Tag Archives: traditional authority

Institutions, social relations and rural development in Zimbabwe

Social and political relations are central to land and agricultural production. Unlike in the resettlement areas, where new institutions and relations had to be built following land reform, those in the communal areas draw on longer traditions. Like in the resettlements, institutions are often hybrids, combining ‘traditional’ (such as chiefs and headmen) and ‘modern’ (such as village committees and councillors). In the communal areas, party officials and war veterans are less of a feature, although very often party structures have melded with other arrangements; something that is also happening in the resettlements twenty years on.

Informal institutions: the social fabric of rural life

These officially-recognised institutions may however not be the most important. In fact, churches were often referred to as the most important institution, providing support in various ways. Across our sites, the presence of evangelical churches is noticeable. In Mwenezi, the top two churches attended by households in our sample were the Zionist church and Joanne Masowe’s apostolic church, although two-thirds of households said they were not affiliated to any church. Only in Gutu were the Methodists (Gutu West) and the Catholics (Gutu North) ranked as the most important church, above the Zionist and Zaoga churches.

Outside Mwenezi, nearly 80% of households were linked to a church. The Catholics and Methodists have had long traditions of supporting education in the Gutu sites, which is evident in the engagement with schooling both of previous and current generations, including both men and women. Evangelical churches by contrast emphasise church-based solidarity, including giving and sharing funds raised for the church. Such churches do not frown on polygamy, and there are few progressive views on gender rights shown in most evangelical churches, with women taking on particular, subservient roles.

When asked about leadership positions of both senior men and women in our sample, it was links to churches – as pastors, deacons, preachers, as well as church secretaries, treasurers and so on – that were pointed to. Church leadership positions were the most significant among men for the approximately 15% of male household heads who identified themselves as leaders in some way. These roles came second to involvement in village committees, both traditional and modern, as well as burial societies in Gutu North.

For women, churches were important, and women often took on administrative roles. Indeed, for approximately 10% of women who were identified as having leadership positions, the role of secretary or treasurer of committees (for gardens, burials, churches, as well as a range of projects) was the most commonly named role.

These roles linked to projects of various sorts, some supported by churches, others by NGOs, are an important feature of communal area life, linking people outside the immediate kin network. This may result in support ranging from loaning of draft power, sharing of ideas or links to markets. Traditional group based activities, such as work parties (humwe) for tillage, weeding or other activities, persist in Mwenezi and Chivi in particular, and were identified as happening for 34% and 13% of households in 2016-17. They are less common in the Gutu sites (7% and 3%), where a more individualised culture has emerged.

Where is the state?

Links to the state and external projects are also an important feature in the communal areas. Despite the decline in state capacity between 52% and 53% of households had engaged with an extension worker in the previous year. Most of these were agricultural extension officers from Agritex, but also there were mentions of seeing state veterinarians too. Across our sites, between 13% and 26% of household heads had gained a ‘Master Farmer’ certificate (see earlier blog), and so had participated in a rigorous training course on agriculture. Some of these qualifications were gained years ago, but the continued presence of state actors in the communal areas is a feature of life. The Agritex extension worker, even if there is no fuel in his or her motorbike, is known.

In Mwenezi, around two-thirds of households were recipients of state handouts through the Presidential Scheme, mostly seed and fertiliser. This however was absent in the other sites in 2017, although of course state handouts increased in the run-up to the election the following year. Outside Mwenezi and Gutu North engagement in other projects was not a big feature, as NGOs working in the communal areas concentrate activities and miss out huge areas. In Mwenezi, project links were around a donor-supported irrigation project and a contracting scheme for sorghum led by the brewing firm, Delta.

Compared to the land reform resettlements, the communal areas are much more connected to state- and NGO-led development. There are projects, demonstrations, events, and the infrastructure of these areas, the inheritance of the 1980s in particular, including schools, clinics and government offices, demonstrates state presence, even if the buildings are decrepit and the staff poorly paid. In the resettlement areas, such investment has not happened since land reform, and the developmental state very often feels very distant. Instead, in the resettlements, much more present is the ruling part (ZANU-PF)y, alongside the war veterans who led the land invasions from 2000.

In the early days, the politics were intense, with ‘seven member committees’ installed to protect the land reform gains, mirroring structures from the liberation war. This has subsided since, as the administrative state has attempted to establish structures for development, and allowed ‘traditional’ authorities to claim control. But without state resources and personnel, and with no donor or NGO projects due to on-going ‘sanctions’ (or ‘restricted measures’ if you prefer), the dynamics are different, and tensions frequently arise between the different forms of authority, which since the imposition of the VIDCOs in the 1980s, has not been a feature of communal area life.

Institutions and agriculture: comparisons with the resettlement areas

How does all this affect land and agriculture? In the communal areas, well-established systems exist, involving both headmen and village committees, who allocate land, help resolve disputes and often assist with marketing, the delivery of state or NGO relief handouts and the negotiation projects with external actors. This system is evolving in the resettlements, but the creation of a sense of ‘community’ – essentially emerging from scratch – with established trusted relations at the centre, takes time. In the resettlements, more individual arrangements for supporting agriculture, notably around marketing, tend to emerge, reflecting the more individualised, entrepreneurial culture in the resettlement areas.

The difference in social and political relations – and associated institutions – has important gender implications. In the communal areas, women are widely involved across institutions, more usually in supporting roles, but nevertheless important ones. Women’s involvement in churches, including in leadership positions, is significant. Women are also central to projects and development activities in all of our communal area sites. This partly reflects the absence of men in the communal areas, who may be migrating for work, but also the increasing openness of what is still a highly patriarchal society. In the resettlements, while land reform offered opportunities for some women, notably those cast out of tight kin-based communal area settings because of divorce, accusations of witchcraft and so on, roles in most resettlement areas remain very circumscribed, and men, who are more present, take the lead.

Thinking about institutions, formal and informal, is central to rural development and building more sustainable livelihoods. Too often this dimension is forgotten in the rush to address technical and economic questions. But whether it’s land, production, market or service provision (the subject of the next blog), social relations are key.

This post is the seventh in a series of nine and was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland.

This field research was led by Felix Murimbarimba and Jacob Mahenehene. Data entry was undertaken by Tafadzwa Mavedzenge

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Reconfiguring rural authority after land reform

Grasian Mkodzongi’s excellent paper – ‘I am a paramount chief, this land belongs to my ancestors’: the reconfiguration of rural authority after Zimbabwe’s land reforms’ – recently won the Ruth First prize in the Review of African Political Economy.

The paper explores the reconfiguration of rural authority in the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme, particularly the way chiefs were able to deploy ancestral autochthony as a way of contesting state hegemony. The paper argues that “chiefs cannot simply be viewed as undemocratic remnants of colonial rule; instead, a nuanced understanding of their role in rural governance is required”.

Chiefs frequently get a bad press. Seen as hangovers from the past, and the colonial attempts at indirect rule, as foci for the imposition of patriarchal (invented) ‘tradition’, or lackeys of the ruling party, in the pay of the political elite, offered free houses, cars and other benefits in order to control the rural vote.

These narratives, Mkodzongi argues, are too simplistic. Building on the excellent earlier work by Joseph Mujere, and long-standing research on chiefs and land recently by Jocelyn Alexander, Joost Fontein and many others, and going further back to the classic colonial era reflections by J.F. Holleman and A.K.H Weinrich, this paper tries to pick apart the complex roles chiefs have in land control.

Empowered by the Traditional Leaders Act, which once again gave power to chiefs, reducing the role of civil administration of rural local government and village development committees, following land reform, “chiefs have instrumentalised ancestral autochthony as way of claiming land”.

Of course ancestral claims are highly contested, especially on land that had only been occupied by white farmers for many years. As we discussed in our 2010 book, many disputes arose as contests over chiefly territory emerged. This is equally the case in the Mhondoro Ngezi area discussed in the paper, where three chiefs compete, with contests over who is paramount, where. “The question of who owns the newly resettled territories depends on who you are talking to and their place of origin before the land reform”, the paper explains.

Chiefs gained further power through the ‘indigenisation’ programme, whereby companies were required to have 51 percent local ownership. As the paper shows in Mhondoro Ngezi district “chiefs have become powerful political figures responsible for multimillion-dollar Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) created under the indigenisation programme”, linked to the Zimbabwe Platinum mining company.

Chiefs have argued that “mining interferes with makuva emhondoro (graves of royal ancestors) and can cause misfortunes such as accidents (even at mines) and droughts. Thus, the chiefs have demanded that rituals to appease such mhondoro should be done before mining starts. While these quasi-official rituals are embedded in local custom, chiefs have instrumentalised them to their benefit. These rituals are often contested among the chiefs within a locality, who compete to prove that they are the ‘genuine autochthon’ with a legitimate claim over the land endowed with minerals.”

Asserting control over an area is not straightforward. Land was acquired during land reform through a number of routes, but the relationship was largely with the party state, not via chiefs. The paper explains: “In order to entrench and legitimise their authority, chiefs should first win the allegiance of their new subjects with whom most lack kinship. Many of these land beneficiaries came from areas further away”.

The new resettlements therefore present very different challenges to the communal areas. However, over time, as chiefs gained control, their power to offer resources, including land, increased, and a shift in land governance occurred, away from the land committees, base commanders and committees of seven of the land invasion era to incorporating ‘traditional’ leaders in positions of authority. Links to the CSOT arrangement was key in shifting power to the chiefs in the Ngezi area it seems.

In this area, access to ‘corporate social responsibility’ programmes and the ability to deploy these in favour of some areas and people meant that “sometimes chiefs are forced to challenge state hegemony over the countryside in order to protect the economic interests of their subject communities”. This upsets the argument of Mamdani and others around the way citizens and subjects are constructed through indirect rule, suggesting a new configuration of ‘traditional’ and state power.

The paper concludes: “chiefs regained their prestige and influence in rural politics, they play a difficult balancing act of protecting the interests of their subject communities against predatory political elites while at the same time supporting state projects that might be unpopular locally. The conflict between the chiefs and the state over the indigenisation of Zimplats shows that the relationship between the two is dynamic and influenced by local politics. The trajectory of customary authority captured by Mamdani, which depicts the chief as an enforcer of tradition with his clenched fist in post-colonial Africa is difficult to apply to this local context”.

While this is one case, it offers a nuanced account of the complexities of local authority and rule, with lines of power and control being less set than sometimes thought. Access to land and resources is continuously contested, as the governance of land following land reform is reimagined. Such cases add to the variegated understanding of post-land reform politics, suggesting a more sophisticated and locally-responsive approach to building new forms of authority and governance in rural areas than sometimes suggested.

This is the fourth in a series of short reviews of new work on agriculture and land in Zimbabwe. Nearly all of these studies are by Zimbabwean researchers, reflecting the growing research capacity and ability to comment on important issues of policy in the post-Mugabe era. If there are other papers or books that you think should be included, please let me know!

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

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