The land question: How it all began

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ZIMBABWE’S land programme has faced criticism while misconceptions surround the issue. However, little is known about how Zimbabweans lost their land — their birthright. The land question has generated a lot of regional and international attention with some perceiving it as a mere political campaign gimmick that a ‘certain party’ embarked on to win votes. After the country’s occupation on September 12, 1890 by the white settlers, locals succumbed to land deprivation for decades to the present day. Zimbabwe’s occupation by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) was the genesis of the country’ s land problems as war, violence, laws like the Land Apportionment Act, the Land Husbandry Act, the Land Tenure Act were used to dispossess Zimbabweans of their land. Land was collectively owned by the community and chiefs and headmen were in charge of its utilisation. In the period between 1890 and 1920, the BSAC made conquest and land expropriation their priority seeing to it that the settler minority gained abundant land. After the effective occupation of Zimbabwe, members of the Pioneer Column were each promised 3 000 acres (12 square kilometers) of land and 15 gold claims each. But Cecil Rhodes found out that all that glitters is not gold as their hopes of establishing a ‘second rand’ (in Mashonaland) north of the Limpopo were dashed. They thought that gold was abundant in Matabeleland, but with Lobengula’s powerful Ndebele state, their dream was impossible, hence the 1893 war of dispossession. The white settlers who participated in the war were promised by a ‘loot committee’, a farm of 6350 acres (with no obligation of occupying it), 15 reef and five alluvial gold claims, and cattle. The dry and impoverished Gwaai and Shangani reserves were created as a result of the Ndebele defeat to pave way for the white settlers. The Shona and the Ndebele agricultural economies crumbled as a result and had to establish themselves in the new lease of life with subsistence farming. The Africans used to practise barter trade with their produce. During this period (1890-1920) Africans settled on 24 million acres of land, individual white settlers’ land was 13 million acres and the BSA Company had the largest chunk of land with 48 million acres under its control while other private companies had nine million acres. Three percent of the population (28 000 whites) at that time, controlled 75 percent of the economically productive land while the majority, 97 percent of the population (836 000 Africans) were forcefully confined to 23 percent of land in the native reserves with weak and impoverished soils. The 1930 Land Apportionment Act marked another chapter in the white settler’s quest to continue dominance over land. The legislation restricted the rights of the Africans to land ownership to the designated Native Purchase Areas. The racial segregation on land was deliberated and recommended by the Morris Carter Commission of 1925. The fertile high rainfall areas became large-scale privately owned farms. In 1931, land was further divided. Africans were restricted to 29 million acres of land. Only eight million acres of land was meant for the natives to purchase, while 49 million acres of land were allocated to the European settlers and about six million acres of land was left undesignated and forests area accounted for three million acres of the land. At the time, the African population had risen to 1,1 million compared to 50 000 whites. The end of the Second World War in 1945 saw yet another influx of European settlers who were awarded land in Zimbabwe as reward for taking part in the war while others were fleeing from the post-war depression. In 1945, there were 80 500 whites and by 1960 their number had risen to 219 000. This saw Zimbabweans being further alienated from their ancestral lands. Gokwe and Muzarabani reserves were created as a result and these areas were tsetse prone. The Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951 enforced destocking and conservation practices on black smallholders. The policy led to overcrowding and land degradation in the reserves. The Land Tenure Act of 1969 superseded the Land Apportionment Act. About 44,9 million acres of land were allocated to each racial group. As a result, there was overstocking, very high population densities, serious environmental degradation, reduced agricultural productivity and poverty in the communal areas. Some settled on riverbanks, steep slopes and grazing areas, posing a great environmental risk. Chief Rekayi Tangwena and his people were evicted from the Gaerezi Ranch to pave way for a white settler in the resource-rich Nyanga area. Despite his appeal to the courts, the Africans lost the battle and were evicted in 1969. Some of the people relocated to Mozambique and only returned after independence. Despite Guy Clutton- Brock’s efforts to publicise the Tangwena people’s plight, the then settler government was not amused either and went on to bulldoze the Tangwena settlement. However, after the end of the war of liberation, it was agreed at the Lancaster House Conference that land was to be purchased from the white settlers under the willingbuyer/ willing-seller principle. The process was slow leading to the promulgation of the Compulsory Land Acquisition Act in 1991 and 1 471 farms were designated for compulsory acquisition in December 1997.

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