By Muhammed Jawara, New York City

Southern African countries have many things in common; dark colonial legacies, poverty, abundant natural resources and bad governance. The independent Southern African countries have inherited legacies that have left indelible marks on their past, posed great threats to their present and future. However, there is hardly a topic that touches nerves as the land issue.
   From South Africa to Namibia, Angola to Mozambique, the issue of land redistribution has been at center stage in national discourses. Whether it is lack of access to arable land by poor people or minority domination of arable land, most Southern African countries are faced with the question of who should get land and by what proportions. More than any other country, at least for now, Zimbabwe has been the country plagued both economically and politically by what has turned out to be a disastrous land controversy.
   The government of Zimbabwe has been faced with the choice of making land accessible to citizens in recent years. In the year 1997, Zimbabwe introduced land policies that would fast-track land redistribution, such that the minority whites who possess most of the arable land would give up some land to be taken by qualified black Zimbabweans. This new trend was in response to the ineffective 1992 Land Acquisition Act which made little change to the existing land ownership. Contrary to “willing buyer, willing seller” doctrine enshrined in the Lancaster House agreement of 1979, the Zimbabwean government decided to buy lands with no regard to the consent of land owners. In executing that policy, official mishaps, coupled with reluctance by most white farmers to relinquish their lands in exchange for compensation have lead to untold tragedies, sufferings and grave human right violations. In spite of incessant outcry from the International community for political dialogue, little progress has been realized.
   History and perspective are crucial in discussing land issues in Southern Africa as a whole and Zimbabwe in particular. Unless and until we take a closer look at the history of land in Zimbabwe, we risk being trapped by sensational information that brings to the fore problems in their raw forms ignoring their causes. Thus, this paper would look at what happened in the pre-1997 Zimbabwe and explore the topic with views from both sides of the land debate. It will create a framework within which the discussion would take place, asking questions, giving answers when necessary and raising points that are often put under the carpet. Among other things, the paper would like to address the following points: history of land, the impact of land redistribution, why it took too long for the land issue to get to this point of heightened tension, why it is raise at the first place, alternatives to the current land redistribution program, and the way forward.
   In the pre-colonial Zimbabwe, land was an integral part of the social fabric as it is in today’s world. Yet, there was no central control of land by a recognized authority. This owes a lot to the fact that even at political level; Zimbabwe was not a national state where shots were made from one authority. Tribal and regional leaders were in charge of land; where land is often distributed based on need and size of families. That was followed by external intrusion that would change not only the political tradition but also land control for many decades.
   The making of colonial Zimbabwe was characterized by what Jocelyn Alexander calls in her book, The Unsettled Land, “repression and dispossession”(Alexander 17). On one hand there were Africans, such as the Zulus from places like South Africa who invaded what would become western Zimbabwe -the Ndebele land. On the other hand, there were westerners like the British South African Company who settled in Mashonaland and Matabeleland. Details of how these invasions took place are beyond this paper. Nonetheless, they maybe treated in the wider context of ZimbabweÂ’s land issue if needed.
   The focus on promoting settler agriculture was accompanied by a turn towards a policy of territorial segregation. Mooted after World War I, territorial segregation gained force with the transition from company to settler rule in 1923. This policy was enshrined in the Land Apportionment Act of 1930. Dispossessing Africans of their land and supporting white producers required a complex process of state-making (Alexander 21). In addition, “Nationalist interests and European interests were irreconcilable.”(Cripps 3)
   Clearly, the system created to “dispossess” native Africans of their lands was by no means accidental. Rather, it was as a result of calculated institutionalized and systematic procedures, backed by segregationist policies introduced by the settlers. In making this system work, settlers were given chance to acquire land while African natives were either denied access to, or expel from their lands altogether. Africans were prevented from having land not because they were unable to continue doing their farming on subsistence basis, but rather because the settler government perceive them as inferior beings if not in actions surely in ideologies. In Southern Rhodesia, blacks were stripped of most of their land; forced into the wage economy but denied the right to strike; restricted in their livelihood, place of residence and movement; and required to carry passes (Bauer, Taylor 174). The policies promoted in this period were contradictory and technically flawed, based on ideological construction of African farming methods as “traditional”, unproductive and destructive(Bauer, Taylor174 ). This notion sits at the heart of the argument forwarded by the settlers that subsequently lead to further discrimination and alienation of Africans, pushing them further to the peripheries of productive land ownership.
   There was a fear amongst the minority settlers that allowing the natives to compete with them would not be in their interest. They made concerted efforts to brought about changes to the existing laws, and between the 1926 and 1936, this hysteria of fear by the setters reached new heights. “Land policies grow increasingly divorced from reality during the years 1926-36. What was supposed to happen in theory began to conflict more and more with conditions as they existed on the land, where native commissioners were being confronted with problems of growing magnitude”(Palmer 197). Robin Palmer argue that the settler government and their segregated policies made life miserable for the natives where “it became more apparent each year that the African areas were simply not capable of absorbing the population movements envisaged under the Land Apportionment Act” (Palmer 197).
   In addition to these repressive laws based on racial superiority of whites above blacks, the settler state refused to entertain dissent in any form. This was helped by the “large settler population” which was immune to all forces of resistance movements for Independence . Nationalist political parties such as the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress lead by Joshua Nkomo as well as the Zimbabwean African People’s Union were banned from any conspicuous political activity (Bauer, Taylor 174). However, the imperialist settler policies would only last for so long. While overt political activity remained a nightmare for the Independent movements, they nonetheless “operated Underground.”
(TO BE CONTINUED)
 
 
Posted on Friday, May 25, 2007 (Archive on Thursday, May 31, 2007)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI
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