Discussion of livelihoods after land reform in Zimbabwe has been dominated by studies from Mashonaland, focusing particularly on crop production. Few studies have explored land reform in Matabeland, particularly in the pastoral livestock-keeping areas of Matabeland South. This is why the work of Clifford Mabhena is really important. His 2010 Fort Hare thesis, ‘Visible Hectares, Vanishing Livelihoods’ was based on extended fieldwork in Gwanda and Umzingwane districts. He argues that by focusing on settlement and crop production – the Mashonaland model – resettlement has availed more land, but not improved livelihoods, especially of pastoral livestock owners. A paper in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies came out last year which summarises the story.
Since the 1980s, resettlement has not seen huge success in the dry zones of Matabeleland (see Joss Alexander’s 1991 paper, The unsettled land). The sign-up for 1980s ‘Model A’ schemes was limited, and the attempt to design a livestock-oriented approach through the Model D scheme was largely a failure. Planners simply did not understand the nature of local livestock systems – the importance of seasonal transhumance (lagisa), loaning systems, and how livestock were managed across households, for example. The imposition of the ‘rectangular grid’ of standard settlement schemes – with the echoes of colonial planning – were widely resented and resisted, as Steve Robins described in the 1990s. Fences were cut and paddock grazing abandoned in favour of more flexible systems.
In the pastoral settings of southern Matabeleland there is perhaps an even greater, but rather different, pattern of livelihood differentiation, with (male) livestock keepers sometimes with huge herds, being the really ‘big men’ of local society, while others – younger men, women and poorer non-livestock owners – sought out other livelihoods, involving migration, mining and collection of wild products, as well as crop farming when the rains were good. In the past, the narrow ownership of livestock had benefits more broadly through kin and village connections, as well as offering employment through herding. But these benefits were mediated through complex social relations, involving sharing and loaning, that have declined and were never seen as being embedded in resettlement models. These were based instead on the notion of the individual plot holder and mixed farmer, settled permanently in villages, and without the need to move and access grazing in distant places.
As pastoral studies across the world have shown, in dry areas with variable rainfall, flexible movement is essential, as are ‘key resources’ that allow dry season grazing to sustain herds in times of dearth (see the book I edited in 1994 – Living with Uncertainty – for example) . Just as in the classic examples of transhumant and nomadic pastoralism of East and West Africa, in Matabeleland there had always been a locally adapted version based on the same principles of flexibility and mobility. Over time, as so many other places, this had been undermined, as land was removed and barriers to movement imposed. But nevertheless Matabeleland pastoralists made use of key resource grazing along the Shashe and Thuli rivers, and moved to gain relief grazing in ranches and wildlife areas. With the violence of the 1980s in the region, many large scale ranches were abandoned releasing grazing for those with large herds in the communal areas. As many pointed out, the problem in the communal areas was not too many people, but too many livestock, so the demand was for more grazing, that many were able to gain through various forms of leasing and poaching – all allowing some form of grazing flexibility to be maintained.
The post 2000 resettlements changed this. The ranches were carved up into A1 and A2 plots and handed out to beneficiaries. In the A2 plots, well connected people often benefited but the areas were too small for really effective livestock farming in such a harsh climate. In A1 areas, land was handed to often poorer people from the communal areas, with the intention that they become crop farmers. The farms however have often not flourished due to drought, and compared to the increasingly crowded communal areas, there are few livestock.
As Mabhena argues, there has been a mismatch between local needs and the design of resettlement models. The one-size-fits-all model from Mashonaland has not worked. He argues “the obsession of the Mugabe government with the redistribution of land as an end in itself rather than with the creation of viable rural livelihood options for rural people has led to a collapse of policymaking in the rural sector, especially in relation to the pastoral economy”. As Mr Nkomo, one of Mabhena’s informants from the communal areas explained:
“We used to lease graze or even grazed our livestock freely during the dissidents’ era in some of these farms… but the state has settled people there. Where do they expect us to graze our livestock? Furthermore most of those resettled are strangers and own very few livestock”.
The JCAS paper concludes:
“Land redistribution is a programme capable of enhancing rural livelihoods if the state identifies the interests of beneficiaries before deciding on the peoples’ interests brings a danger of embarking on programmes and projects that do not address the needs of the local people and are not sustainable. People of southern Matabeleland are pastoralists and therefore could enhance their livelihoods if more land is made available for grazing than for village settlement distribution model. Misreading the landscape and misrepresenting peoples’ interests brings a danger of embarking on programmes and projects that do not address the needs of the local people and are not sustainable….There is a real desire at the local level to make agrarian livelihoods work better but the state’s ‘one size fits all’ land reform programme focusing on agrarian reform through crop production has impacted negatively on livestock production and other livestock related livelihoods”.
The crop bias in agricultural extension and land use planning in Zimbabwe has existed for decades. It has marginalised a vitally important element of the production system, and resulted in the imposition of measures that rarely work in the context of complex livestock production systems – whether attempts at ‘improved breeding’ or ‘paddocked grazing schemes’. This huge blindspot has major consequences in the drier parts of the country, and particularly Matabeleland where livelihoods are based on pastoral production. There clearly is a need for a major rethink of resettlement models for Matabeleland: a lesson that really should have been learned years ago through past failures resulting from inappropriate impositions.