|Land:A Century Old Saga Simmers in
Harare, 21 June 2000
On 13 October, 1888, Charles Rudd, a business associate of British entrepreneur Cecil John Rhodes, set off a series of events that would haunt the independent state of Zimbabwe into the 21st Century.
On that day, Rudd signed an agreement with Matebele King Lobengula granting him and two of his colleagues, their heirs and representatives, a carte blanche over mineral rights in Matebeleland, Mashonaland and all adjoining territories.
In a carefully planned scheme by Rhodes, a second group of speculators headed by Edouard Lippert obtained a land concession from the King of the Matebele, who many now believe was given a mistranslated version of an agreement, to will away an entire country. Both agreements were sold to Rhodes British South Africa Company (BSAC) shutting out all rival prospectors in what was to become Rhodesia, southern Rhodesia and eventually Zimbabwe.
The Rudd Concession would have serious ramifications for the future of, first a unilaterally independent Rhodesia and later, majority-ruled Zimbabwe.
Precipitating the take-over in 1890, the Pioneer Column, a mercenary force of white troops, invaded Mashonaland from Bechuanaland. Mashonaland was the largest part of the country and the force set up its capital in the present- day Harare. Each settler was promised land of 6,000 acres and gold claims.
Though Mashonaland was taken peacefully, the white settler force was extremely wary of the Ndebele who were restive as their raids against Mashona chiefs, who had previously paid homage to their King, were now curtailed. Unhappy with the way their land was being taken, the Ndebeles, joined by the Shonas, went to war with the BSAC in 1893, resulting in a countrywide rebellion ( the first Chimurenga war) against the settlers.
It was led by spirit mediums Kaguvi and Nehanda who mobilized support and inspired people to fight for their land. The superior fire-power of the settlers finally put down the war in 1897 after much bloodshed. The two spirit mediums were captured and hanged in 1898, but resistance continued.
By the time the uprising ended, some 15 million acres of the countrys land had been taken from Africans without any form of compensation. Fearing that total dispossession of land from the blacks could lead to more uprisings; the settlers reserved some land for African occupation.
So continued a saga that would, more than 112 years later, engulf the appropriated territory in one of the most consuming post-colonial controversies over land rights in recent memory. Africans would wage a relentless struggle to remove from their land, the dominance of the settler whites.
When the white minority regime of Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence from Britain in 1965, black nationalists responded with the launch of another liberation war or the second Chimurenga. As the liberation movements gained ground in the late seventies, Britain convened independence talks between the Smiths Rhodesian Front (RF) and the liberation movements, the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), at Lancaster House in London, resulting in independence in 1980.
The Lancaster House Agreement which became Zimbabwes constitution did not deal adequately with the question of land redistribution.
The war was won. But land, the real symbol of economic power, remained the preserve of the white minority, 4, 500 of whom today own about 75 percent of the best farm land. But for the veterans of Zimbabwes war, the struggle is far from over.
Controversy surrounding the land issue in Zimbabwe has, in recent months, deepened as the Zimbabwe Liberation War Veterans Association, tired of waiting for the land promised by government at independence, have occupied some of the white-owned farms.
They have demonstrated on more than 1,5 00 farms in the last two months and four farmers and farm workers have been killed in clashes with land owners resisting intrusion on their properties, while at least 30 people have died in separate inter-party violence ahead of the June 24 and 25 parliamentary elections.
The former freedom fighters say the rejection of the draft constitution by the majority of Zimbabweans last February, which had provisions for equitable land redistribution, had shattered their dream of meaningful land reforms.
The government argues that it was powerless to amend the colonial-tailored Lancaster Constitution in the first 10 years of independence as it had legal strictures safeguarding white minority interests in the new state.
Today, the Zimbabwean government accuses Britain of reneging on land reform funding agreed on at independence and insists that the former colonial power has a moral obligation to pay for a comprehensive redistribution programme to correct colonial injustice stretching over a century.
The British government, however, says it gave Zimbabwe 44 million pounds for the process but blames the authorities of having allegedly misdirected the aid to benefit people close to the party and government, hence its decision to halt further funding.
The Lancaster agreement prevented compulsory acquisition of property, including land during the first 10 years of independence. It was only after the expiry of the clause relating to land in 1990 that an amendment could be made. In 1992, the Land Acquisition bill was drafted which was primarily aimed at acquiring large-scale commercial farmland for re-distribution to the majority poor black peasants living on arid communal lands.
After rejection of a draft constitution in February, Zimbabwes 150-seat parliament passed an amendment bill to the Lancaster House constitution in April, which gave government power to acquire land for resettlement without paying compensation.
A two-thirds majority of members of parliament passed the bill, which lays the onus on Britain to pay compensation for land repossessed from white farmers. Britain has refused to accept this demand, saying one country cannot compel another to pay compensation.
Relations between Zimbabwe and Britain have been seriously strained over the land saga, but Britain has however indicated its willingness to assist the southern African country of 12 million people (whites make up an estimated 70,000), financially in the land reform process, provided Zimbabwe met certain conditions, one of them, the holding of free and fair elections.
British and Zimbabwean officials met in London in the last week of April to iron out differences surrounding the thorny issue and pave way for a settlement on reform.
Britain said it was prepared to release £36 million for land reform over the next two years but insisted farm invasions must stop first. Zimbabwe has, however, said the war veterans would stay on the farms until the land is delivered to them.
The government of Zimbabwe has meanwhile invited Commonwealth observers to its parliamentary elections expected in June this year (presidential elections are in 2002) but has barred British observers and any mission linked to the former colonial power.
The history of resistance to white domination of land endured through the 20th century. Legislation was put in place from the 1930s to protect white privilege in the British protectorate at the expense of blacks, exacerbating the racial divide.
The major change in land policy came in 1930 with the Land Apportionment Act, which institutionalized the racial division of all land in the country. The Act excluded Africans from ownership of land, despite the fact that they constituted over 95 percent of the population.
A year later, in 1931, the white settlers created Native Purchase areas located adjacent to reserves and intended as a form of compensation to the more progressive African farmers. Any African who had the money and a Master Farmers certificate could buy farms in these areas, but no qualification was needed for white farmers to have access to the designated land.
In 1951, the Land Apportionment Act was amended and the Land Husbandry Act passed. The Act provided for the control of the utilization and allocation of land occupied by the natives to ensure its efficient use for agricultural producers and to require them to perform labour for conserving natural resources. African families were only allowed five head of cattle and eight acres of land.
Out of a targeted 152, 000 families, the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZANU-PF) government resettled 71 000. Over the years the acquisition of farms has been on a willing buyer, willing seller basis, and the Zimbabwean government says white farmers have not been keen to sell their property, hence the need for compulsory acquisition.
In 1998, the government of Zimbabwe hosted an international donors conference on land in an effort to raise funds to facilitate the reform and resettlement programme. The government presented to the conference a proposed policy framework that outlined the approach, which it was planning to take to ensure a more focused, speedier and effective implementation programme.
Representatives from various governments attended the conference at which some countries pledged to support the governments initiative. Some of the countries that pledged their support have however since suspended any form of aid for land reforms to Zimbabwe citing governments failure to stop land invasions as the main reason.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a new labour-based party which hopes to give ZANU-PF its toughest challenge since independence in 1980, accuses the ruling party of using the land issue to gain favour with the people ahead of the countrys parliamentary elections.
But beyond its borders, Zimbabwes land issue is having an effect on countries with similar imbalance in land ownership patterns. There are fears of land invasions in neighbouring countries like South Africa and Namibia, for instance, facing similar land distribution problems. As in Zimbabwe, blacks in these countries were forcibly moved off vast tracts of land, which were appropriated by white settlers.
In Namibia, some supporters of the ruling South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) have in recent weeks been calling for farm take-overs unless white land owners agreed to share the land equitably. But the government there has warned those who might occupy land illegally of dire consequences under the law.
Ownership of land in Namibia is unevenly distributed with about 36.2 million hectares, accounting for 44 percent of the whole country, said to be owned by about 4 000 farmers. On the other hand over 150 000 black families have access to only 33.5 million hectares or 41 percent of the country.
In the past five years, the Namibian government had set aside R20 million About three million US dollars) each year to buy land from white commercial farmers for resettlement purposes, but only half of the amount has been used because the farmers were apparently not forthcoming with offers or made available farms with poor soil.
Fears of Zimbabwe-type occupations of land in South Africa, where whites own 80 percent of the best farmland have been expressed in many circles although some argue that the economic scenarios between the two countries are different and therefore unlikely to generate the same needs.
President Thabo Mbeki, admitting land reform was slow, said any farm invasions would be met with the full force of the law.
Whatever the case may be, Namibians and South Africans will be watching events in Zimbabwe very closely (SARDC).
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