Zimbabwe & Land Reclamation

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Zimbabwe and Land Reclamation

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zimbabwe.gif (134022 bytes)Zimbabwe, formerly known under British Rule as Rhodesia, has recently been under an international spotlight for two reasons: One was the elections that resulted in the party of Robert Mugabe losing some power, the other was over the policy of the Mugabe government to seize all the land occupied by White Europeans. Only a few members of the mainstream media have even stated that land was stolen from the indigenous Africans.

 And while some White farmers have been murdered—acts that have not been condoned by any except those who committed them—the issue of land reclamation from the descendants of people who took the land by force in the late 19th century is one that faces many African nations. Essentially, the causes of what is happening in Zimbabwe have been replicated numerous times in other parts of Africa.

The following article, which provides an excellent insight into the background of today's situation appeared in The African Shopper, a free paper distributed in Washington DC. The article was written by R.Y. Adu-Asare.

DALE CITY, Virginia (June 5, 2000) —
Following is a quotation that captures the foreshadow of land tenure problems of Zimbabwe as seen in 1965. Interestingly, the quotation referred to the situation in Kenya but seen as applicable, equally, to Rhodesia in transition to post-colonial Zimbabwe:

"The land scheme is political and it is designed to ensure stability at the time of independence. It seeks to do this by giving European farmers a sense of security so that they may be encouraged to stay and by re moving the tension from the land problems by providing settlement for those [Africans] who are suffering most from pressure on their own lands, where many have no land or in sufficient land... If this is not done, a very serious situation could arise in which Europeans would evacuate their farms and Africans walk in. As the economy is an agricultural one to which European farming provides not only the bulk of the exports and of the locally marketed crops ... as well as of taxation, this could bring economic collapse in the country. It is therefore imperative to take all possible steps to prevent this and both to give assurances to European farms and a sense of security and also to settle next year or so as many persons as possible from the densely populated African areas.'" (Riddell, p. 1).

Writing in 1978, Roger Riddell noted that the statement above by Kenya's colonial government, had two significant points relevant to the pre-colonial realities of land tenure arrangements in Rhodesia which was granted political independence by Britain in 1980. Point one was that "the Rhodesian land issue is highly political relative to the then on going constitutional talks In preparation for transition to Zimbabwe. "The second point is the fear of the vocal European farming community that, without worked out guarantees for their future security, a constitution that gives wide powers to change existing institutions and structures is likely to lead to a mass exodus and the strong possibility of total economic collapse."

Importance of Land Distribution in Rhodesia

Relative importance of land distribution in Rhodesia, as in most African societies, was (and still is) "because a large majority of the population are directly dependent upon the land for their livelihood." However, there were four other reasons cited by Riddell as providing added importance to land distribution in Rhodesia:

· Unequal access to agricultural land — "... a small number of companies and individual farms own and/or farm vast acreages of land, while the vast majority farm very small plots."

· Unused and underused land —  "... there is acute land scarcity and growing landlessness in
some areas alongside unused and underutilized land in others. This highlights even more the inequalities in access to the land."

· Commercial agriculture as employer and foreign exchange earner— commercial agriculture sector played important role in the economic prosperity of Rhodesia as major labor employer, significant foreign exchange earner, supplier of food for domestic consumption and as provider of inputs for the manufacturing sector.

· Racial divisions — "Landlessness, land scarcity, and overpopulation directly afflict the majority of he rural African population who remain poor while the European rural population is the major contributor to commercial agricultural production and is rich in comparison."

Evidence and Explanation of Problem of Inequalities Associated with Land, Population distribution, and Agricultural Production in Rhodesia:

· Total land area of Rhodesia — 39 million hectares.

· Land set aside for agriculture — 33 million hectares (or 85% of total land).

Tribal Trust Land. Commercial land is open to purchase under freehold title. Tribal Trust Land is held under communal tenure by various tribal land authorities who are empowered to allocate arable plots to Africans in their jurisdiction and allow them access to communal grazing land, under the guidance of the overseeing Tribal Trust Land Board."

· Per-capita size of farming land for Africans — 24 hectares.

· Per-capita size of farming land for Europeans — 2.290 hectares (Thus each European farm was almost 100 times larger than the African farm).

· Inequalities of access to land and over population on African farms — "The importance of land in Rhodesia does not lie so much in the inequalities per se, but because in equalities in access to land are accompanied by growing overpopulation, landlessness, land deterioration, and increasing poverty in the African areas alongside serious underutilization of land in the European areas" Riddell wrote. In short, while African farmers in Rhodesia suffered on overused and overpopulated farming lands, their European counterparts possessed underutilized and un used lands. Riddell provided figures and sources to demonstrate that between 40-60 per cent of European farming lands in Rhodesia remained underutilized (including the totally unused portion) at the material moment of transition to Zimbabwe.

· Government subsidies and loans as sine cure and dole for idle rich European farmers — Riddell wrote, "One reason why considerably underutilized European farming land can still be farmed and why a proportion or farmers are able to remain on the land is because of the subsidies, both direct and indirect, which successive Rhodesian governments have given to the European farming sector. For many Europeans the original acquisition of the land has been due to loans, received especially from the Agricultural Finance Corporation, a statutory body." He added that there was a fivefold increase in the level of loans and subsidies to European farmers since Unilateral Declaration of In dependence, UDI, by resident Europeans, led by Ian Smith in 1964. "Some loans have not been repaid, for example in the four year period 1972-76 the exchequer (equivalent of US Treasury Department) reported losses...in respect of previous loans." In addition to unpaid loans, there were other subsidies such as price stabilization fees and drought relief payments made by Ian Smith's government to settler European farmers to enable them to remain on the land.

Brief History of Europeans' Conspiracy to Own and Control Rhodesian Land

Imbalance and skewed land distribution in Rhodesia did not happen by accident. According to Riddell, the land distribution arrangements in Rhodesia had been in accordance with"... policies of successive governments who wished, with the critical help of foreign interests, to mould a particular pat tern of economic development for the country." Riddell quotes Robin Palmer, Land and Racial Discrimination in Rhodesia (London, 1977) who wrote, "'Europeans ... used their control over land to secure for themselves a position of economic and political dominance."'

Riddell wrote, for example, that "From 1890 to 1923 Rhodesia was ruled by the British South Africa Company which initially hoped that to the north of the (River) Limpopo might be found a second South African Rand. In the six year period to 1896, 6.5 million hectares of land has been acquired by those eager to obtain mineral rights and by a group whom Palmer calls 'quasi-aristocrats, speculative companies, fortune hunters and missionaries."' Riddell did not explain the material content of what he implied by the concept of "acquire" relative to European control of African land.

Suffice it to say, though, that by the end of the I 890s Europeans in Rhodesia had created "African Reserves, "to shepherd and coral the indigenous occupants of the land. Initially, that arrangement was to free the African land for European mining operations while depending on African farming for their food needs. Relative to food production, Riddell pointed out that "In stark contrast, to the present situation, in 1903 European agriculture accounted far less than 10 per cent of total marketed output; over 90 per cent was supplied by African farmers."

At the dawn of the 20th Century, economic matters changed, structurally, in favor of Europeans in Rhodesia. According to Riddell, "... the British South Africa Company switched from mining to the promotion of European agriculture and both the Company and individual Europeans sought to control more of the land" For the Europeans control of the African land followed two strategic policies; "to acquire more land and the other was to move those Africans from this land to the Reserves specially created for them."

Racial division of all land in Rhodesia was institutionalized in 1930 with the Land Apportionment Act that reserved 20 million hectares of land for Europeans as opposed to 8.7 hectares for Africans. Riddell noted that between the 1950s and 1960s the land reserved for African farming was increased to 16.3 hectares, "although this doubling of land area for the Reserves is deceptive because the increased amount was largely unsuitable for dryland cultivation." However, the policy objective of moving Africans to the reserved land proved to be an uneasy task, according to Riddell—between the early 1900s and late 1970s it was estimated that 283,000 Africans were resettled.

Resettlement of Africans on Reserved Land: The Making of Peasants into Proletarians

The following quotations from Riddell capture the essence of how settler Europeans transformed indigenous Africans, bound to the state of nature, into urban dwelling proletarians in the interest of capital accumulation and realization of profit:

· "Not surprisingly, the massive population inflow to the Reserves accompanied by the adoption of unfamiliar fanning techniques and discriminatory policies against African agriculture led to an agricultural crisis in the Reserves. By the end of the 1930s, ... the agricultural economy of the Shona and Ndebele ... had been destroyed. As early as the 1920s, reports began to appear about the destruction of the land, overstocking, and overpopulation...

·  "The direct result of rural land policies has been to create a steady supply of Africans seeking work in the modem sectors of the economy which are controlled and owned by Europeans and local and foreign-based companies—white farms, in mines, and in urban areas—and to replace gradually the foreign African labor force which dominated both farming and  mining employment in the early decades of the (20th) century."

· "The towns and cities of Rhodesia were always seen as European areas and, as early as 1906, 'native (indigenous Africans) urban locations' were created adjacent to European settlements for the temporary occupation of Africans who were classified as migrants and who would have to return to their rural 'homes' at the end of their work contracts. The wages paid to this generally unskilled labor force were geared to the subsistence needs of individual migrants, no allowance being made for family members or for post-employment needs, while township facilities were rudimentary."

The Need for Change, But No Change

As a result of the sharp differences in income between settler European employer families and those of indigenous Africans in Rhodesia, Riddell saw the need to suggest a change. Before transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, Riddell wrote, "Economic growth in Rhodesia is being achieved at the cost of widening wealth and income differentials and an increasing incidence of poverty for the majority of the African population. This suggests the need for change." However, Riddell explained that the constitutional proposal tabled by the British government for consideration at independence talks at Lancaster House had vague provisions for containing the land issue in Zimbabwe. The main provision for resolving land distribution contained ill-defined conditions regarding the authority for decision-making, the level of compensation and the mode of payment of any such compensation for confiscated land in the independence document, according to Riddell.

At the October 1979 Lancaster House independence conference, the British Foreign Secretary noted that the amount of compensation to be paid for retrieving the European acquired' land for the Africans was going to be beyond the financial capacity of the new Zimbabwean government. In that regard, the British and American governments offered to donate part of the cost of compensation for the return of land to Africans by the European settlers. In fact, the British Foreign Secretary conceded the need for"... massive. international assistance from bilateral and/or multilateral sources..." to meet the compensation settlements for the European farmers who opted to give up their idle underutilized lands.

Riddell, Roger, "Zimbabwe's Land
Problem: The Central Issue" W. H. Morris Jones (ed.), From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe: Behind and Beyond Lancaster House; Frank Cass and Company Limited, Totowa, N.J., 1980 (pp. 1-13).

R.Y. Adu-Asare can be reached at Adu-Asare@africaNewscast.com.
The Web site is www.africanewscast. com

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