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1930 by the Department of Native Development noted that only ten cattle were enumerated in an area of 764 000 acres in the only two “reserves” surveyed in the Gokwe-Sanyati region (Impapa and Omay), adding that the “percentage of worn out land” was “nil” in these “reserves,” and that therefore no agricultural demonstration efforts of any kind were needed. 177 The report concluded, the “natives are very backward, and until we can rid the country of tsetse fly their progress will be retarded.”178 This evidence illustrates clearly that four ”reserves” in the north-west (Sanyati, Sebungwe, Sibaba and Pashu) were excluded from the survey altogether on the grounds that they were “not occupied by natives” - an assertion that was likely a convenient fiction 179 given that NCs began recording hut-tax collection from throughout this “unoccupied” region from as early as the turn of the century.

In 1944, the Commission on Native Production and Trade (Godlonton Commission) deemed it necessary to go beyond the establishment of negative sanctions in controlling the kinds of practices held to be destroying the agrarian base in most other parts of the country, and formulated a sweeping programme of “native” improvement that was to be finally institutionalised by the NLHA. The prescriptions formulated by this Commission were explicitly framed by a larger thesis on natural law and development, one intended to put in proper perspective “the relative obligations of the European and African races.” 180 For the Godlonton Commissioners, the displacement of the African occupants off the land by Europeans was justified in terms of the “natural laws which inexorably govern human existence” to which Africans must either adapt or else face extinction. 181 As Holleman astutely observes, the Commission in this fashion, “reconstituted the Rhodesian social order as a product of the law of nature … Europeans thus being identified with progress and progress being enshrined in an inexorable law of nature, the legitimacy of white progressive leadership now fully sanctioned by law and logic.” 182 Such laws were used as legal justification to uphold the erroneous notion that African society was lagging behind in development and that it was basically traditional, subsistence-oriented, largely homogeneous, egalitarian in character and not differentiated at all.

Duty and discipline were thus introduced as the new instruments of African selfimprovement in Sanyati, these characteristics being lauded as the distinguishing mark of “civilised” persons bearing allegiance to modern states. 183 The Commission went on to

express the opinion:

That forward peoples while preserving their settled economy have a duty by all reasonable and proper means to assist backward peoples to progress and for that Worby, “Discipline Without Oppression,” 105.


NAZ, GEN-P/ALV, E. D. Alvord, Agricultural Demonstration Work on Native Reserves, Occasional Paper, No. 3, (Southern Rhodesia: Department of Native Development, November 1930), Table 1.

Godlonton Commission, 9.


J. F. Holleman, Chief, Council, and Commissioner: Some Problems of Government in Rhodesia, (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 46.

Worby, “Discipline Without Oppression,” 105.

purpose to enforce discipline without oppression. It is also the duty of forward peoples to adapt themselves to the presence of such backward peoples in their midst. That it is the duty of backward peoples to contribute to their own advancement to the limit of their powers and to observe proper discipline. 184 The duties of “forward” and “backward” peoples were thus seen to be reciprocal, but asymmetrical. The former had to “enforce discipline without oppression”; the latter, to embody that discipline themselves if development was to be achieved. 185 To call this “discipline without oppression,” though, was hypocritical on the part of the settler regime as it implied two things – firstly, that the Africans willingly adopted it and secondly, that persuasion was employed to make Africans adhere to this very weird concept of natural discipline. However, the fact that it was enforced is irrefutable given the racial outlook and the hegemonic tendencies of the regime and there was nothing natural about it whatsoever.

Indeed, a preoccupation with the disciplined body as the diacritical sign of “civilisation” was everywhere apparent during this period. This enforcement of discipline and other measures at the behest of the NLHA was designed, therefore, to beat Africans into line, keep them under surveillance, facilitate the whites’ version of development which entailed exploiting the African race and to curb the emergence of differentiation in rural Sanyati which had already proved inevitable.

In giving legislative shape to the Godlonton Commission’s proposals, the NLHA aimed to redesign agrarian practice in ways that visibly embodied the spirit of discipline that both body and landscape required. 186 There were essentially two dimensions to this process. First, by forcing Africans to deploy their labour in new ways on their own lands (practising systematic crop rotation, constructing contours, fencing off grazing areas and so on), order in the landscape could be used to both mirror and monitor the extent of progress. Such progress also reflected the social and economic class to which a farmer belonged. Second, by installing a regime of private property or individual units, rewards accruing from the disciplined and efficient application of labour and proper management of a plot of land would go directly to the owner of that land. For example, when demonstrators were appointed and the idea of demonstration plots was hatched, it was

envisaged that:

The Demonstrator, after winning the confidence of a promising Native farmer, will tell him that he is prepared to help him obtain much larger yields from his lands by using better tillage methods. He will then offer to take over two acres of this man’s land, and with the owner’s full help work it in a proper manner by laying it out into a 4-course crop rotation Godlonton Commission cited in Worby, “Discipline Without Oppression,” 106.

For more detail on the obsession with native discipline in development discourse, see POZ Library, ZF 351-1096891 SOU/56322, Report of the Commission Appointed to Enquire into the Cost of Administration of the Colony of Southern Rhodesia/The Woolley Commission, (Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia: The Government Printer, 26th June 1924); Drinkwater, “Technical Development,” 295 and T. A. Murton, “Land-use Planning in Tribal Areas in Rhodesia,” Rhodesia Agricultural Journal, 61, (1971), 6.

Worby, “Discipline Without Oppression,” 108.

–  –  –

These “technical” procedures, it was believed, would transform backward “tribesmen” into disciplined “modern” farmers. The rapid commercialisation of agriculture, however, can be used to refute the argument that African farmers were still primitive 188 or backward and undifferentiated by the 1950s. Thus the “ primitiveness” or otherwise on the part of the peasantry should not be over-emphasised.

According to Worby, Africans living in the Sanyati “reserve” and the Special Native Area of Gokwe during the 1940s were far removed from the cordon sanitaire of European life. 189 It is imperative to note that, until the 1960s, the Sanyati region was perceived as the wild, remote and culturally backward domain of the “Shangwe” ethnic group.

However, the people had already been drawn into a pattern of seasonal migration for employment – often for wages in kind – especially on European farms to the north-west of the highland commercial farming centre of Gatooma. Nevertheless, because some Africans believed they could use their stake in the land to prosper, they declined to sell their labour power to white employers, prompting the Provincial Native Commissioner (PNC), J. E. S. Turton, to lament “…[the] general shortage of labour of all kinds on the mines despite the general increase in wages.” 190 He put the average wage on the mines at 22s.6d to 27s.6d and on the farms at 20s.0d to 22s.6d. 191 Attractive though these wages might have seemed to the PNC, they failed to lure sufficient quantities of labour to meet the mines and farms’ requirements. On the one hand, this was sufficient testimony that Africans were indeed economic men. On the other, it can be pointed out that whilst since the 1940s the dryland cultivation of maize (a staple crop), rapoko, sorghum and pumpkins was undertaken in rural Sanyati in conjunction with livestock rearing (amid efforts to eradicate the tsetse menace), as well as hunting and gathering, the prevalence of labour migrancy was dictated mainly by excessive land pressure. In circumstances of land shortage, the need to eke out a living from off-farm activities naturally became greater. Thus, for those who migrated, labour migrancy and the earnings that were repatriated for purposes of boosting agricultural production became significant bases of differentiation.

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.

The “primitiveness” of African peasants has been strongly challenged by a multitude of scholars,

notable among them, I. Oxaal, T. Barnett and T. Booth (eds.), Beyond the Sociology of Development:

Economy and Society in Latin America and Africa, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1975);

Palmer and Parsons, The Roots of Rural Poverty and Bundy, The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry. N.B. African peasants were market-oriented men and quite commercialised in their activities.

Worby, “Discipline Without Oppression,” 108.

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 of the Provincial Native Commissioner (PNC), J. E. S. Turton, Salisbury, on the office of the ANC, Gatooma to NC, Hartley, 15th August 1947, 2.

Ibid., 2.

Sanyati, like Gokwe, suffered severe droughts in 1941 and 1942. These were followed, five or six years later, by an even worse drought in 1947. 192 1955 and 1961/1962 were also drought years. 193 The spectre of catastrophic droughts reduced peasant households’ capacity to produce food crops for their own consumption, let alone for sale. However, in spite of these calamities, intervention in rural agriculture by administrative authorities was still largely absent, the purview of the Native Department being limited in these areas largely to tax collection, dispute adjudication and the killing of rampaging elephant, kudu and other game for distribution as emergency food relief and as a conservation measure to promote agriculture. In the early years of settlement, game slaughter and tsetsefly control were considered essential as far as protecting human life and crops from rampaging wild animals, promoting conservation and agricultural development was concerned. In an interview, P. B. Fletcher, then Minister of Mines, Lands and Surveys, defended game shooting by saying, “the Southern Rhodesia Government Policy towards game is to protect and preserve wherever possible.” 194 He felt that the public had an

incorrect view of the Government’s game policy. Continuing his defence, Flecther said:

–  –  –

To achieve development in Sanyati, the terrible tsetsefly menace also had to be eradicated. For Fletcher, “this has to be kept in check and eliminated where possible. It is, indeed, such a terrible menace that we have to use every known means at our disposal P. S. Nyambara, “Colonial Policy and Peasant Cotton Agriculture in Southern Rhodesia, 1904-1953.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 33(1), (2000), 105.

In the 1961/1962 season drought hit many rural peasant farmers very hard as it wiped out the early maize and rapoko crop on which they entirely depended. The Minister of Native Affairs, H. Jack Quinton, who toured the drought-stricken areas described the situation as “serious in some parts,” with Matabeleland being the worst affected area. For example, some peasant farmers in Nkai and Ntabazinduna, by January 1962, were already considering approaching their local District Commissioner (DC) to warn Government of famine relief needs. For more detail on this drought see “Drought Hits Many Peasant Farmers” and “Cattle Position Serious,” The Central African Daily News, First Edition, 5(179), Saturday 6, 1962, 1.

“Fletcher Defends Game Shooting to Preserve Agriculture,” The Rhodesia Herald, Salisbury, Thursday, October 11, 1956, 11.


[including game slaughter].” 196 Field research confirms that wild animals (e.g. elephant) were killed for purposes of using the meat in the campaign against tsetse. The meat would be poisoned and used to lure or entice tsetsefly to death. 197 The Minister emphasised that “if a means of fighting tsetsefly other than game slaughter were discovered, the Government would be only too pleased to adopt it.” 198 Whilst Fletcher’s argument is justified from a conservationist and agricultural point of view, it is not clear how the proceeds from the sale of ivory were used. By his own admission: “The tusks from these operations would be brought in and the Government would sell them. So far as he was aware, nothing had been done about the meat, although he understood that some of it had been consumed by Africans.” 199 Ideally, there was need to plough back the profits derived from ivory sales into Sanyati agriculture, but regrettably, no official record exists to support this. Perhaps the only benefit obtained by Africans who participated in the hunting of elephants was the privilege to partake of the meat and practise agriculture in an elephant and tsetse-free environment. From a policy perspective, therefore, game and tsetse control were an integral part of the implementation of the NLHA in its formative years.

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