Why we had to take back our land

12 Jun, 2014 - 00:06 0 Views
Why we had to take back our land

The Herald

Maize FarmTinomudaishe Chinyoka Correspondent
THERE are those that differ with me on whether or not we still need to debate the question of why we had to take our land back. Those that differ with me on this issue are, to use the colloquial, simply wrong.
For example, we have news that Morgan Tsvangirai has ordered the seizure of property and assets held by the rival Renewal Team led by secretary-general Mr Tendai Biti.

Now, we all know that Mr Tsvangirai is very much against the seizure of white owned farms by the original owners, but his conduct in this affairs betrays a double standard:

he sees nothing wrong with a rightful owner taking his property back by any means necessary. In fact, his lawyers in court when one of the cases of seizures went to court argued that: “My client had authority from Tsvangirai to possess the party property, including the vehicle in question,” said Mr Muganyi.

“The authority shows there are misunderstandings in the party and the court should not be used as a vehicle in perpetuating these internal disputes,” he must think that the land is not ours then, if he does not apply the same principle to its repossession.

Governor Karimanzira put it best, way back in 1998 when white farmers went to complain about the people of Svosve taking back their lands. You see, the Governor stated, the people of Svosve had taken no farms. Just their land. It was just unfortunate for the farmers that their farms happened to be on the Svosve people’s lands.

We are now being told that it was because land was taken that agricultural output has gone down. No mention there about the support that the white squatters used to get from our financial institutions, with loans and year round support to ensure that they succeeded.

No mention about the sanctions, declared and undeclared, all calculated to cripple our Government and effect regime change by stealth so that Morgan Tsvangirai, who believes it is okay to repossess his MDC property but not Zimbabwean land, can take over.

Besides, I think that the argument about output misses the point: the land was ours, so we had to take it. If I bought a bicycle and kept it tethered to a tree because I have not yet learned how to ride one, or because I choose to ride mine in a particular way, or because I have no present use for it, you cannot suggest that it is okay for another person, who knows how to ride it and happens to have an need for a bicycle, to just come along and not only take it, but keep it.

Like President Mugabe said, “It is true that commercial farmers know how to farm. But, the fact that the person that stole my car has a driving licence does not justify him keeping it.”

And the taking was not kind. People died. Not by accident, but were deliberately slaughtered. And after the slaughter, their Courts sat down and decided that, you know what, they had every right to take this land, because them “natives” did not know that they owned this land in the first place.

I have recently been accused of interposing my own opinions to the debate, so why not let them speak for themselves.

On March 29, 1896, after the Zimbabwean people dared to rise up against the occupation of their land in the First Chimurenga, W.A. Jarvis, a former Tory MP in the UK and settler in what they called Gwelo, wrote this about their response to this temerity: “There are about 5,500 niggers in this district and our plan of campaign will probably be to proceed against this lot and wipe them out, then move on towards Bulawayo wiping out every nigger and every kraal we can find . . . You may be sure that there will be no quarter, and everything black will have to die . . . The beastly missionaries have a lot to do with it, teaching the nigger that he is as good as the white man. It won’t do. The nigger has to got to be treated as a nigger all the world over.”

Rhodesian history books do not tell us how many “niggers” were wiped out, but I rather like to think that the 5 500 in Gwelo and those between that town and Bulawayo (some 145km or so) are a small percentage of those that were “treated like other niggers” the world over.

After the wiping out, the British South Africa Company and the British government argued as to who owned the vast land riches of this country that they had conquered. Their argument went all the way to the Privy Council in London, where no black interests were represented.

There was no need. After all, “in February, 1894, trustworthy news came in that Lobengula had died in January of fever or small-pox, and this is the last that ever was heard of him. King Lobengula’s kingdom perished with him.”

So, the question facing the Court was, who between the British Crown and the BSAC had the power to issue title to the land that they had found between the Zambezi and the Limpopo. According to the Court, “White settlement and the consolidation of British influence were objects common to both Crown and Company. Both desired to encourage white settlers generally to select and acquire land, and, on compliance with the prescribed formalities, they were to become absolute owners of their holdings. Plainly, if white settlement was to take place,” it would happen, it just needed to be justified somehow.

“Between 1893 and 1914 there has undoubtedly been much migration, emigration, and immigration of natives in Southern Rhodesia and the aborigines of Lobengula’s time have both changed and been scattered. It was said that the rights of the Matabele did not extend beyond a radius of sixty miles from Buluwayo, and that beyond that the Mashonas were the race entitled. Whether the Matabele or the Mashonas of to-day are, in any sense consistent with the transmission or descent of rights of property, identical with the Matabele or the Mashonas of more than twenty years ago is far from clear, and the fate of the Makalakas and the Maholies, once the slaves of Lobengula, is as obscure as their original rights . . . The estimation of the rights of aboriginal tribes is always inherently difficult.

“Some tribes are so low in the scale of social organisation that their usages and conceptions of rights and duties are not to be reconciled with the institutions or the legal ideas of civilised society. Such a gulf cannot be bridged. It would be idle to impute to such people some shadow of the rights known to our law and then to transmute it into the substance of transferable rights of property as we know them. In the present case it would make each and every person by a fictional inheritance a landed proprietor “richer than all his tribe.”

On the other hand, there are indigenous peoples whose legal conceptions, though differently developed, are hardly less precise than our own. When once they have been studied and understood they are no less enforceable than rights arising under English law. Between the two there is a wide tract of much ethnological interest, but the position of the natives of Southern Rhodesia within it is very uncertain; clearly they approximate rather to the lower than to the higher limit . . . By the will of the Crown and in exercise of its rights the old state of things, whatever its exact nature, as it was before 1893, has passed away and another and, as their Lordships do not doubt, a better has been established in lieu of it. Whoever now owns the unalienated lands, the natives do not.”

So, we were rather fortunate that these kind people did not drive us all to the Kalahari, because we had no right to be here. We did not own the land, we had probably migrated from somewhere, and had no right to any of the land, being too primitive to know what land ownership meant. Forget the fact that only a few years before the whole country had risen en-masse to fight for this very same land, forget that such uprising had been met with an extermination of the “niggers” to “wipe them out”.

Then some 80 years later, after trying to work with these people to find an amicable way to get our land back, they decided that you know what, we were never responsible, because even Ireland was colonised once! I swear I am not making this up. Here is the letter from Claire Short, their ‘Development’ Secretary at the time:
5 November 1997

From the Secretary of State Hon Kumbirai Kangai MP Minister of Agriculture and Land

Dear Minister
George Foulkes has reported to me on the meeting which you and Hon John Nkomo had with Tony Lloyd and him during your recent visit. I know that President Mugabe also discussed the land issue with the Prime Minister briefly during their meeting. It may be helpful if I record where matters now rest on the issue.

At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Tony Blair said that he looked forward to developing a new basis for relations with Commonwealth countries founded upon our government’s policies, not on the past.

We will set out our agenda for international development in a White Paper to be published this week. The central thrust of this will be the development of partnerships with developing countries which are committed to eradicate poverty, and have their own proposals for achieving that which we and other donors can support.

I very much hope that we will be able to develop such a relationship with Zimbabwe. I understand that you aim shortly to publish your own policies on economic management and poverty reduction. I hope that we can discuss them with you and identify areas where we are best able to help. I mentioned this in my letter on 31 August to Hon Herbert Murarwa.

I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe. We are a new Government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.

We do, however, recognise the very real issues you face over land reform. We believe that land reform could be an important component of a Zimbabwean programme designed to eliminate poverty. We would be prepared to support a programme of land reform that was part of a poverty eradication strategy but not on any other basis.

I am told Britain provided a package of assistance for resettlement in the period immediately following independence. This was, I gather, carefully planned and implemented, and met most of its targets.

Again, I am told there were discussions in 1989 and 1996 to explore the possibility of further assistance. However that is all in the past.

If we look to the present, a number of specific issues are unresolved, including the way in which land would be acquired and compensation paid — clearly it would not help the poor of Zimbabwe if it was done in a way which undermined investor confidence.

Other questions that would need to be settled would be to ensure that the process was completely open and transparent, including the establishment of a proper land register.

Individual schemes would have to be economically justified to ensure that the process helped the poor, and for me the most important issue is that any programme must be planned as part of a programme to contribute to the goal of eliminating poverty. I would need to consider detailed proposals on these issues before confirming further British support for resettlement.

I am sure that a carefully worked out programme of land reform that was part of a programme of poverty eradication which we could support would also bring in other donors, whose support would help ensure that a substantial land resettlement programme such as you clearly desire could be undertaken successfully. If is (sic) to do so, they too will need to be involved from the start.

It follows from this that a programme of rapid land acquisition as you now seem to envisage would be impossible for us to support. I know that many of Zimbabwe’s friends share our concern about the damage which this might do to Zimbabwe’s agricultural output and its prospects of attracting investment.

I thought it best to be frank about where we are. If you think it would be helpful, my officials are ready to meet yours to discuss these issues.

Yours sincerely

Claire Short

So that we are clear: the British Government fought all the way to the highest court in their land for the right to “own” our lands, and the right to give title to “white settlers”, but come independence, they no longer had no responsibility to make right what they had stolen. Small wonder then that after this letter, the people of Svosve went to reclaim their lands.

It was just unfortunate that the British Government, in giving title to the white settlers, had given these people farms that happened to be sited on our lands.

We have to take our lands. I am well aware that there are those that differ with me on whether or not we still need to debate the question of why we had to take our land back.

Those that differ with me on this issue are, as I have said, simply wrong

  • Tinomudaishe Chinyoka is former president: University of Zimbabwe Students Union; former president: Zimbabwe National Students Union; former secretary-general: University of Zimbabwe Students Union, and PhD Student, History of Land Law and Political Science, UK.

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