Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe II: People and places

The communal areas are crowded places. The population density in Chivi district was for example 46 people per km squared in 2012. In a dryland environment (average rainfall in Chivi is about 550mm), land areas are not sufficient for extensive cropping and grazing areas are limited. Given their histories as ‘labour reserves’ – sources of labour for the mines and farms of the Rhodesian settler economy and dumping grounds for the retired, unemployed or inform – it is not surprising that their productive potential is limited. This is why before and since Independence the argument for land reform has been strong.

Some argue that the communal areas can be transformed, by investing in new technologies (conservation agriculture is the latest donor driven craze) or reforming property rights giving people private title (a solution which is of course much disputed) or creating alternative income opportunities in ‘growth points’ or nearby towns (again a set of interventions that has been tried many times). It is not that transformations of the communal areas should not be attempted; they should, as over 1.1 million households, most of the rural population, live there. But if a wider dynamic of rural economic growth is to occur, people need the land on which to do it.

The resettlement process in the 2000s was of course not the same as that which occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, people moved to resettlement areas often far from their homes, either through the government programme or spontaneously. This meant the links between old and new homes were severed, and on the formal schemes strict rules were applied as part of the permit conditions. In the 2000s, the A1 sites were invaded, occupied by villagers, people from towns and supported by war veterans. They came very often from nearby communal areas; sometimes people invaded the neighbouring farm, as in the case of our Serima CA site and Lonely A resettlement site.

In all cases connections could be maintained. In the years after land invasions, new settlers frequently maintained homes and fields in nearby communal areas, particularly in those sites where uncertainty over tenure prevailed, as offer letters had not been issued. In most cases, they were just keeping a home or field as insurance, and not making much use of it themselves. In 2011 around a quarter of A1 households maintained another home, and 4% and 9% kept a field. Only in Masvingo district resettlements were practically no homes and fields being held on to. For communal area households, there were no households having a home or a field elsewhere in the Masvingo and Chiredzi sites and only 3% in Gutu had a field elsewhere. By contrast in our Chikombedzi site in Mwenezi, 27% of the communal area sample had a satellite home in the nearby resettlement farms.

Even if homes and fields were not being kept, there were still plenty of other connections being maintained: through churches, social events, burials, transfers of food, sharing of equipment and animals, and movement of relatives as workers, for example. These are often tightly linked communities, as new resettlements often have substantial numbers of people from single villages, who joined invasions together. Of course over the decade since settlement some of the links have been formed. New churches have been formed, people are being buried in their new homes, and so on, but social and economic lives remain connected.

What about movements from our communal area sites to the new resettlements? Did ‘decongestion’ occur? From our comparator sites linked to our Gutu, Masvingo, Chiredzi and Mwenezi sites, there were 20%, 13%, 17% and 18% of households who had some household member move to a new resettlement site. These were usually younger men, looking to establish a new home. By definition, of course, the surveyed household remained.

There was a considerable movement of people. Indeed, government stats shows that across four districts in Masvingo province, a total of 32,500 households were established in A1 sites as part of the Fast Track Land Reform Programme, and many estimate that there was an additional 6000 involved in ‘informal’ settlement (some now regularised). Assuming that 60% came from communal areas, this represents about 12% of the communal area households in these districts as counted in the 2012 census.

Those who went to the resettlements tended to be younger and better educated than their counterparts in the communal areas. According to our surveys, the communal area household heads were on average 5-7 years older; in their mid 50s, rather than in their 40s (compared to being in their 30s a decade earlier during land occupation). While there is of course a distribution in both sites, the overall demographic pattern is different. This means that those in the communal areas have older children, have more likely worked off the farm, and have therefore access to other income sources. The educational level of the ‘household heads’ reflects the period of their youth. Those in the resettlements who are now in their 40s benefited from the post Independence education provision, and the biggest group is Form 4 (O level) graduates, while the biggest group for those older individuals in the communal areas is Grade 7 (basic primary).

However, while formal school education levels are higher in the resettlements, agricultural qualifications are not. In the A1 villagised sites, only 9% of household heads have the Master Farmer qualifications, while it is 27% in the communal areas. This reflects experiences of the past decade, when extension services collapsed. When people arrived in the new resettlements, they did not get the support, while those in the communal areas who were older probably got trained in the 1990s.

These age demographic differences are reflected in household sizes and composition. The average size of households in the A1 resettlements is larger, around 6.5 people, compared to 4.85 in the communal areas. This reflects the ageing of households in the communal areas, with fewer children at the parental homes, and greater deaths of older adults. Thus there are only 16% of households whose household head was more than 61 in the A1 villagised resettlement areas, while across the communal area sites it ranged from 37% (Chiredzi) to 56% (Chikombedzi). The generation of adults living in the communal areas was also more vulnerable to the impacts of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, with many mortalities occurring in that age cohort. With the decline of transmission we can speculate that this affected those who moved to resettlements less (although certainly the epidemic has not spared them either).

Another factor that explains the larger household sizes in the resettlement areas, is what Bill Kinsey and colleagues termed the ‘magnet effect’. Successful households in resettlement areas attract others, particularly relatives from poorer settings in the communal areas. They can gain food, some work and housing with relatives in the resettlements. Alongside these movements are of course workers who come and stay permanently and temporarily to work on the new farms. In our 2007-08 surveys, we found that household sizes had increased by on average 2.8 people, up from 4.2 on settlement in 2000-01. This pattern continues as family size increases through births, and other relatives come and stay.

What about the gender composition of households? The proportion of female headed households averaged 14% across the A1 sites in 2012, the same as when we surveyed in 2007. By contrast 37% of household heads in the communal area sites were identified as women. Of course the definition of household head is notoriously difficult, but we have tried to be consistent, including absent males if they are still regarded as ‘heads’. In such situations – and indeed when the husband is present – women take on many management and organising roles in the household, and so the term ‘head’ is often a misnomer. Be that as it may, we therefore only defined female household heads when the male was completely absent (through death, divorce etc.), and when a woman was the sole manager of the farm and home. The high proportion of such ‘female headed households’ in the communal areas is well known, but this figure is surprisingly high, reflecting an ageing, disease-susceptible population, which has suffered the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

So are resettlement households different? Well, there is much variation of course, but some generalisations hold. A1 resettlement households are (on average) younger, with more children at home, with adults better educated in school, but less in professional farming qualifications, and with more male resident household heads. These are not the classic ‘reserves’ – retirement places, or places where people grow up to get out for work. Instead, these are places where people have chosen to go at the prime of their working life, when they are younger, healthy and where they want their children to grow up. Partly this is of course because there are few other choices. There is no land in the communal areas to grow food and no jobs elsewhere, but it is partly out of choice.

Next week, I will look at how they are faring in terms of crop production on their new land compared to their communal area counterparts.

 This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

The on-going Masvingo study research is conducted by Ian Scoones, Blasio Mavedzenge,

Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene.






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5 responses to “Comparing communal areas and new resettlements in Zimbabwe II: People and places

  1. am

    A bit off-topic but valid for the comparison. Do you in the researches see any difference between the application of rural law in the fields, between communal and fast track. I think it is a significant point not taken notice off enough but I am sure that you have come across the problems it raises. My own view is that rural law is more strictly observed in the fields of fast track than communal. Some communal villages have abandoned the fields in large measure due to the neglect of the system of fines that used to be in place as a deterrent to careless care of cattle. A widow has a real problem building a fence and hence the cultivated land decreases, etc.

    • Certainly there are differences in forms of authority. In rural areas, whether communal or resettlement, there are hybrid, overlapping legal orders, both formal and informal. In the resettlements it has moved from a politically controlled source of authority under the ‘base commander’ and ‘seven member committee’ to more of a pattern that adopts ‘traditional’ systems (in fact colonial inventions of tradition), as systems have merged. Local authorities in the resettlements are, as you note, more effective at imposing and enforcing rules – including ones that were long resisted, associated with environmental management and landuse planning (see chapter 9 of our book). This is a theme of research we are pursuing, as we try and explore how political authority is rebuilt.

  2. William Doctor

    I note that you have made no comment on Mugabe’s recent racist remarks regards land ownership – ‘no whites allowed’, etc. I am sure that this is bluster [on Mugabe’s part], but for a leader to be so crudely racist in today’s world is remarkable. It is all over the Western Press – doing more to damage your efforts to ‘change the narrative’ than any academic refutations.

    Surely a website such as yours, that proposes ‘debate on land reform in Zimbabwe’ would encourage just that: a debate on leadership in the country that does not respect fundamental human rights

    • See blog on 18 August where the issues emerging from the announcement of the A1 permits, and Mugabe’s remarks that as reported run counter to the Constitution, are commented on.

  3. Pingback: Nutrition puzzles: the shit factor | zimbabweland

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