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Medium-scale farming for Africans: The ‘Native Purchase Areas’ in Zimbabwe

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The Native Purchase Areas were established as a result of the 1930 Land Apportionment Act, following the recommendations of the 1925 Morris Carter Commission. They were designed as compensation for the fact that Africans were not allowed to purchase land elsewhere. These were areas that had mostly been farmed by early settlers before the colony’s land was carved up into racial designations. Africans were given the option of buying newly demarcated properties, but the land was often in remote areas and of poor quality.

The Purchase Areas were slow to become established, as these were often in remote areas, without infrastructure. At Independence around 10,000 households had settled on around 1.4 m hectares, falling far short of the earlier promises of 50,000 Africans with freehold title. The vast majority of the acquisitions were by men, although some women did manage to buy independently, despite many obstacles. Initially, those living in the ‘native reserves’ were reluctant to shift, as the successful “reserve entrepreneurs” (as Terry Ranger called them for Makoni) had land, labour and markets where they already lived. Urban-based Africans, such as government clerks or messengers, were also encouraged to sign up, but again many sensed the leap into the unknown was too risky, as they after all already had rural homes in the ‘reserves’. The depression of the 1930s, put the squeeze on incomes, and few had the income or cattle to purchase land.

By the 1940s, the Purchase Areas were often criticised for being poor, backward, wasteful and inefficient. Rather than intensified production, extensification of low productivity mixed farms, opportunistic use of wetland ‘patches’ and resource extraction (of wood for timber and fuel) were the main trends, as described for Marirangwe by Allison Shutt. Many Purchase Area land owners were ‘absentee farmers’, and according to officials, were not taking care of their properties. They accumulated, but not in ways that the planners hoped. The commentary on both production efficiency and environmental degradation, peaking with the 1942 Natural Resources Board Inquiry, was damning. These were not the envisaged modern, commercial farming areas. Instead they were second homes of often urban employed Africans, where farming was a side-line. A few relatives and often a lot of cattle from the reserves, and as a source of saving from urban wages, were deposited there, and homes were used during vacations rather than as a permanent base for a farming operation. Today, the ‘cell phone farmers’ of the A2 resettlements are cast in a similar light.

Again – as with the A2 farms today – there were exceptions, including Purchase Area farm owners in Mshagashe near Masvingo hiring labour contractors and engaging in destocking auctions, as Allison Shutt describes. Some farmers later became members of Intensive Conservation Areas, presenting themselves as guardians of the land and conservationists, like white farmers. But the general narrative at the time (very similar to today) was that allocating medium-scale farms to inexperienced, unqualified, often absent, urban-based Africans was not a good move, if agricultural modernisation and production was the aim, and attempts at eviction and control were common (see for example cases from Marirangwe).

After the Second World War, more families acquired farms. The earlier reticence changed to an enthusiasm for social and economic transformation, realised by access to a farm – just like white farmers (although of course not as big, or in such favourable areas). As described by Michael West, this was part of a pattern of (highly selective) “racial uplift” – some educated Africans were favoured by the colonial authorities and given such benefits. Terry Ranger’s fascinating biography of the Samkange family is a case in point, with the purchase of the Mzengezi farm a key moment in the family’s history. Gaining access to purchase area land was a critical aspect of shifting identities of an educated African middle class, straddling urban and rural areas.

As Allison Shutt puts it: “the Purchase Areas offered privacy, a measure of respect from the colonial government, and a symbolic separateness from African cultivators in the reserves and from lower-paid workers”. This was reinforced in the 1950s when, following the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951, freehold title was offered. Again in the discourse of the time (persisting today in all sorts of unhelpful ways), freehold was the ultimate form of ownership, linked to a certain ideology and pattern of accumulation, as Angela Cheater describes. This was the pinnacle of modernity, otherwise only available to whites; and something allowing independence and autonomy, not feasible in the reserves, or even in most urban settings.

From the mid-1950s, those who acquired farms a few decades before retired to their farms. This was a moment when more commercialisation took place. The areas were now occupied and land extensification and high stocking rates were no longer as feasible. Tobacco and cotton became favoured crops, linked to new commercial value chains. For the first time the freehold titles acquired more than symbolic benefit, and loans were offered against the title as collateral for the first time. Farms were more assertively demarcated, with fences put up to keep out the neighbours from the reserves. The state invested more attention to these areas, improving infrastructure, providing finance and offering technical support. Realising the threats of growing nationalism, perhaps especially among the educated African elite who had been initially attracted to the Purchase Areas, these became a focus for political and administrative attention, after years of neglect.

With title deeds came a period of land sales and fragmentation of farms, as plots were sold off. This provided important revenues for some, securing retirement on their smaller farms. Also, with increasing intensification of production, there came the need for labour. Those designated as ‘squatters’ were crucial. As Angela Cheater describes for Msengezi, these included a wide range of people, including extended family members, peasants from the reserves, migrant labourers and others. Subdivision of land also meant that relatives – usually sons – could be passed on land, and a new generation took ownership. Land rentals also increased, as demand for land – including from ‘squatters’ – grew. The growing population of people and continued land rental and subdivision in the Purchase Areas was however frowned on. These areas were not becoming medium-scale commercial farms, but just ‘like the reserves’, officials complained. Again with echoes of the discourse today around resettlement land, the push was for a modernised vision of agriculture dominated. However, despite the admonishments, the mid-late 1950s and early 1960s, saw a brief period of prosperity in the Purchase Areas. Land sales and rentals, some cash crop production, continued resource extraction, and plentiful cheap labour (from ‘squatters’), ensured farming generated decent returns for the now resident, retired owners of these farms.

By the mid-60s, and especially with the declaration of UDI, this changed again. Shifts in the political climate, intensifying during the liberation war, saw the decline in state support to these areas. They were often seen with suspicion by security forces and intelligence agents, as places of nationalist organising and dissent. With Independence, nothing much changed. The SSCFAs as they were now called were seen as an anomaly of the colonial era, and the state’s efforts were focused on the former reserves, now communal areas, where the majority of poor people lived. Apart from some resettlement the ‘commercial’ farm areas were large-scale and predominantly white-owned, at least until the major land reform of the 2000s.

As mentioned last week, there has been virtually no recent research and very limited policy commentary on the contemporary SSCFAs, but these areas offer some interesting insights into what happens to medium-scale farms, now over multiple generations. The impacts were less in terms of revolutionising African production – production was low and marketing challenging for most – but more in the political and ideological transformation that a particular type of land ownership offered to an emergent rural-urban middle class.

The A2 farms allocated following land reform in the 2000s share many similarities, both in terms of agricultural challenges, as well as their political salience, as discussed last week. They operate at similar scales, are occupied by a similar class of people, they are presented as ‘commercial’ farms, but in many cases accumulation occurs not through intensification but extensification and extraction, and, although on a much larger scale, and in more high potential, prominent areas, they offer the potential for a new class of ‘emergent’, medium-scale farmer, farming private (in the case of A2 farms, leasehold) land.

Next week, through a couple of case studies, I will discuss some of the patterns of change observed in former Purchase Area farms, and ask whether these provide glimpses of the future of A2 farms.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Terence Ranger, historian of Zimbabwe, dies

Over the weekend, we learned the sad news that Terence Ranger, the well-known historian of Zimbabwe, had died at his home in Oxford aged 85. For those of us who have worked in Zimbabwe for many years, his work has always been an inspiration. The first two books I bought on Zimbabwe were in 1985 – indeed they were the first two ever published by James Currey after he left Heinemann and established the new publishing house as the place to publish books on Africa. They were David Lan’s Guns and Rain: Guerillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe and Terry Ranger’s Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe. Both of course became classics, but Peasant Consciousness was especially significant for me as it told the story of peasant struggles against colonialism in Makoni district, relating very local histories to the wider story of liberation and guerilla war, and showing how the Zimbabwe experience was so different to Kenya’s.  These peasant struggles still had many resonances in Zimbabwe when I arrived to start my PhD work the following year (and indeed do today). Although certainly not an historian, I have always found histories important in understanding contemporary dynamics, and Terry’s writings were always clear and comprehensible for the non-specialist. His scholarship and deep commitment to Zimbabwe will be sorely missed.

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Here is a short overview of his life extracted from a Nehanda radio piece and the History Workshop Online website, where you can also find a transcript of a fascinating four-hour interview with Terry conducted by Diana Jeater:

Born in 1929 and educated at Highgate School in north London, and later with degrees from Oxford, he is perhaps best known internationally as the co-editor, with Eric Hobsbawm, of the 1983 text, The Invention of Tradition. However, most of his career was spent working on the history of Zimbabwe.

In 1957, following doctoral work at Oxford, Ranger went to Southern Rhodesia, to the University College of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland, to teach Early Modern and Late Mediaeval British and European history. As he describes in Writing Revolt, he arrived no radical, but soon became involved in the nationalist cause, and was an active campaigner against institutionalised racial discrimination. In January 1963, Ranger was deported from Rhodesia. He then went on to the University of Dar es Salaam in newly-independent Tanzania, to establish its History Department. He joined a group of radical scholars, and talk of a ‘Dar es Salaam school’ of African nationalist history. This was defined by a commitment to African agency in its historical analysis and to the production of ‘useable’ history for the newly independent nations of Africa.

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Airport Farewell at Deportation of Professor Terence Ranger: Left to right: T. O. Ranger, Shelagh, Joshua Nkomo, James Chikerema, Robert Mugabe, and John Reed (Picture by Wiley, David – Copyright African Studies Program)

From Tanzania, he went on Professorships at UCLA (African History, 1969-74), Manchester (Modern History, 1974-87) and Oxford (Rhodes Professor of Race Relations (1987-97). In 1980, Ranger founded the Britain Zimbabwe Society with Guy Clutton-Brock, of which he was president (2006-2014). During 1980-82, he was President of the African Studies Association of the UK (ASAUK). In retirement, Prof Ranger was made a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies.

On his retirement in 1997, he returned to Zimbabwe to bolster the postgraduate provision in the History Department at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. In this period he distanced himself from the nationalist regime, especially as the atrocities in Matabeleland were revealed. He also supported Zimbabweans seeking asylum in the UK during the 2000s. He always aligned with the victims of the state – whether Rhodesia, Zimbabwe or the UK.

Here is a list of just some of his many books. And beyond these there were many, many more articles, and even more outputs from numerous students of his from different parts of the world, but especially Zimbabwe.

  • Revolt in Southern Rhodesia, 1896-97. London: Heinemann (1967, 2nd ed 1979).
  • Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe: A Comparative Study. Oxford: James Currey (1985).
  • Soldiers in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War. Ed., with Ngwabi Bhebe. Oxford: James Currey (1995).
  • Are We Not Also Men? The Samkange Family and African Politics in Zimbabwe, 1920-64. Oxford: James Currey (1995).
  • Society in Zimbabwe’s Liberation War . Ed., with Ngwabi Bhebe. Oxford: James Currey (1996).
  • Voices From The Rocks: Nature, Culture and History in the Matopos Hills of Zimbabwe. Oxford: James Currey (1999).
  • Violence and Memory: One Hundred Years in the ‘Dark Forests’ of Matabeleland. With Jocelyn Alexander and JoAnn McGregor. Oxford: James Currey (2000).
  • Bulawayo Burning: The Social History of a Southern African City, 1893–1960. James Currey (2010)
  • Writing Revolt: An Engagement with African Nationalism, 1957-67. James Currey (2013).

And here is an obituary written by Joss Alexander and David Maxwell that has appeared since this blog was published: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/18/terrance-ranger-obituary

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