Earl Grey, who succeeded Leander Starr Jameson as Administrator of Rhodesia, admitted that the Ndebele regarded the Gwai and Shangani Native Reserves as ‘cemeteries’ not suitable for human habitation, writes Dr Felix Muchemwa in his book The Struggle For Land in Zimbabwe (1890 – 2010) that The Patriot is serialising.
Post-conquest African resettlement programme
FOLLOWING the unconditional surrender of the Ndebele indunas and Shona paramount chiefs in 1896 and 1897 and the execution of Paramount Chiefs Makoni, Mutekedza, Mashayamombe and Mashonganyika, as well as of the national spirit mediums of Mkwati, Kaguvi and Nehanda, the British South Africa Company (BSAC) and its white settlers became the owners of over 96 000 000 acres (38 400 000 hectares) of land in Southern Rhodesia as a right of a conquest after which all Africans were to be quarantined into tiny islands of ‘native reserves’ far away from all land of potential use to white settlers.
Worse still, even the ‘native reserves’ remained the property of the BSAC as a right of conquest.
The Southern Rhodesia Native Reserve Regulations Proclamation of 1910 would in time define ‘Native Reserve’ as: “The property of the British South African Company set apart for the purposes of native settlements exclusively,” but without title or rights to the lands.
Incidentally, and as a matter of fact, it is critical to always remember that no compensation was ever paid to Africans following their eviction from their ancestral lands.
Virtually the whole of the Ndebele highveld had been occupied by the white settler-farmers and miners by 1894. (Palmer, 1977: p.69)
As already stated in Chapter Five, during the conquest of Matabeleland in 1893, Chief Native Commissioner Henry Colenbrander had simultaneously created locations to which the conquered Ndebele people subsequently returned to live as tenants supplying labour to newly-occupied white settler-farms and mines.
The Gwai and Shangani Native Reserves had become the first native reserves under provisions of the Matabeleland Order-In-Council of July 18 1894 which required a similarly provided Land Commission to assign without delay, ‘to the natives, inhabiting Matabeleland land sufficient for their occupation, whether as tribes or portions of tribes, and suitable for their agricultural and pastoral requirements, including in all cases a fair and equitable proportion of springs or permanent water’. (Palmer, 1977: p.30)
But the two reserves were disease-ridden and not fit for agriculture and therefore inhospitable.
Earl Grey, who succeeded Leander Starr Jameson as Administrator of Rhodesia, admitted that the Ndebele regarded the two native reserves as ‘cemeteries’ not suitable for human habitation. (Palmer, 1977: p.33)
High Commissioner’s Proclamation of 1896
In 1896, the High Commissioner’s Proclamation stipulated that the Ndebele people were to be removed from ‘locations’ on white settler-farms, into designated ‘native reserves’, after a grace period of two years.
The grace period allowed the Ndebele to continue living in ‘locations’ on white settler-farms without paying rent and free from arbitrary evictions. (Palmer, 1977: p.56)
Only after the expiry of the grace period would the white settlers have the absolute ‘right to evict Ndebele people from their farms’.
It is critical to also note that both the creation of the Gwai and Shangani Native Reserves and the High Commissioner’s proclamation granting the Ndebele victims of the white invaders the two-year grace period preceded the imperial approval of the Land Commission’s native reserve recommendations.
It clearly meant that as far as the white settlers were concerned, the approval of the ‘cemeteries’ as befitting final settlements for the Ndebele was foregone.
Southern Rhodesia Order-in-Council of October 1898
The imperial approval for the ‘native reserves’ was still outstanding even by October 20 1898 when the Southern Rhodesia Order-in-Council of October 20 1898 was published, reiterating the provision in Article 49 of the 1894 Matabeleland Order-in-Council.
Article 81 of the Southern Rhodesia Order-In-Council of October 20 1898 read:
The Company shall from time to time assign to the natives inhabiting Southern Rhodesia, land sufficient for their occupation, whether as tribes or portions of tribes and suitable for their agricultural and pastoral requirements, including in all cases, a fair and equitable proportion of springs or permanent water. (BSA Company Directors’ Report, 1899: p. 61)
Curiously, the BSAC proceeded to apportion native reserves additional to the already existing Gwai and Shangani without both the imperial approval and the grace period granted by the High Commissioner’s Proclamation of 1896.
In fact, the apportioning of ‘native reserves’ had already started in early 1897 and by 1898 an estimated 38 percent of the total Ndebele population had already been driven into the ‘Native Reserves’ of Gwai and Shangani. (Martin and Johnson, 1981: p. 51)
Matabeleland ultimately had a total of 16 ‘native reserves’ of which the Gwai and Shangani Reserves remained the largest with a combined land size of 5 420 640 acres out of 7 751 160 acres. (Palmer, 1977: p.59)
And, incidentally, it is important to note that most of the additional ‘native reserves’ were adjacent to the so-called ‘cemeteries’ (Gwai and Shangani).
There were of course no ‘native reserves’ in the Bulawayo District as well as the Matopo District which had wholly been assigned to Cecil Rhodes.
In Umzingwane, where Willoughby owned over half the district, the native reserve amounted to only 5 000 acres.
In Insiza and southern Bubi, what was made available to Africans was ‘very limited and inadequate’.
Of very critical importance is the fact that the Order-in-Council of 1898 also gave Southern Rhodesia a new Constitution which provided for an executive council (comprising the resident commissioner and four members nominated by the company) and a legislative council (comprising four elected members and five nominated ones), both presided (over) by the company administrator.
The New Administration: Imperial approval for the ‘native reserves’
Because the British colonial secretary was busy, engaged in matters of the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1901, it was the Resident Commissioner, M. J. Clarke, who eventually approved the new ‘native reserves’ on behalf of the colonial office in December 1898, thus giving the BSAC the green light to ‘legally’ quarantine Africans into the newly-created ‘native reserves’. (Palmer p. 59)
By the end of 1902, surveyed ‘native reserves’ had been established throughout Southern Rhodesia and by 1904, they had been allocated to various African groupings.
They totalled 38 891 square miles, or 24 890 240 acres (9 956 096 hectares) of land, with an estimated total population of 264 618 Africans. (Palley, 1966: 179)
The boundaries of ‘native reserves’ were decided by the BSAC Administration and were never revealed to Ndebele people until 1908 when the Private Locations Ordinance of 1908 repealed the High Commissioner’s Proclamation of 1896.
In 1898, the Chief Native Commissioner, Herbert Taylor, explained that revealing ‘native reserve’ boundaries to the Ndebele ‘would inevitably lead to a good deal of discontent among the natives as they are much too primitive to understand the portioning out of land’.
In Mashonaland, the Native Commissioners for Mazowe and Victoria Districts refused to reveal the boundaries of the ‘native reserves’ until 1908, in order not to ‘worry the minds of the natives prematurely’. (Palmer 1977: 71)