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Their duty is to instruct and advise in methods of tillage; conservation of soil and water; crop rotation; compost making and use; the planting, growing, harvesting, storage and use of various crops; pasture improvement, and other subjects connected with the use of land and to carry out the Government Agricultural policy for Natives. 164 The demonstrators, in turn, worked hand in hand with the traditional leadership mainly chiefs such as Neuso and Wozhele to implement settler agricultural policies, projects and other measures deemed necessary by the government. For instance, when cotton was introduced, these demonstrators and such administratively appointed chiefs, together with compliant religious leaders, were tasked with the responsibility of persuading and convincing ordinary people to accept the rationale for cotton cultivation in suitable districts like Sanyati. This had the effect of alienating the Chiefs and headmen from their people. Hence, according to C. M. Arensberg, “A self-declared felt need… is better than imposed betterment; enlisting local leadership…” and that “peasants prove very ready to innovate when they really experience an improvement they can value themselves.” 165 Thus, the engagement of traditional leaders in this way was often resisted and it tended to create social inequalities in the manner in which power and income were distributed between the two categories (chiefs and commoners). By giving the chiefs this vantage position, the state was not in any way stifling but promoting the emergence of differentiation in Sanyati. In fact, among its major activities and pursuits in Sanyati between the 1940s and 1960s, the state made a conscious effort to reconcile agrarian conservationist goals with the imperative to increase the prosperity of both Europeans and Africans. It also wanted to see, inter alia, the regularisation of anomalous tenurial arrangements and the rationalisation of agrarian techniques. 166 This meant that agriculture’s success was not only based on the growing and marketing of produce. It had to take into account soil preservation measures, the granting of communal tenure to peasant farmers and the standardisation of agricultural methods to be applied to all rural areas in colonial Zimbabwe. Above all European and African areas were to be developed along different lines as enunciated by the LAA.

The objective here is to explore and identify how the various kinds of administrative procedures and practices authorised by the government coupled with peasant participation or resistance shaped the course of Sanyati agriculture and rural differentiation in this period. The questions that can be posed at this juncture are: Why were these objects of reform – tenure conservation and technique – conceived as necessary dimensions of a unitary colonial project devoted to “Native advancement”?

Was modernisation, irrigation development and differentiation realisable on the strength NAZ, S2585/1064: Demonstrators General: 1940-1949, Agricultural Demonstration: Policy and Methods, Circular No. 10 of 1945, Office of the Director of Native Agriculture, Salisbury, 2nd November 1945, 1.

C. M. Arensberg, Upgrading Peasant Agriculture: Is Tradition the Snag? 67.

Worby “Discipline Without Oppression,” 103.

of these? Answering these questions requires an in-depth knowledge of the agricultural scenario as it unfolded in Sanyati in this period. According to Worby, “assigned a definitive tenure status under the LAA only in the 1950s and 1960s, development intervention arrived late in this region, and it arrived as a more fully articulated package than in the African reserves in the south and east of the colony.” 167 Despite this late encroachment of development intervention onto Sanyati, it can be pointed out that rural differentiation had manifested itself much earlier than the 1950s as a consequence of peasant agency and initiative.

Four additional features make Sanyati nearly unique in the colonial development picture.

Most distinct is its perceived marginality in terms of distance from historical centres of missionisation, economic growth, population concentration and political power. Catholic and Baptist missions, for example, were only established in the Gokwe-Sanyati region between 1954 and 1963, and the construction of government schools only began in the late 1970s before increasing rapidly after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. Second, in the 1950s, the state never considered the idea of developing irrigation. Before the advent of irrigation, settler reaction to drought mainly included the distribution of food relief but, more importantly, it entailed encouraging peasant farmers to grow drought resilient crops such as cotton, mhunga and sorghum. This was confirmed by W. D. R. Baker, the Provincial Commissioner, Mashonaland South, when he stated: “A marked swing to drought resistant crops is expected [in the fight for the alleviation of hunger in the rural areas]” 168 – [own emphasis]. A more pressing task was to resettle the former Rhodesdalites. Third, the region is distinguished by the historical absence of competing claims by European settlers to land. A malarial, tsetse infested lowland with patchy and variable rains, it was considered to be unsuitable for crop cultivation or animal husbandry by whites. Given a choice, Chief Wozhele and his people would not have opted to settle in this place either. Finally, the occasion for the arrival of development in the region was the forced resettlement of entire villages or chiefdoms from the European farms and African “reserves” in the south and west of the colony.

The sequence and timing with which Sanyati received these “immigrants” had important consequences for differentiation. The coming of “immigrants” from the Rhodesdale Estates into Sanyati, with their vast agricultural knowledge and technique, boosted and intensified the rural differentiation process. They were generally viewed as possessing greater agricultural intelligence than their Shangwe counterparts. As already indicated, Sanyati began to receive these “immigrants” in 1950, when the coercive and rather insensitive model of development was reaching its apogee behind the passage of the NLHA of 1951. At this time, the local agricultural development staff were tasked with the responsibility of enforcing conservation and extension measures. This was a byproduct of concern expressed in official circles about the state and extent of land degradation in the rural areas in general. According to Phimister, in 1954, the Natural Worby “Discipline Without Oppression,” 103.

NAZ (RC), Ministry of Internal Affairs, Box 158086, Location C19.6.7F, DC’s File: District Information 1961-1971, Includes Programme of Events 1890 to 1961: “Report” submitted to the DC Gatooma, R. L. Westcott, in terms of Circular No. 222 by W. D. R. Baker, Provincial Commissioner (PC), Mashonaland South on the PC’s visit to Gatooma, 30th July 1966.

Resources Board (NRB) expressed alarm, if not despondency, at the extent and rate of

soil erosion in the “reserves”:

The time for plain speaking has now arrived, and it is no exaggeration to say that at the moment we are heading for disaster. We have on the one hand a rapid increase taking place in the African population and on the other a rapid deterioration of the very land on which these people depend for their existence and upon which so much of the future prosperity of the country depends … the happenings in the Native reserves must be viewed in the light of an emergency and not as a matter that can be rectified when times improve, for by then the opportunity to reclaim will have passed. 169 What was ignored, though, was that the pieces of land allocated to Sanyati residents were too small to cater for the increase in both the human and animal population. Erosion was, therefore, largely a reflection of this oversight.

In addition to the small tracts of land allocated to each peasant household, conservation measures such as the construction by the Agricultural Extension Officers of contour ridges (makandiwa) that approximated to the width of a Jeep truck to combat erosion had the deleterious effect of significantly reducing the size of land a farmer could put under the plough. According to the Councillor for Ward 23, Jacob Mukwiza, the Jeep truck was actually driven through the contour to make sure that it measured up to the expected width. 170 Gully erosion, in particular, rendered large portions of land useless for productive purposes. Contouring was viewed as a panacea to the massive land degradation induced by surface run-off. As if this was not enough, the contour ridges, which the cultivators were coerced to erect to address the problem ate further into their already small plots culminating in stiff resistance against conservationist policy in general. In this case, erosion and not differential access to land was responsible for differential levels of production among the Sanyati peasants. To some extent, this plague facilitated the development of significant disparities in agricultural income. Therefore, the role of erosion, conservation and extension measures in enhancing land shortages and differentiation in the countryside should not be overlooked.

An important watershed in the agricultural history of Sanyati was that these local government officers evolved, in the 1960s, a flexible programme to introduce cotton production [commodity production] among African smallholder farmers, with results that have profoundly transformed much of the northwest quadrant of pre-colonial Zimbabwe which includes Sanyati, Gokwe and Chenjiri. Ironically, it is in Sanyati and some parts of Gokwe – some of the very last regions of the colony to be subjected to “development” – that the possibility of gaining a reasonable livelihood exclusively as a subsistence and cash crop farmer had been realised for many, although certainly not all rural households.

According to Worby, whether this is because, or in spite of, lessons learned in the course I. Phimister, “Rethinking the Reserves: Southern Rhodesia’s Land Husbandry Act Reviewed.” Journal of Southern African Studies, 19(2), (June 1993), 227.

Jacob Mukwiza (Councillor for Ward 23), Personal Interview, “Old Council” or Wozhele Business Centre, Sanyati, 14th October 2004.

of many years of state intervention in agrarian practice remains an open question, but the significance of the region’s late incorporation into the overall pattern of colonial statemaking for its future position in the post-colonial national development regime cannot be in any doubt. 171 The emergence of relatively clearer forms of rural differentiation especially with the implementation of the cotton regime cannot be doubted either. The cut-throat competition engendered among the peasant farmers by this commodity crop rendered any notion of socio-economic homogeneity impeccably impracticable.

The legislative framework: count down to the NLHA:


It is pertinent to observe that central government preoccupation with different forms of legislation took shape in the 1940s. 172 Several authors have observed that it was during this period that the removal of African tenants 173 from white designated farmlands to overcrowded, land-scarce reserves like Sanyati foreshadowed a self-evident future of poverty and eroding resources. 174 As already stated, the impoverished and marginalised position of the peasantry did not preclude the emergence of rural differentiation in Sanyati. Nevertheless, the blame for such a future was pinned upon farmers in those same reserves rather than on the racial policies authorising forced resettlement. Thus, the Natural Resources Act of 1941 summarised and addressed a decade of anxiety in the Department of Native Affairs over the accumulating social and environmental effects of an expansionist category of Africans, who were deemed to be plowing up an even greater acreage of land in the “reserves.” 175 The Act was, above all, a programme of constraints or prohibitions imposed on existing agricultural practices; it empowered Native Commissioners (NCs) to “Depasture stock, give orders on so-called modern methods of cultivation, prohibit the cultivation of land and control water.” 176 Just like the NLHA that was passed subsequently, it sought to eclipse the emergence of rural differentiation, a proposition that was going to prove difficult to implement given the level of commercialisation extant among the peasants before and after they had harnessed cotton as a cash crop.

Surprising enough, these seemingly genuine concerns did not immediately extend to cover the northwestern “reserves” in Mashonaland West part of which comprises Sanyati.

The first systematic survey of the agricultural status of “Reserve Natives” conducted in Worby, “Inscribing the State at the ‘Edge of Beyond’: Danger and Development in North-western Zimbabwe,” Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 21, (1998), 55-70.

M. Drinkwater, “Technical development and peasant impoverishment: land use policy in Zimbabwe’s Midlands Province”. Journal of Southern African Studies, 15, (1989), 287-305.

In certain contexts these are known as outgrowers, sharecroppers, plotholders, smallholders, settlers or peasants. See Friis-Hansen, Seeds for African Peasants and Stephen F. Burgess, Smallholders and Political Voice in Zimbabwe, (New York: University Press of America, 1997).

T. O. Ranger, Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe: A Comparative Study, (Harare:

Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1985), cited in Worby, “Discipline Without Oppression,” 104.

Ranger, Peasant Consciousness.

D. J. Murray, The Governmental System in Southern Rhodesia, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 35. For a comparative view of these trends across British colonial Africa, see Sara Berry, No Condition is Permanent: The Social Dynamics of Agrarian Change in Sub-Saharan Africa, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), 46-53.

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