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The Colonial Legacy of Zimbabwe Land Disputes

This paper intends to demonstrate two points. The first is that "silent" violence in Zimbabwe will remain a problem for the foreseeable future. Impoverished, alienated and landless peasants have traditionally opposed state intervention through "silent" violence, a tradition that continues. The state, inspite of its rhetorical posturing, has not eliminated the root causes of agrarian conflict: poverty and landlessness. So far, the government has tinkered with, rather than solved the land problem. If agro-environmental security is an important element of agrarian peace-building, then the state has not succeeded in establishing such security.

Land Violence and Compensation
Reconceptualising Zimbabwe's Land and War Veterans' Debate

By Tapera Knox Chitiyo

Chitiyo is a Lecturer of War and Strategic Studies in the History Department at the University of Zimbabwe. In addition, he is the Director of the Southern Africa Conflict and Development Trust (SACDT), and recently also contributed to the launch of the Centre for Defence Studies. Mr. Chitiyo has published numerous articles on Zimbabwean military history, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) and defence and development in local and international journals. Currently, he is also the editor of a new journal, Journal of African Conflict and Development (forthcoming later in 2000).

INTRODUCTION

In the past decade, Zimbabwe has been simultaneously confronted by two enormous and inter-related socio-economic challenges: the land question and the issue of war veterans. The land question is both a cause and consequence of Zimbabwe's struggle for liberation, the Second Chimurenga (1966 -- 1980). However, it had its origins in the initial anti-colonial struggle, the First Chimurenga (1896 --1897).

In essence, this paper examines two themes: first, how successive colonial governments inherited and imposed fundamentally flawed agrarian policies, and how African peasants adapted to and resisted these policies. The threat or actual use of violence against people or the environment has been used both to press for and refuse land claims by both the state (even in the post-independence period) and the peasants. Although this paper does not purport to be an expert analysis of the land crisis (a number of specialist works on this subject are available1), examination of the land issue is nevertheless essential.

Establishing consensus on the true nature of the land crisis has been difficult; efforts to reach agreement on a solution have posed even more problems.2 Zimbabwe's land crisis is one in which the primary causes (land allocation, land utilisation, demography, race, poverty and war) are also its consequences. This paper investigates this history of cause and effect, examining violence as both cause and consequence of the land crisis. I use the term "silent" violence to refer to the threatened or actual use of force against livestock and/or the environment,3 and the term "loud violence" to refer to the use, or threatened use of violence against people and their property.

The second major theme of this paper is the link (until recently, often overlooked, with explosive consequences) between the land crisis and the war veterans' situation in Zimbabwe. This link is both explicit and implicit. Many impoverished peasants are demobilised war veterans who have failed in various agrarian business ventures. Moreover, the peasant class and the war veterans have been the present government's most powerful voting constituencies. Neither can be ignored, and government has had to find ways to neutralise or accommodate them. In addition, compensation has been an issue common to both groups. During the Second Chimurenga, both peasants and present-day war veterans (who were guerrillas or refugees during the war) were traumatised by the Rhodesian Security Forces (RSF), various guerrilla factions and other private armies. After the war, the grassroots soldiers and peasants, who had borne the brunt of the suffering, received little recompense, while the ruling elite enriched its members. Both the peasant farmers and the veterans felt that the government had failed them, and they insisted on land and/or financial compensation as the price for allowing the government to remain in power.

This paper intends to demonstrate two points. The first is that "silent" violence in Zimbabwe will remain a problem for the foreseeable future. Impoverished, alienated and landless peasants have traditionally opposed state intervention through "silent" violence, a tradition that continues. The state, inspite of its rhetorical posturing, has not eliminated the root causes of agrarian conflict: poverty and landlessness. So far, the government has tinkered with, rather than solved the land problem. If agro-environmental security is an important element of agrarian peace-building, then the state has not succeeded in establishing such security.4

Land Abbreviations in Zimbabwe Secondly, although the state has faltered in dealing with "silent" violence, it is arguable that until recently, Zimbabwe was an example of successful suppression of "loud" violence. Zimbabwe has successfully fostered operational demilitarisation and internal peace-building. The creation of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) is one example. An examination of the land and war veterans' crises shows that the state defused these potentially lethal crises via a combination of persuasion, coercion, financial compensation and rhetoric. Until 1999, it seemed to be following a "two-track" method of tolerating "silent" violence, while dealing with "loud" violence when this was perceived to be a threat to state security and survival.

While the state successfully neutralised "loud" agrarian violence prior to 1998, the new millennium has shown the extent and limits of state power. Zimbabwe's perilous economic situation and the defeat suffered by the ruling party in the National Referendum of February 2000, have plunged the nation deeper into turmoil. As the government increasingly sloughs off its inclusionary/reconciliatory approach and adopts the militant "radical chic" persona of the liberation group it was twenty years ago, the situation has become increasingly polarised. The ruling party's current "gangster chic" rhetoric plays to populist sentiments, but at national expense.

The state has pushed to extremes Zimbabwe's historical tradition of imposing short-term racial and political solutions on genuine agrarian problems. The forcible occupation of over 800 white commercial farms (at the time of writing) by groups of "war veterans" (many of whom are clearly unemployed youths, some who were not even born at the time of the war of liberation) is a case in point. This militancy has politically expedient benefits for the government, but the cost to the nation as whole is increasingly unsustainable.

LAND AND VIOLENCE IN ZIMBABWE 1890 -- 1979

1890 -- 1929: Land and Racial/ Political Expediency

In 1890, the Pioneer column arrived in the land they were to call Rhodesia. They numbered 196 Pioneers and 500 police. At this time, there were approximately 700 000 Africans, mainly Shona and Ndebele speakers, in the territory (Rolin, 1978). The Pioneers had come to the country in the belief that the land contained vast deposits of gold. There was hope that Rhodesia would turn out to be another Witwatersrand (McGhee, 1978).

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Home Essays & Reviews Essay & Discussion The Colonial Legacy of Zimbabwe Land Disputes