|Home | The African Continent | Africa & the World | Indigenous to America|
Zimbabwe and Land
Click on the picture for a larger image
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) —
"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:
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.
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
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.