Why Zimbabwe Had To Take Its Land Back


Zimbabwe Land Reform White Farmers
Before Zimbabwe’s land reform some White settlers owned land the size of small countries

AFRICANGLOBE – 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 so-called 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 n*ggers 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 n*gger 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 n*gger that he is as good as the White man. It won’t do. The n*gger has to got to be treated as a n*gger all the world over.”

Rhodesian history books do not tell us how many “n*ggers” 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 n*ggers” 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.”


South Africa Land Reform
White settlers in South Africa have begun to make contingency plans just encase Africans decide to start reclaiming their land

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 “n*ggers” to “wipe them out”.


Part Two