The Struggle For Land in Zimbabwe (1890 – 2010)…..how settlers dispossessed the BSAC

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It is very important to note that the struggle for land ownership was not just between the conquered Africans and European occupation forces, it was also between the settlers and the BSAC, writes Dr Felix Muchemwa in his book The Struggle For Land in Zimbabwe (1890 – 2010) that the Patriot is serialising.

The Private Locations Ordinance of 1908
THE ‘Private Locations Ordinlance of 1908’ repealed the High Commissioner’s Proclamation of 1896. (Palmer, 1977: 57)
The ordinance gave European settler-farmers the powers to summarily evict any Africans still residing on ‘locations’ without ‘pass cards’ or ‘employment permits’.
The immediate result was the drastic reduction in the number of villages allowed in any ‘location’ and of course, a consequent reduction in the number of Ndebele people living in the ‘locations’.
But, there was very little change in the number of ‘native reserves’ in Matabeleland to match the evictions from locations on white settler-farms.
The Southern Rhodesia Native Reserve Regulations Proclamation of 1910 (definition of ‘native reserve’)
The definition of ‘native reserves’ was given by the Southern Rhodesia Native Reserve Regulations Proclamation of 1910.
Article Two, Paragraph Six of the Proclamation defined ‘native reserves’ as: “Lands, the property of the British South African Company (BSAC), set apart for the purposes of native settlements exclusively’, but without title or rights to the lands.
The Rhodesian definition of ‘native reserve’ was consistent with British historian, Tonybee’s racist definition of ‘native.’
‘Native reserves’ were therefore the property of the BSAC by right of conquest. Henri: 1978: p.142)
In Mashonaland, H. M. Taberer, the chief native commissioner of the province, had visited most of the Mashonaland Districts to assess any residual African resistance to the BSAC Administration just before the proclamation of the Southern Rhodesia Order-in-Council of 1898 and had met little or no resistance. (Rhodesia, August 20 1898, p. 260) Shona paramount chiefs and their people had surrendered grudgingly and had been disarmed and settled in the newly created ‘native reserves’.
The Mashonaland ‘native reserves’ were 80 in number, including the whole of Mutoko District, but most of them were in the south, in the Odzi, Sabi and Limpopo Valleys.
The ‘native reserves’ in Mashonaland covered an estimated land size of 17 100 000 acres (6 840 000 hectares). (Palmer, 1977: 59)
There were difficulties allocating native reserves in Hartley, Makoni, Mazowe and Salisbury Districts ‘since so much of the best land had been taken by Europeans’. (Palmer, 1977: 70)
The same applied to Umtali (Mutare), Charter (Chivhu) and Melsetter (Chimanimani) Districts.
Native Reserves, 1910 (Palmer, 1977: 69)
Southern Rhodesia Legislative Council Resolution of April 17 1914
It is very important to note that the struggle for land ownership was not just between the conquered Africans and the European occupation forces.
It was also between the settlers and the BSAC.
On April 17 1914, the Southern Rhodesia Legislative Council that was now dominated by elected settlers passed a resolution on the ownership of unalienated lands.
It was that:
l The ownership of unalienated land in Southern Rhodesia is not vested in, and has never been acquired by, the BSAC as their commercial or private property and that such powers of taking possession of, dealing with or disposing of land in Southern Rhodesia as have been or are possessed by the BSAC have been created by virtue of authority conferred by Her Majesty the Queen in Council and her successors upon the Company, as the governing body charged for the time being by Her Majesty in Council and her successors with the general administration of affairs within the said territory and responsible for the maintenance of law, order and good Government therein:
l That if by the exercise of the said powers, and the taking possession of, dealing with and disposing of the said land or by any other means, the BSAC have acquired an ownership of the said land, such ownership is so vested in them as an administrative and public asset only, and the Company, in their capacity other than a Government and Administration, have no dominion or estate in or title to the said lands or to any moneys or revenues derived therefrom. (Report of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of July 29 1918 p.7).
However, according to the incumbent constitution, the resolution needed the approval of the Crown (on whose behalf the South African High Commissioner could act), and, it was a Judicial Committee of the Privy Council that was consequently convened to consider the Legislative Council of Southern Rhodesia Resolution and make a legal ruling.
The committee was composed of Earl Loreburn and Lords Dunedin, Atkinson, Sumner and Scott Dickson and it eventually did not confine itself to the ‘unalienated lands’ as defined by the Legislative Council or by the BSAC, but considered virtually all matters related to land in Zimbabwe.
Southern Rhodesia ‘Native Reserves’ Commission of 1915
In its final report, the commission recommended the assignment of a pitiful 21 594 957 acres (or 9 000 000 hectares) of land to an estimated 405 376 Africans throughout Zimbabwe as part of the ‘final assignment to the natives inhabiting Southern Rhodesia, of land sufficient for their occupation’ as provided by Article 81 of the Principal Order (Order-in-Council of 1898).’ (BSAC Directors’ Report, 1920-1921).
The land size of the ‘Native Reserves’ had been reduced from 24 890 240 acres in 1904, while the population had increased from 264 218 in 1904 to 405 376 in 1915 and a further 327 777 were living on European settler-farms and mines! (Martin and Johnson, 1981: p. 52)
This meant that more than 55 percent of the African population had already been physically forced out of their ancestral lands into the newly-created ‘native reserves’ by 1915.
At this juncture, it is even more important not to forget that under the Southern Rhodesia Native Reserve Regulations Proclamation of 1910 which had defined ‘native reserves’ as land set apart for the purposes of native settlements exclusively, but without title or rights to the lands, the land assigned to Africans in the ‘native reserves’ still remained the property of the BSAC as a right of conquest. (Henri, 1978: p. 142)
On the other hand, the European settlers in Southern Rhodesia had, by 1915, acquired some 31 000 000 acres (12 400 000 hectares) of land, predominantly on the Zimbabwean Highveld, Agricultural Regions One; Two; Three and Four and there remained over 43 000 000 acres (17 200 000 hectares) out of the 96 226 560 acres of Zimbabwe’s land, which was still ‘unalienated.’ (Palmer, pp.164-165)
This land was the land over which the Southern Rhodesia Legislative Council had passed a resolution that it did not belong to the BSAC, but the British Crown.
And it was the resolution for which a Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had been convened to consider and make a legal ruling.
The relevant associated court proceedings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of 1918 subsequently delayed the adoption of the Southern Rhodesia Native Reserve Commission of 1915’s recommendations until 1920.

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