History of land and agriculture in Zimbabwe: Part 18…indegenes moved to unproductive land

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The early settlers’ ‘land grab’ brought with it a series of experiences namely; genocide, diseases and the destruction of existing knowledge of indigenous practices and customs as well as the large-scale dispossession of indigenous occupancy.
This brought them into direct conflict with indigenous people who held certain land sacred and believed the ancestors to be the actual landowners whose connection to land gave the people their identity and sense of belonging.
Dispossessed of their lands, feelings of unsettlement soon gave rise to a spirit of resentment and the rise of nationalist parties.
But the British should have known better!
On June 15 1215, the unpopular King John of England was obliged to sign the ‘Great Charter of the Liberties’ – ‘The Magna Carta’, to protect the people of England from his ‘royal prerogative’ to ravage everything in England.
The Magna Carta was first, drawn up by Steven Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to make peace between the Crown and a group of barons who wanted to limit the devastation spread over the face of the (British) kingdom by the ravenous and barbarous mercenaries, incited by a cruel and enraged prince, let loose against the estates, tenants, manors, houses and parks of the barons.
At the time, nothing was seen but the flames of villages and castles reduced to ashes; the consternation and misery of the inhabitants; and tortures exercised by the soldiery to make them reveal concealed treasures.
The Magna Carta, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons, promised them the right of the church’s protection, protection from illegal imprisonment for the barons, access to swift justice and limits on feudal payments to the Crown (king).
King John dismissed all his foreign forces.
He pretended that thenceforth his government was to run in a new manner and be more indulgent to the liberty and independence of his people.
But neither side stood by its commitments and the charter was annulled.
After King John’s death, his young son, Henry III of England, in 1216, re-issued the document in an unsuccessful bid to build political support.
In 1225, King Henry, short of funds, re-issued the charter again in exchange for a grant of new taxes; his son, Edward I of England, repeated the exercise in 1297 when it was finally confirmed as part of England’s statutory law.
The Magna Carta became part of the English political life and was renewed by each monarch, although as time went by, it lost some of its practical significance as new laws were passed by the fledgling English Parliament
The Charter influenced the founding fathers of the early American colonists in the new Thirteen Colonies of America, and the formation of the American Constitution in 1787.
It became the supreme law of the land in the New Republic of the US; notwithstanding their annihilation of whole indigenous tribes, where the same flames witnessed in England reduced entire villages and communities to ashes; to the consternation and misery of the surviving inhabitants; were repeated.
Though originally the Magna Carta was concerned mainly with the feudal relationship between the British monarch and the barons, rather than the rights of ordinary people, it became an essential foundation for the contemporary powers of parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus.
So convinced of these rights, that the document remained a powerful and iconic document, even after almost all of its contents was repealed from the statute books during the 19th and 20th centuries, it still forms a symbol of liberty, ironically held in great respect by British and American legal communities today, except for the indigenous people they were to colonise.
Indigenous people everywhere, especially in Africa, respected the laws of the land that sustained them and the web of relationships established by the ancestors which formed the pattern of life itself.
This pattern, established by the ancestors, was everywhere; it existed in a single grain of sand; formed again by millions of particle coming together to make the earth.
It existed in a single granule, rock, animal, human and every other form of life.
It was created anew when these forms came together to form a country; and when all the countries came together it formed a continent – Africa.
The people of Africa, and Zimbabwe in particular, knew all there was to know regarding the environment; the trees, animals, plants and the land, including the care of that land handed down by the ancestors over thousands of years.
Among the Shona, land ownership was perceived as communal; operating at familial, clan and village levels.
Chiefs, being the custodians, allocated land in the best interests of their situation and community.
The British South African Company (BSAC), under Cecil John Rhodes, having failed to find gold, was pressured by the would-be miners to compensate them with large grants of land that the company had no authority to allocate.
The farmers who followed the pioneers were given grants of 2 500 hectares of land; they were followed by the British South Africa Police (BSAP) who were equally allocated farms; they in turn were followed by white civilians who also acquired land for themselves.
Ultimately, the original landowners, the indigenes, were dispossessed of land and squeezed, to survive, into pockets of unsuitable areas.
More land legislations were implemented overtime to benefit settler-mining, industry and agriculture.
Steps were taken, mainly through incentives, to reduce the competitiveness of potential African competition, especially in agriculture.
Among the numerous Acts were the discriminating Maize Control Acts of 1931 and 1934; and the Cattle Levy Acts of 1931 and 1934, that effectively removed all competition by indigenous farmers and livestock breeders — producers from the market.
Following the end of the Second World War (1939-1945), an agrarian boom, due mainly to tobacco farming, was experienced in Southern Rhodesia.
This increased the settlers’ ambitions to farm and consequently their determination to enforce the Land Apportionment Act (LAA) of 1930.
The aftermath of the war brought with it the return of European ex-servicemen, and alongside brought with it a pressing demand for more farmland; generally termed the ‘Second Alienation’ (division of land). This necessitated the implementation of further legislations.
The ‘Second Alienation’ also witnessed the division of the so-called Crown Land (now termed as State Land), into farms for alienation (allocation), to a new generation of white farmers and to ex-servicemen returning from the Second World War, as well as an influx of new immigrants.
New areas of farmland covering 50 million acres were made available and allocated solely to white settlers within the framework of the Land Apportionment Ammendment Act of 1941. This was the first systematic and co-ordinated attempt, through the Land Settlement Board, by the Southern Rhodesian Government to implement its segregatory land policy.
The Land Apportionment Ammendment Act of 1941, together with the Land Settlement Act of 1944, and the Land Settlement Board, were key legislations used to realise the ‘Second Alienation’ and were created for the specific implementation of the ex-servicemen’s schemes in the immediate post-war years.
Once again, indigenous Africans were evicted from their God-given ancestral land.
The entire fertile central plateau was reserved exclusively for white settler-development; indigenous Africans were resettled in the marginal lowlands.
During the Second World War, any economic woes that had beset this colonial outpost since its naissance were dismissed by the British tobacco industry that found itself without its traditional supply of Virginia tobacco – America, and a sudden surge in demand for cigarettes from the mass mobilisation of the Empire’s manpower.
British tobacco had to look elsewhere for its source of tobacco and Southern Rhodesia was the answer.
Southern Rhodesia, which had hitherto been considered an … economic backwater that had impoverished the Empire (by failing to find gold), rushed into tobacco production, which together with an increased demand for primary products to feed the war machine, changed the fortunes of the colony.
As a result of the hugely increased tobacco production as well as an increase in industrial output, and fuelled by the segregatory land policies, settler agriculture in the first post-war decade experienced phenomenal growth, which, between 1944 and 1948, resulted in annual growth rates that averaged almost 25 percent.
As the demand for land grew, so more sweeping actions were necessary to be implemented.
The agrarian boom had made it more profitable for the Europeans to farm or ranch the land allocated under the LAA than to rent it out to African tenants.
In 1950, therefore, the decision was taken that within a period of five years, all ‘European Crown Land’ had to be cleared of Africans.
Throughout the country, indigenous people were given notice to vacate the huge estates where they had lived for generations.
The mass relocations of mainly Shona-speaking Kore Kore and Zezuru people during the late 1940s and 1950s from the fertile central plateau, where they had long-established permanent farming and gold mining settlements, to arid lowlands was witnessed throughout the country, especially in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces.
By 1954, approximately 64 000 indigenes had been forcefully removed from their traditional ancestral areas throughout the country.
A further 47 627 people waited to be resettled. Ironically, the mass-dispossessions and relocations was mainly to make way for servicemen returning from fighting a war based on similar ideologically racial grounds.
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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