White settlers dislodge locals…formation of crowded African reserves

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IN the aftermath of the 1893/94 and 1896/97 conflicts which led to the defeat of the Shona, together with the Ndebele people, the Cecil John Rhodes administration proceeded to create a colonial state and institutionalised the land.
By 1898, the British South Africa Company (BSAC) officially sanctioned the use of force to establish its racial solution to the land issue.
As British imperial interest in the region accelerated, land was organised with a disproportionate bias towards the new white settlers.
In a new land policy, settler-farmers were given improved land tenure and land grants of 3 000 acres or 1 210 hectares.
The British imperial government was to maintain control over precious metals and other mineral resources as well as labour, which they gained from indigenous people under duress.
This is a consequences successive colonial governments inherited and perpetuated by repeatedly imposing fundamentally flawed agrarian policies; a problem that succeeding governments were left to grapple with, but failed to resolve, until the land redistribution in 2000.
The inherited crises of land allocation, utilisation, demography, race and dire poverty became the primary causes of the protracted war of liberation – Second Chimurenga (circa 1965-1979).
Its origins were, however, rooted in the initial anti-colonial struggle of the First Chimurenga of 1896-1897.
At the end of the Second World War, most indigenous leaders in Africa attempted to engage their respective colonial governments, initially through formally organised trade unions and later political parties that ushered in the transition to independence and became the ruling parties of independent Africa.
Many leaders, however, had little alternative but to co-operate with the outgoing colonial powers.
Some parties and politicians refused to compromise and sought to define their nation’s transition to independence on their own terms.
The mass settlement of whites to the newly-founded British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), was strongly encouraged by the BSAC and displaced thousands of indigenous people, leaving them landlessness and in perpetual poverty.
Impoverished, alienated and landless, indigenous people bore the brunt of the suffering and were traumatised for over a century by pioneering troops, Rhodesian security forces (RSF), mercenaries, various guerilla factions and other private armies.
Often, violent methods were used to force people to provide labour; the police and informal African agents of the colonial police (vatengesi) press-ganged rural people into labour through liberal use of threats and beatings.
A ‘ticket system’ was imposed by settler-farm owners to control and dominate their workers; many of whom were exploited and abused.
The situation was made worse by the notorious Masters and Servant Ordinance of 1901 that made it difficult for workers to receive compensation for duty or abuse-related injuries; while severe penalties were meted on workers for the slightest infringement against their employers.
Besides racial land allocation, land utilisation also created animosity that resulted in innumerable clashes with the settlers who were generally contemptuous of the traditional indigenous system of land rotation cultivation.
These traditional farming methods – ‘gombomakura’ — which they called ‘slash and burn’, were a survivalist practice appropriate to the environment and the relatively sparse population, migrations and abundant land prior to colonisation.
The colonial stereotype of the African as ‘destructive farmers’ withstood nonetheless.
So, by the 1920s, an ‘environmental apocalypse’ was predicted if traditional methods of African land usage in agriculture continued to persist.
They adopted ‘centralisation’ as a means of soil and environmental conservation.
The environmental apocalypse was in total contradiction to the fact that colonial agricultural methods of deep ploughing were, in fact, more destructive to the soil than the indigenous traditional methods of ‘slash and burn’, which is still practiced today by many rural farmers.
The government’s ‘centralisation’ policy as a means of soil and environmental conservation involved ‘centralising’ cultivated lands into large squares while setting aside other land squares for commercial grazing during the planting/growing season.
After harvesting, cattle would clean-up crop residues and uneaten herbiage in and around cultivated land, while grazing lands were rested.
African agricultural demonstrators, who in later years clashed with the indigenes, were trained simultaneously at Domboshava and Tjolotjo (Tsholotsho) to teach these better farming methods to rural peasant farmers.
In the Shona chieftaincy system, rulers and priests formed the dare or council, entrusted to make and enforce various regulations regarding natural resources use and conservation.
Traditionally in Zimbabwe as elsewhere, the ownership, allocation and control of land, forests and water resources all fell within the spiritual realm.
Land, pastures and forests were communally owned by all people but vested in the chief who held it in trust for the people to come. The dare allocated land to individuals for homesteads and plots.
Rural peasant families retained usufruct rights on allocated land, provided they did not display disloyalty, migrate, commit a legal offence or violate conservation rules.
Hillside and valley cultivation was rare.
Under the ‘gombomakura’, or shifting cultivation system, wood and branches were burned and the ashes spread over the land.
Old lands (makura) were rested and left fallow for new fields (gombo).
Grass, bush and trees grew on old lands, allowing nature to revert to almost the original state of the forests.
The people knew when and how to ‘rest’ fields; allowing them to regenerate since cultivation was believed to damage or scar the earth.
Thus land was rested as a form of restoration to the damage inflicted on the soil.
Indigenous people recognised that under sparse population conditions, shifting cultivation was useful in conserving the land and forests, all within and upon them, long before the colonisers came to impose their own alien agricultural systems.
Concurrently with the racial bias of state-imposed policies of land allocation and utilisation, demography was another source of past serious conflicts.
In 1890, in Rhodesia, the indigenous African population numbered approximately 700 000 in an area of 150 000 square km, with approximately 400 000 head of cattle by 1893.
Land ordinances of 1894 and 1898 legislated the reserve creation policy that resulted in the first demarcation of the waterless Gwai and Shangani reserves for the people in Matabeleland; and in 1904, the Chiweshe Reserve in the Mazoe District was formed for the Zezuru and Kore Kore, among other reserves.
By 1910, the indigenous population was approximately 900 000; together with 700 000 head of cattle all crowded into ‘native reserves’ covering only 70 000 square km or 8,7 million hectares.
The colonial settlers numbered about 20 000 in 1910, occupying 60 000 square km, or six million hectares of prime farming land. Over-crowding in the reserves was further compounded by competition among the indigenous farmers to acquire and retain the inadequate amount of good land available for agriculture.
By 1930, the rural indigenous population numbered approximately 1,3 million people, with one million head of cattle.
The demographic pressure in the native reserves was clearly evident.
This not only created conflicts between the administration and the rural farmers and between settlers and African farmers; but there were also acute intra-social disputes between and among families, chiefs and headmen for security of tenure.
The rights to allocate, use and retain land often produced tensions that led to serious violence between people.
Farm labour was another problem area and cause for concern.
During the first decade of the century, rural Africans produced 2,5 million bags of grain annually for personal use and for sale.
The colonial Government of the time, in a deliberate effort to buttress settler-farming at the expense of so-called derogatory ‘kaffir-farming’, introduced the Maize Council Act that upset the maize prices and forced indigenous men to seek employment as labourers on white farms.
The result was a national legacy of physical and verbal abuse of farm workers by settlers and at times, even by higher-ranking African farm foremen.
Allied to this was a history of non-compensation from the administration or from traditional authorities since the chiefs and headmen had usually been co-opted into the colonial state system.
There existed, at the time and long after, an implicit assumption that the farm worker had forfeited his traditional rural rights by living in the ‘farm compound’ and was consequently beyond the scope of traditional or state authorities for protection or redress.
The Master and Servants Act was enacted by the British royal authorities after several strikes; making it a criminal offence to break a labour contract.
Dr Michelina Rudo Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field.
For views and comments, email: linamanucci@gmail.com

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