When whites arrived in 1890, the Shona and the Ndebele people, who claimed sovereignty, populated the land between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers. It is thought the Shona had been there for about 1,000 years. The Ndebele arrived in the 1830s, having migrated north from Natal after falling out with the Zulu King. In 1889, the imperialist Cecil Rhodes, who had made a fortune in diamond mining in the Cape, set up the British South Africa Company to explore north of the Limpopo. He had already obtained exclusive mining rights from the Ndebele king, Lobengula, in return for £100 a month, 1,000 rifles, 10,000 rounds of ammunition, and a riverboat. Lobengula had not conferred land rights. The first 200 white settlers were each promised a 3,000-acre farm and gold claims in return for carving a path through Mashonaland.
The Shona were fragmented and did not have the superior weaponry to resist the British. The British flag was raised at Fort Salisbury on 13 September 1890. The name Rhodesia was adopted in 1895. It became the British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923. Three years after whites arrived in Mashonaland, they conquered King Lobengula and his people in neighbouring Matabeleland. Each volunteer in the war was granted 6,000 acres of captured land. Within a year 10,000 square miles around Lobengula’s capital Bulawayo had been marked out. Ndebele villagers who returned were treated as tenants. Most of their cattle were seized and they were forced to work on the white farms. In Mashonaland, the settlers imposed a ‘hut tax’ of 10 shillings (50p). Those who could not pay were told to work to earn the money.
When the Ndebele and Shona rebelled in 1896, they were put down and their leaders hanged. As the settlers developed commercial farming, some lands were reserved for African occupation amid fears total dispossession could lead to uprisings. But the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 barred African land ownership outside the reserves, except in a special freehold purchase area. Africans not needed for labor on white farms were removed to the reserves, which became increasingly congested. In 1965, Prime Minister Ian Smith unilaterally declared independence from Britain. Two major liberation organizations emerged. Zanu, under Robert Mugabe, and Zapu, under Joshua Nkomo. Black nationalist opposition began its armed resistance in 1966.
When international economic sanctions were imposed against Smith’s regime, white commercial agriculture was heavily subsidized, making it even harder for African peasants to compete. The “land question” was a major cause of the guerrilla war, which was fought with increasing ferocity during the 1970s. In 1979, renewed negotiations in London led to the Lancaster House Agreement, which paved the way for independence in April 1980. Mugabe, who won a landslide victory in the first free election, promised to resettle blacks on white land. Independence saw the transfer of political power from whites to blacks, but not land, which remained in the hands of whites. Thousands of whites opted for Zimbabwean nationality after independence. Britain gave the new government “£44m for resettlement projects.” This sum was really to pay white land occupiers who wanted to sell. There was no consideration given to compensating Africans. Under the Lancaster House constitution the Zimbabwe Government could only buy white occupied land from “willing sellers”.
When this expired after 10 years, the government passed a law empowering it to make compulsory purchases. There have been few transfers in the last decade. Three years ago Mugabe announced a list of 1,500 farms set for compulsory acquisition. He said Britain should foot the bill for compensating the white farmers because Rhodesian colonists had stolen the land from blacks in the first place. Hotep: It is my opinion that Mugabe was wrong to even talk about Britain compensating white farmers. He should have been calling for Britain to compensate dispossessed Blacks. If one illegally acquired something, they should not be compensated for returning it.
In February 2000, President Mugabe tried to change the constitution to allow confiscation of white land. When he was defeated, he encouraged the occupation of white occupied farms by veterans from the Rhodesian War. Blacks reoccupied hundreds of farms. Caught in the middle of the confrontation were the black laborers who rely on the white farms for their livelihood and accommodation. Mugabe pushed through a bill in April empowering the government to seize white occupied land and declaring Britain “liable” for compensation to whites. The UK says it will fund land reform, but only if it benefits the poor. Hotep: When was the UK ever concerned about the poor in Africa? This is a popular line used to stall discussions about compensation.
The UK knows they have to pay but they want to be the ones to determine who is paid. Same Slavery. White farmers agree the need for land redistribution, but say there are already plenty of farms on offer to the government. They argue that transferring large farms to people who do not know how to run them could destroy the economy.
Agriculture is one of Zimbabwe’s top foreign exchange earners and its largest employer. As the country struggles with crippling inflation and unemployment, many rural poor say it is not land, but jobs, which is the real issue. Hotep: Agriculture is a top foreign currency earner for whites not the dispossessed Blacks, most of whom have been so colonized they cannot see pass being the employees of whites. The way forward must be education so that both Blacks and Whites can develop respect for their common ancestry and whites compensating Blacks for genocide. The present tobacco rulings show that even whites acknowledge that people who profit from the sufferings of others must pay restitution. We can all collectively speak of higher development when these issues are settled.