Matenganyika: The loss of land in colonial days


MATENGANYIKA was the term used for land bought by African farmers during the colonial era.
The Rhodesian colonial system also called these areas the African Purchase Lands.
Matenganyika meant, you have bought land.
The racist irony behind the term Matenganyika often meant that an African farmer was moved to harsh drought prone lands.
He worked hard and produced good crops. Then he got a badge from the Colonial District Officer, declaring him a ‘master farmer.’
He was asked to purchase land somewhere within Zimbabwe in the area reserved for Africans.
Not all ‘master farmers’ lived in arid drought-prone and infertile lands.
Some of them were successful farmers in various parts of the country.
And yet, when you examine the areas where Africans purchased land, it becomes apparent that some of the African farmers were being moved from fertile lands to areas that white Rhodesians farmers did not like.
The process of dispossession leading to Matenganyika began with the arrival of the Pioneer Column.
Many legal instruments were introduced to entrench the separation of whites from blacks.
The Lippert Concession of 1889 was introduced before the actual occupation of Zimbabwe in 1890. It allowed would-be settlers to acquire land rights from African lands.
Trusting the missionaries and the Queen’s representative, at midday on October 30 1888, Lobengula placed his elephant seal as a stamp and signature to the notorious Rudd Concession.
As noted by Ralph Mokoena in the History Handbook of Southern Africa, Lobengula had been “duped into signing a document that contained few of the assurances promised to him during the negotiations and one which was to lead to the annexation of his country five years later by Cecil John Rhodes and his British South African Company (BSAC)”.
The Rudd Concession paved the way for the British South African Company (BSAC) to buy concessions from the Queen. The Queen, sitting in England and ruling the British Empire, had the ‘rights’ to give away land that did not belong to her in the first place.
Her authority was used as the basis of land thefts, acquisition and expropriation.
The revenue accrued from the land, in the form of tax, was repatriated to the United Kingdom to help build up England.
The Pioneer Column then claimed territory by raising the Union Flag and BSAC Flag at Fort Victoria. Then they continued north to Fort Charter, ending their journey at Fort Salisbury.
They raised the flag at Cecil Square (now Africa Unity Square) on September 13 1890. Three years later The Union Flag was raised at Bulawayo, on November 4 1893.
The Native Reserves Order in Council was passed in 1898 and this act introduced the Native Reserves for blacks only. At this stage, the white settlers began massive land appropriation while forcing Africans to move from their original homes. The Native Reserves became what were called communal areas, meaning places where all Africans lived together in various isolated villages on very poor unproductive land.
In response to the theft of the country, both the Shona and Ndebele rebelled and that was the beginning of the Ndebele War, the Battle of the Red Axe and the First Chimurenga.
These processes were accompanied by the seizure of land and cattle. After the Second World War, Rhodesia’s colonisation of Land was almost complete.
Among the key land legal rulings is The Land Apportionment Act (LAA) of 1930, which institutionalised the racial division of all land in the country.
Under the LAA of 1930, a large exclusively European area was declared. It consisted of 49 million acres. It meant that half of the total farming land in the country belonged to white settlers while Africans were marginalised to Native Reserves.
In the History of Zimbabwe Handbook, it is noted that “the predominantly white commercial sector also provided a livelihood for over 30 percent of the paid workforce and accounted for some 40 percent of exports. 
Its principal crops included sugar cane, coffee, cotton, tobacco and several varieties of high-yield hybrid. Both the commercial farms and the subsistence sector maintained large cattle herds.  In sharp contrast, the life of typical subsistence farmers was difficult and their labour poorly rewarded.
As erosion increased, the ability of the subsistence sector to feed its dependants diminished to an alarming degree. Consequently, there was massive land hunger.
Next to the reserves were Native Purchase Areas (NPAs). The NPAs covered 7, 5 million acres, although some 4 million were of little use because they lay in remote areas of the country and were unsuitable for farming. The Reserves totalled 21, 6 million acres.
As far as Matabeleland was concerned, most of those who were evicted were resettled in the lower-lying lands to the north, particularly in the Gwaai and Shangani reserves, which had been set aside for Ndebele occupation as long back as 1894, but were still thinly populated.
The Gwaai and Shangani reserves had been rejected by the Ndebele when they were originally created in 1894, regarding them as ‘cemeteries not homes’.
The struggles of the Ndebele are captured well in G.T. Ncube’s essay: Banished to the Wilderness: The Case of the Western Area of the Gwayi Reserve, Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, 1952-1980 and recorded in The Dyke, Vol.1, No.1, 2004. In addition, Professor Ngwabi Bhebe also wrote about the Ndebele and land dispossession in an essay: Benjamin Burombo: African Politics in Zimbabwe, 1947-1958. Professor Bhebhe demonstrated that in the 1940s, there was much overcrowding in the reserves due to overgrazing, soil erosion and poor food production. 
It took many years and the second Chimurenga to outdo the impact of the land thefts caused by the Rudd Concession. The historical legacy of Matenganyika remain up to this day as the generation of ‘master farmers’ and their descendants continue to work on the farms allocated to them in the colonial days.


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