I recently examined the Mabel Hungwe’s PhD thesis “In search of community in Zimbabwe’s fast-track resettlement area of Mazowe district” at Lund University in Sweden. A huge amount of fascinating empirical material is encapsulated in a series of case studies collected during 2006-07. This was of course at the peak of the collapse of the economy and in the run-up to the highly contested elections of 2008. It was not an easy time to do fieldwork – especially in Mazowe.
The stories however are incredibly revealing, both about how people coped during this tough period, but also the alliances made as different groups came to form ‘communities’. Of course the term ‘community’ itself is highly contested, and Mabel examines different definitions and interpretations very well. But what comes over very clearly is that in the ‘melting pot’ that is Mazowe district many of the same processes and outcomes we observed in Masvingo were occurring. Some people were doing well, others were dropping out. Some farms were being captured by elites, but others were being well used by new farmers. Former white farmers and farm workers were still present, often seeking new arrangements. It is a complex story, but again not all doom and gloom.
Mazowe is of course different to Masvingo. It is close to Harare, and has high agroecological and market potential. There were fewer small-scale A1 farms overall, with a greater proportion of A2 farms. The contrast between farms which were invaded by people from nearby communal areas, and those which were allocated by administrative and political processes was very apparent. And with such high value farms, often with significant infrastructure, this attracted the attentions of the political-military elite – some of whom did not invest, but some, perhaps surprisingly, did, often with the (hidden) support of former white farmers.
In a such a volatile and contested setting, forming ‘communities’ is of course challenging. Those that succeeded were those who had former ties. Being part of the invasions certainly helped. Those who arrived to new A2 farms with resident farm workers who had not been paid for months had real difficulty. Especially in the A1 sites, the Apostolic church was seen to be really significant, binding people through religion, land access strategies, commerce and marketing.
Of course the thesis covered only a narrow time period, and it will be really interesting to see who has succeeded and who has dropped out 5 or more years on. Contrary to the standard narrative that the land lies abandoned in the Highveld, there is clearly much going on. Fortunately Mabel has returned to Zimbabwe and has taken up a post at the Centre for Applied Social Sciences at UZ. Let’s hope there will be a flurry of new empirical research on these issues as a result.