Immigrants impact on Gokwe-Sanyati

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AS previously indicated, Gokwe-Sanyati began to receive the imposed new ‘immigrants’ that came to be known as Madherukas, in 1950, when the enforced and insensitive model of development was reaching its peak following the passage of the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA), of 1951. 

The sequence and timing with which Sanyati received these immigrants, said to have vast agricultural knowledge and technique, had impact on the Sanyati communal area. 

The coming of the immigrants boosted and intensified the rural differentiation process. 

They were generally viewed as farmers with greater agricultural intelligence than their ‘Shangwe’ counterparts. 

During that time local agricultural development staff was tasked with enforcing conservation and extension measures. This was a by-product of concern expressed in official circles on the state and extent of land degradation in the rural areas in general.

In 1954, the Natural Resources Board (NRB) expressed alarm, if not despondency, at the extent and rate of soil erosion in the ‘native reserves’ by stating: “The time for plain speaking has now arrived, and it is no exaggeration to say that at the moment we are heading for disaster. We have on the one hand a rapid increase taking place in the African population and on the other a rapid deterioration of the very land on which these people depend for their existence and upon which so much of the future prosperity of the country depends … 

…the happenings in the Native reserves must be viewed in the light of an emergency and not as a matter that can be rectified when times improve, for by then the opportunity to reclaim will have passed.”

What was ignored though, was that land allocated to Sanyati residents was too small to cater for the increase in both the human and animal population. 

Erosion was, therefore, largely a reflection of this oversight. In addition to the small tracts of land allocated to each household, conservation  measures such as the construction of contour ridges (makandiwa) , that approximated to the width of a Jeep truck to combat erosion had the deleterious effect of reducing the size of land a farmer could put under the plough. 

According to the Councillor for Ward 23, the Jeep truck was actually driven through the contour to make sure that it measured up to the expected width.

Gully erosion, in particular, rendered large portions of land useless for productive purposes. 

Contouring was viewed as a panacea to the massive land degradation from surface run-off. 

As if this was not enough, the contour ridges, which the cultivators were coerced to erect in addressing the problem ate further into their already small plots culminating in stiff resistance against conservationist policy in general. 

In this case, erosion and not differential access to land was responsible for differential levels of production among the Sanyati peasants. 

To some extent, this plague facilitated the development of significant disparities in agricultural income. 

Therefore, the role of erosion, conservation and extension measures in enhancing land shortages and differentiation in the countryside should not be overlooked.

An important watershed in the agricultural history of Sanyati was that these local government officers evolved, in the 1960s, a flexible programme to introduce cotton production (commodity production) among African smallholder farmers, with results that have profoundly transformed much of the northwest quadrant of pre-colonial Zimbabwe which includes Sanyati, Gokwe and Chenjiri.    

Ironically, it is in Sanyati and some parts of Gokwe – some of the very last regions of the colony to be subjected to ‘development’ – that the possibility of gaining a reasonable livelihood exclusively as a subsistence and cash crop farmer had been realised for many, although certainly not all rural households. Whether this was because, or in spite of, lessons learned in the course significance of the region’s late incorporation into the overall pattern of colonial state making for its future position in the post-colonial national development regime cannot be in any doubt. 

The emergence of relatively clearer forms of rural differentiation especially with the implementation of the cotton regime cannot be doubted either. 

The cut-throat competition engendered among the peasant farmers by this commodity crop rendered any notion of socio-economic homogeneity impeccably impracticable.

It is pertinent to observe that central government preoccupation with different forms of legislation took shape in the 1940s.  

It had been observed by several authors that it was during this period that — “the removal of African tenants from white designated farmlands to overcrowded, land-scarce reserves like Sanyati fore-shadowed a self-evident future of poverty and eroding resources.”

As already stated, the impoverished and marginalised position of the peasantry did not preclude the emergence of rural differentiation in Sanyati. Nevertheless, the blame for such a future was pinned upon farmers in those same reserves rather than on the racial policies authorising forced resettlement. 

Thus, the Natural Resources Act of 1941 summarised and addressed a decade of anxiety in the

Department of Native Affairs over the accumulating social and environmental effects of an expansionist category of Africans, who were deemed to be plowing up an even greater acreage of land in the ‘native reserves’.

The Act was, above all, a programme of constraints or prohibitions imposed on existing agricultural practices; it empowered Native Commissioners (NCs) to: “Depasture stock, give orders on so-called modern methods of cultivation, prohibit the cultivation of land and control water”.

Comparable to the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA) that was passed subsequently, it sought to eclipse the emergence of rural [class] differentiation; a proposition that was going to prove difficult to implement given the level of commercialisation that already existed among the peasants before and after they had harnessed cotton as a cash crop.

Surprising enough, these seemingly genuine concerns did not immediately extend to cover the northwestern ‘reserves’ in Mashonaland West part of which comprises Sanyati.

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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