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HINTERLAND (1939 – 1964)


A cursory look at Sanyati communal lands in this period does not portray a distinctive

pattern of rural differentiation nor does it give a hint that towards the end of the 1960s the

state would institute irrigation agriculture in the area which, subsequently was to influence differentiation in its own significant way. There has been little attempt by historians to engage in active discourse on development and differentiation in very remote parts of Zimbabwe such as Sanyati nor did the state show any interest in this area during the Second World War (1939 – 1945). Moves to open it up to people who were driven away from crown land only started at the end of the war. The 1940s, therefore, mark an important benchmark in the study of Sanyati because that is when the settlement of “immigrants” from Rhodesdale 142 began, starting off as a mere trickle but soon becoming a flood in the 1950s especially after the promulgation of the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA) in 1951. Immigration, to a large extent, reinforced the sort of differentiation that had already started to take root in this frontier region of the country since the pre-colonial period.

Earlier forms of differentiation can be traced back to many years before the encroachment of white settlers in the area. The indigenous population the white colonisers found in Sanyati in 1890 had a strong political economy which revolved around tobacco, the growing of various cereal crops and animal husbandry. The latter activity, however, was impeded by tsetse infestation which is discussed later in this chapter. A brief description of these people’s econmy shows that prior to the NLHA and the forced resettlement of “immigrants,” the original inhabitants who were stigmatised as “Shangwe” practised shifting cultivation on the rich alluvial soils along the major rivers such as Munyati and Sakurgwe when the floods had receded. They also grew crops during the rainy season (summer) away from the river valleys (the banks of the river). It appears, therefore, that more than one crop was raised in the year. The range of crops grown included short season varieties of maize and a long season variety the locals called “Salisbury white, 8 lines, Kalahari or Bhogwe,” bulrush millet, finger millet (mhunga), sorghum (mapfunde), water melons (manwiwa), pumpkins (manhanga), sweet potatoes (mbambaira), groundnuts (nzungu), small leaf tobacco (fodya) and cotton (donje).

Hunting, gathering and fishing also constituted an essential part of the Shangwe economy (i.e. supplemented the economy). Evidence from early travellers in northwestern For the geographical location of Rhodesdale see Map 4. Rhodesdale was bounded by a line roughly connecting Gwelo, Que Que, Hartley, Enkeldoorn, Umvuma, Lalapansi and Gutu. See Ngwabi Bhebe, B.

Burombo: African Politics in Zimbabwe, 1947-1958, (Harare: The College Press, 1989), 74. N.B. Most of the people who were moved to Sanyati and Sebungwe (now Gokwe district) during the 1950s came from Rhodesdale, a vast ranch owned by the British multinational company, LONRHO. Before their eviction, they lived in Rhodesdale’s so-called Squatter Communities. Rhodesdale was also home to a number of former migrant workers from Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) who had resided there for years as labour and rent-paying tenants.

Zimbabwe, and from interviews with informants revealed that hunting in particular was at one stage a central feature of the economy. Shangwe hunters spent days trekking game in the vast forest areas of the Munyati area. 143 The vast forests provided an invaluable source of a variety of fruits, leaves, roots (bulbs) and grasses which provided a major source of food especially in the period between the exhaustion of grain supplies and the next harvest. The NLHA and the allocation of land to vast numbers of “immigrants” not only restricted and deprived the Shangwe of a large part of their hunting grounds, but also limited their access to other natural products of the forest. Their gathering and hunting rights were, thus, curtailed. Relocations to the demarcated plots (under the NLHA) meant that the Shangwe had to give up land in the river valleys which they had cultivated for generations. 144 The NLHA plots were “neatly” arranged in arable blocks of 8 acres laid out in a linear fashion (maraini) following the centralisation policy. Between the 1930s and 1950s, agriculture was mainly rainfed.

Although agriculture has been the mainstay of the Zimbabwean economy since time immemorial, Sanyati did not, however, have any irrigation history before the 1960s. For example, Sanyati never had irrigation in the formal (conventional) sense save for the small water projects or gardens littered along valleys of the Munyati River, around major boreholes which were sunk concurrently with the process of settling evicted African farmers from Rhodesdale, and the cultivating of crops near local wells and in the marshlands/wetlands or dambos. Thus, irrigation development in Sanyati occurred in an area that had no significant irrigation history. Whatever irrigation existed prior to ARDA schemes were relics of the old system of applying water to crops that pre-dated the colonial period.

In this chapter, earlier rural class formations are examined to discern what caused them and whether these were sustained or obliterated during the irrigation phase. The two captions at the beginning of this study underscore how the peasants’ contribution to agricultural development has been denigrated by historians who wrote during colonialism and how differentiation emerged despite concerted efforts by the colonial state to proscribe it. Perhaps, differentiation which was directed and dictated by the state, such as when it encouraged the emergence of a group of kulak farmers 145 in the countryside, distinctly labelled “master farmers,” was the only one that was tolerated. The prime purpose of this “toleration” should be viewed as part of the larger colonial policy framework in which the government deliberately created the master farmer category, not precisely for the benefits it envisaged would accrue to this group, but as a guarantee of its own political survival. It guaranteed the government’s survival because the passage of the Nyambara, “A History of Land Acquisition in Gokwe,” 91.


Small-scale capitalist peasants in the Soviet Union were known as kulaks, a name that spread to other socialist countries as well. In the 1980s Zimbabwe subscribed to the Marxist-Leninist philosophy of scientific socialism. Thus, this Russian term is being used here to refer to Zimbabwean farmers with a capitalist orientation (i.e. master farmers) who were often equated to the kulak class. N.B. Wherever smallscale production is widespread the process of accumulation will steadily bring capitalist property into being and the most successful or fortunate peasants farming on a small or medium scale will become kulaks. For detail on what the word kulak means see János Kornai, The Socialist System: The Political Economy of Communism, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 77-78 and 82.

Land Apportionment Act in 1930 divided land on racial grounds. Under the Act black farmers were allocated poor land resources in the so-called “native reserves” and this did not please them. The creation of a middle class category of farmers i.e. master farmers who were subsequently considered for irrigation plots and small-scale commercial farming was meant to placate the African population and make them think that the government was committed to improving the lot of the African farmer. This doublefaceted nature of the colonial state will be explored in detail in the next chapter.

This chapter will attempt to illustrate the state of peasant 146 agriculture and the extent to which society was differentiated in the period prior to the inception of irrigation. It will also demonstrate how the colonial state, equipped with its numerous interventionist measures, tried to “flatten” or eliminate differentiation in the countryside and how, in the process, it has been responsible for the impairment of peasant agricultural initiative and black economic advancement. This will be done by demonstrating how the peasant economy created by the colonial government has, to a certain degree, fostered African underdevelopment and at the same time underestimated the existence of differentiation in the area. The social structure that emerged in Sanyati between the 1930s and the 1960s will be used to prove the fallacy of the argument by Gelfand that Shona society was a homogeneous and egalitarian entity in the twentieth century – a society devoid of any signs of differentiation among its peasantry. 147 Far from it, the emergence of classes can be traced back to the pre-colonial period. Several studies have revealed that by the turn of the twentieth century no African polity conformed to Gelfand’s perception of rural society, notably that it was universally traditional and egalitarian. 148 This was so due to the political voice and the extent of agricultural commercial influence exhibited by the Peasant is not an easy term to define. In my study the term denotes a small-scale or smallholder communal farmer who since the latter part of the nineteenth up to the early twentieth century and indeed in subsequent decades up to the beginning of the new millennium has not been producing merely for subsistence needs only but for commercial purposes as well. This seems to tally with Hansen’s definition of this word when he says, peasants are not just small-scale farmers or entrepreneurs, nor are they simple commodity or capitalist producers, but they are producers with one foot in subsistence and the other in the market. See Esbern Friis-Hansen, Seeds for African Peasants: Peasants’ Needs and Agricultural Research The Case of Zimbabwe, Publication (9), Centre for Development Research in co-operation with the Nordic Africa Institute, formerly the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, (Copenhagen, Sweden: Uppsala, 1995), 16.

M. Gelfand, “Who is Rich and Poor in Traditional Shona Society” and “The Egalitarian Shona,” NADA, 10(4), 1972, 49-54.

Among the numerous studies that can be used to demonstrate agricultural commercialisation and socioeconomic differentiation in peasant societies are: A. A. Roux, “A Survey of Proposals for the Development of African Agriculture in Rhodesia.” Proceedings of the Geographical Association of Rhodesia, 3, (1970);

D. N. Beach, “The Shona Economy: Branches of Production” in R. Palmer and N. Parsons, The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa, (London: Heinemann, 1977); B. Kosmin, “The Inyoka Tobacco Industry of the Shangwe People; the Displacement of a Pre-Colonial Economy in Southern Rhodesia, 1898-1938” in Palmer and Parsons, The Roots of Rural Poverty; Beach, The Shona and Zimbabwe, 900-1850: An Outline of Shona History, (Gweru: Mambo Press, 1984); Beach, “Second Thoughts on the Shona Economy: Suggestions for Further Research,” Rhodesian History, 7, (1971), 1-11;

C. Bundy, The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry, (Cape Town: David Philip, 1988); E. Worby, “Remaking Labour, Reshaping Identity: Cotton, Commoditisation and the Culture of Modernity in North Western Zimbabwe,” PhD dissertation, McGill University, 1992 and P. S. Nyambara, “A History of Land Acquisition in Gokwe, North Western Zimbabwe, 1945-1997,” PhD dissertation, Evanston, Illinois: North Western University, June 1999.

peasant farmers. The level of commercialisation determined the extent of rural differentiation. Hence, it will be demonstrated in this chapter that differentiation as a process pre-dates the era of irrigation enterprise in Sanyati. It is as much a pre-colonial and post-colonial as it is also a pre-irrigation and irrigation phenomenon.

The immediate post-Second World War period ushered arguably the three largest waves of “immigrants” into Sanyati who were compulsorily removed from European and Crown land by the Responsible Government. 149 The first group was forcibly moved to Sanyati in 1950; the second was moved in 1951; the third and last wave arrived in Sanyati in 1953, the year the Federation of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) was formed. These “immigrants” lived as squatters 150 on European land before their ruthless eviction and subsequent settlement in Sanyati. This chapter analyses the nature of peasant society and economy in the two and a half decades prior both to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of 1965 by Ian Douglas Smith and the inception of irrigation at Gowe (Sanyati) in 1967. One of its central arguments is that, by the turn of the century, it would be ill-conceived to speak of African society as being traditionalist and egalitarian. As a matter of fact, the increased commercialisation of the rural economy, especially with the introduction of plow agriculture 151 and cotton on the one hand, coupled with labour migrancy on the other, led to clear forms of socio-economic differentiation manifesting themselves much earlier in Sanyati, thereby refuting the assumption that such an economy was markedly subsistence-oriented. It can be conceded that the forced removals from Rhodesdale might The Responsible Government was in power from the end of British South Africa Company (BSAC) rule in 1923 to the beginning of UDI in 1965. In this period, Rhodesia was a self-governing colony of Britain which was more representative of the white population. Since the hoped-for mining potential [the Second Rand] of the region had failed to materialise, agriculture became the country’s dominant enterprise and principal export earner. White settler farmers controlled much of this key sector and enjoyed a correspondingly dominant political importance. See William A. Masters, Government and Agriculture in Zimbabwe, (London: Praeger Publishers, 1994), 3.

It is difficult to come up with a universally accepted definition of the word “squatter.” Sometimes the terms “tenant”, “sharecropper” and “outgrower” have been used interchangeably to mean squatter.

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