The suffocation of Africans

A young herd boy watches cattle in a Boma in Zimbabwe

UNDER the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA), land in Sanyati, in 1950, was allocated on the basis of three principles – for settlement purposes; for cultivation and for depasturing stock or grazing purposes. 

These allocations were self-contained units allocated on a ‘stand-alone basis’ (individual allocation). 

These allocations, however, did not anticipate that the increase in population would lead to a sub-division of the initial allocated land for cultivation. 

Since the sons of the ‘new immigrant’ farmers were not allocated land, they soon encroached onto grazing areas or self-allocated themselves land, thereby reducing land for grazing.  

It was also not anticipated that there would be an increase in livestock because, once a farmer got his allocation, he would parcel out pieces of land to his sons. 

The sons would also acquire their own beasts and this had a multiplier effect. 

Destocking was a result of this lack of anticipation on the part of the settler-government.  Furthermore, the contribution of the urban economy to the rural economy through transfers was not considered. 

Because sons and daughters of communal farmers were not guaranteed life in the towns and mines, their only form of security was to invest in cattle in anticipation of retirement. 

This investment drive in cattle caused levels of off-take to remain very low, at around three percent against an increasing livestock population. 

Regarding despasturing stock, the thinking of those who formulated the Native Land Husbandry Act was clearly spelt out by the Under Secretary in the Department of Lands and Agriculture when he remarked that: “If a native enters a trade, such as shoemaking, for instance, and becomes industrialised he should not retain the right to land in the reserves … he is either a tradesman or a peasant farmer and should not be both. If he hankers after land, he should purchase land in the Native Purchase Area or a plot in a semi-urban area.”

In 1947, the Chief Native Commissioner (CNC), was even more emphatic when he remarked that: “Once a final allocation of land (has been made), the Native will either become a peasant farmer only,adopting proper agricultural and soil conservation methods, or become an industrialised-worker with his tentacles pulled out of the soil.”

One of the major aims of this policy was, undoubtedly, to limit the number of people allowed to farm in the reserves. 

In fact, in post-war-Southern Rhodesia, where the relatively advanced urban sector demanded more native labour, particularly senior civil servants working in the Government were envisioned ‘stabilised’ proletarian labour, whereby “…an increasing number will become permanently divorced from the land…” and “…find a livelihood in the European areas.” 

The provision of housing for urban African labour was crucial for the stabilisation of labour. The conditions of Africans in the urban areas were, however, deplorable. 

Several official reports and commissions of inquiry published in the 1940s and 1950s on African urban conditions revealed the dire conditions under which urban African workers lived: inadequate and poor housing, discriminatory legislation, poor wages, insecure tenure and lack of social security for African urban workers. 

All these factors discouraged many urban workers from cutting their ties to the land. 

When the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA), was introduced, it was expected that the consequences would create a growing class who would have no rights to farming land in the reserves and who would seek alternative livelihoods in the urban areas, and that alternative means of security would be found. 

It was hoped that the increasing industrialisation and economic opportunity in the urban areas would provide for this, but it did not. 

Nevertheless, confidence returned at the start of Federation. 

The expansion in the economy which followed the Federation of Southern Rhodesia with Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland, in 1953, fully justified this hope. 

Secondary industry was booming. 

An additional boost was provided by the 1955 trade agreement with Pretoria which significantly increased the degree of protection provided for local industrialists.

Nevertheless, discussion in Cabinet in the same year was dominated by the pros and cons of speeding up implementation of the Native Land Husbandry Act, hence it focused much more on problems in the ‘native reserves’ than on opportunities created by secondary industry. 

In the years up to 1958, the opportunities for employment of Africans in the urban industrial centres were in excess of the number of school leavers, and the population in the reserves was relatively stabilised. 

However, from 1958, the situation began to change as political uncertainties grew regarding the future of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

In 1960, the number of school leavers began to exceed the number of openings for work. The Rhodesian economy experienced an economic slump and many young men could not secure employment.

Faced with unemployment in the towns, and the absence of adequate social security there, many young men were thrust back to the only form of security they knew – ‘a piece of land in the reserves’.  

Yet, that security was also denied them. 

No wonder, in the circumstances, that strong resentment to the Native Land Husbandry Act stemmed from the younger generation who did not qualify for initial rights to land, and for whom there was no land available to enable such rights to be granted.  

Dr Michelina 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:


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