direct result of their land resettlement agendas.
Vast indigenous populations were confined in small reserves where populations also increased rapidly as a result of natural expansion.
The addition of people evicted from the European areas led to very serious land shortages.
No provision was made for land for cultivation elsewhere for the great numbers of African people being evicted from white-claimed areas during the 1940s and 1950s
Resistance against the settlers in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) began early; initially as unsuccessful resistance against forced labour known as ‘chibharo’, that compelled them (mostly men) to find paid work at white-owned farms and mines, where managers often had great difficulty sourcing sufficient manpower.
Since many of the early British settlers lacked capital to pay for the labour and development of their enterprises, the British South Africa Company (BSAC) introduced various measures to force African men to provide labour cheaply; practically akin to slavery.
As ‘chibharo’ met strong, though unsuccessful, resistance, a hut tax was introduced in 1894 as another measure to force thousands of indigenous men to work for the settlers, while the women and children remained to support themselves on small pieces of land.
At the same time, the BSAC banned all trade with the Portuguese in an effort to stop the people from acquiring guns. Portuguese explorers and traders were active in Munhumutapa from the 11th through to the 19th centuries
The armed resistance began in Matabeleland in 1896, though there had been many minor acts of resistance launched against the British settlers by several ruling chiefs, namely: Chief Makoni in the much-coveted eastern Districts, Chief Nyandoro and Chief Budya from the central and southern parts of the country respectively, between 1890 and 1896.
The people’s main goal was to drive British settlers out by targeting them, and their local allies and proxies who co-opted to work for, collaborate and support the settlers on their farms, at police posts, stores, missions and other areas with a high concentration of settlers, in their attempt to regain their land and sovereignty.
Other communities were more passive, reacting through passive resistance; hiding their cattle from the looting tax collectors and moving to neighbouring villages during tax collection times.
Landlessness advanced most indigenous communities into economic and spatial marginalisation; living in extremely vulnerable conditions.
Loss of access to their traditional territories often resulted in marginalisation, homelessness, increased mortality, food insecurity and social displacement arising from the forced change of lifestyle.
International law was an important tool in the hands of colonial powers who used the law as their chief vehicle for the dispossession of indigenous people of their land.
Depending on the coloniser, they applied various legal systems to land rights during colonisation, as a collective denominator that ensured all the colonising powers adhered to the same legal doctrine, which had a direct, detrimental impact on indigenous peoples’ land rights.
Because of this legacy, though international law still plays a major part in the contemporary situations faced by indigenous communities throughout the continent today, it is now being challenged by international human rights law.
Access to, and safeguarding ownership of, land became a critical concern for many indigenous communities; often described as ‘victims of progress’.
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); it marked a defining step for the recognition of land rights as a central human right; especially for indigenous people, both internationally and regionally.
African states under the direction of the African Union (AU), played an important role in forming the Declaration whereby land rights have been finally recognised as a central Human Rights issue for indigenous people everywhere in Africa and Zimbabwe in particular.
In 2001, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), established a Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities with a mandate to examine the situation of indigenous peoples on the African continent, with regards to land ownership.
While the affirmation of indigenous peoples’ Human Rights placed a great emphasis on land rights, it raised a contentious issue concerning the ‘definition’ of indigenous peoples, with several states purporting that in Africa all inhabitants are ‘indigenous’.
It further viewed the legal emergence of such a category of rights-holders as potential cause of “… tension among ethnic groups and instability between sovereign states…”
The term ‘indigenous peoples’ covers more than 370 million people across 90 countries around the world. (DESA, 2009: 1)
The ACHPR emphasised that: “…in Africa, the term indigenous populations does not mean ‘first inhabitants’ in reference to aboriginality as opposed to non-African communities or those having come from elsewhere.”
With no universally agreed definition of the term ‘indigenous peoples’, the most constructive approach, according to the ACHPR, is to refer:
“…to common characteristics which allow for the identification of indigenous people in Africa… that a first major characteristic is self-identification…”
Given the vast diversity of people, the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 169 sets a jointly applied, subjective and objective criteria, to guide the identification of indigenous peoples in any given country.
A second major characteristic is indigenous peoples’ “… special attachment to, and use of, their traditional land whereby their ancestral land and territory have a fundamental importance for their collective, physical and cultural survival as peoples.”
The Commission further acknowledged that: “… indigenous peoples are often communities which face a state of subjugation, marginalisation, dispossession, exclusion, or discrimination, because these peoples have different cultures, ways of life or mode of production, than those of national hegemonic and dominant model.”
The ACHPR highlighted that: “… access and security over land rights are the principal issues for indigenous peoples. With the establishment of protected areas and the ever increasing exploitation of natural resources, indigenous peoples have (and continue to) experienced large-scale displacements and often been evicted without compensation or alternative land.
Most people hold no formal legal title to land under national tenure laws, therefore they have technically become squatters on their own lands or on other people’s lands, and suffer permanent risk of eviction.
In some cases, indigenous peoples are allowed to remain on land owned by non-indigenous communities in exchange for agricultural work; others are allowed to stay on land owned by charitable organisations.”
Land rights should determine whether indigenous peoples have the right to remain on their lands, or at least get compensation for their expulsion.
They are not only crucial to their cultural survival as peoples, but also for their daily livelihoods and economic development.
International Human Rights law today is perceived as a positive tool to support indigenous peoples’ rights.
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 views and comments, e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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