Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
In the opening chapter of his memoir “Jambanja” (2006) Eric Harrison informs the reader of the sanctions imposed on Rhodesia after Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on November 11, 1965, and how despite the challenges emanating from the embargo, the country managed to flourish.
By his own admission, Rhodesia flourished because it was supported by Western countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and others, as well as apartheid South Africa.
It was a kith and kin affair.
Rhodesia continued to flourish as a European nation in Africa, with whites living parasitic lives off black Africans’ heritage. Harrison claims that, “Industry was becoming self-sufficient and the typical ‘British bulldog’ attitude of the inhabitants’ forefathers kept the country going”. By “inhabitants’ forefathers”, he means white progenies and their progenitors. Rhodesia belongs to the British; it is a European nation.
Even after Zimbabwe attained Independence in April 1980, the European nation continued to flourish unabated, until the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme, which checkmated the status quo on land ownership.
Harry’s interior monologue on the prevailing state of affairs may help in contextualising the heritage issue: “Can I really blame the individual new intruders? What would I have done if I’d been born black? Wouldn’t I have had the same attitude, especially having seen the ‘rich white man’, who for all these years had driven around in his fancy cars and lived in nice fancy houses?
“What about my children, shouldn’t they have what the white man has? After a long war against white rule and the land he possessed, the white man still dominated the land, the mining and the wealth. Who, in their right mind, would turn down an offer to become a rich man, especially when there was no cost involved at all?”
The above citation just about sums it all; it was about the land, has always been about the land, a stolen heritage, and nothing more. Yet, critics of land reforms in Zimbabwe, especially after 2000, claim that it is a political issue.
Harry raises the issue of “othering”, which has robbed blacks of their heritage and left them poorer in tangible and intangible terms as they have nothing to bequeath to future generations.
Harrison admits that after the “war against white rule and the land he possessed, the white man still dominated the land, mining and the wealth”.
He even calls the indigenous owners of the land “new intruders” for seeking to reclaim their heritage. One wonders who the old intruders are.
It boggles the mind, why then Harrison insists that the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme was politically engineered by ZANU PF as a ploy to remain in power, when the reasons behind the reforms are even clearer to him as a white settler.
Another interesting issue is that Harry, like “many farmers still on the land, over the last few years”, had “not replaced any of his old tractors, and had allowed his equipment to wind down to a point where it was just operable, no more than that”, and that the “same applied to all buildings on the farm”. Harry’s son, Trevor removes the generator that powers the farm, yet against all that, Harrison insists on compensation. Harry has already run down everything.
Of the 187 hectares of Maioio Farm, 105 are under sugarcane, 55 under citrus, leaving 27 hectares unaccounted for. Harry’s insistence that the “intruders” were after his oranges and sugarcane, would mean that they were not interested in the other 27 hectares, which he could have asked to be allowed to use.
Harry mourns the loss of the tools that he had inherited from his father; “tools that were irreplaceable”, and “would never be handed down to his sons”, yet he does not seem to remember that Africans lost many “tools” dearest to them over generations of settler domination.
He openly admits to supporting the MDC, and says “the country’s powerful landed gentry” funded the opposition outfit and “human rights groups” to campaign for a NO vote in the 2000 Referendum on the proposed new Constitution.
The vocabulary he uses here is telling: “powerful landed gentry”. Whites in the European nation of the country, are powerful and noble because they own the land; African land, African heritage. Playing the politics of subterfuge and sabotage, the “powerful landed gentry” pours money into the opposition MDC’s coffers in the name of democracy; an impoverished democracy, in which the tyranny of the minority subdues the majority.
Although the Referendum was not a political election, Harrison claims that the MDC united front “won 55 percent of the votes against the ruling Zanu PF’s 45 percent.” He informs the reader that after the announcement of the results, “There was wild jubilation by the MDC’s local and foreign supporters, prompting ‘End of Mugabe’ headlines in the British media”.
Not that it is wrong for him to support a party of his choice, no, what is wrong is for him to then demean others for supporting ZANU PF; a party that offers them access to the land —their heritage. The same heritage that determines power and gentility.
The fact that there “was wild jubilation” in foreign capitals hostile to Mugabe and what he stood for; empowerment of the black people through their heritage, shows that the British and their cronies are interested parties in the land issue in Zimbabwe. .
The Hegelian supremacist idea does not only reflect itself in the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe following the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme, but the manner in which the European nation regroups in its enclosure to thwart efforts for success in the African nation (Chigwedere, 2001).
Harrison captures this rationale of the Rhodesian, nay European nation at the “wedding of Andre Fourie, a true blue Afrikaner, and Emily Kendall, a beautiful English Rose” where “there were, Afrikaners, English, French, Irish — you name it, all enjoying each other’s company”. The exclusive and exquisite venue is a camp “usually reserved for hunters from all over the world”. Such is the status quo that Harrison and other white supremacists, or alien gods from the West, wish to preserve, where they eat “smoked trout” and down “copious amounts of chilled Nederburg La Bonnet 1998” and frustratingly laugh “at the thought of a bunch of war vets sipping chilled wine out of plastic mugs”. The black African sips from “plastic mugs”, because glasses are for the white man; the colonialist, the plunderer, the oppressor, the master.
Put the nigger in his place and keep him running, that is the white supremacist’s way, and to preserve the status quo, he has to rubbish everything with a remote chance of giving the black African a go at life and not just merely existing. Using tribalism, a colonial creation (Davison, 1992; Lull, 1995), Harry puts a wedge between Bitros and his fellow Africans by pretending to “love” him more as a Matabele, “like” him.
As a contested heritage, battles over the land issue are fought in different ways, and from contrasting ideological standpoints. Literary texts, as sites of struggle (Vambe, 2005; Wodak, 2001), are driven more by lived experience than imagination, which confirms the idea that creativity is an extension of reality. The reality of colonialism makes it trite that the black man’s story and the white man’s are sites of contestations, where the land is the major character.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of the British House of Lords, the highest court in the British empire, in 1914, ruled that the Lippert Concession “as a title deed, is valueless” and that “the company’s (BSAC) occupation, whatever it rested on, did not rest on the Lippert Concession” (Chigwedere, 2001:22). The Committee condemned the BSAC’s claim to the land through an illegitimate document, declaring that “recognition could give no title where none existed already” (ibid).
From the ruling, Chigwedere (2001:22) maintains that the BSAC’s claims “to land rested on nothing”, therefore the land was ruled to belong to neither the “company nor to the settlers but to the crown” because what the Company had done in Rhodesia “was done in the name of the Crown”. As an agent of the Crown, the BSAC was to be compensated for its deficits.
Now the issue of legality gets curious when read against Chigwedere’s observation that “arising from this judgment: Britain admitted our land was illegally seized and distributed” (ibid). By admitting through its own justice system that the occupation of Matabeleland and Mashonaland was both illegal and improper, and accepting responsibility for the BSAC’s mischiefs in the country, Britain makes a clear point at the level of both law and social justice.
It “was Britain that seized our land and enslaved us”, therefore, “the land wrangle should not be between the government of Zimbabwe and the commercial farmers, but between the commercial farmers and Britain” (Chigwedere, 2001:22).
Therefore, as depicted in Harrison’s “Jambanja” (2006), the so called “crisis” that Zimbabwe has been grappling with since 2000, which Bond and Manyanya (2002), Raftopoulos (2013), and Bratton (2016), among other critics, present as the result of the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme seen as a violation of white property rights, was never an issue of rights in the first place, but social justice.