Harare (New Ziana) – When Zimbabweans revolted against white minority colonial rule in both the First and Second Chimurenga, the main grievance was the return of the land the ‘foreigners’ had stolen.
On arrival in the country in the 1890s, the white colonialists grabbed the most fertile and agriculturally productive lands, and drove the local inhabitants to marginal areas with not only infertile soils, but poor rains as well.
Over time, sustenance for the indigenous people in the new marginal areas became a challenge, made worse by their growing population.
As if this was not bad enough, the colonialists were at it yet again – raiding the livestock, mainly cattle, of the local people to capitalise their newly established big farming enterprises, later known as commercial farms.
The twin loss of productive land and livestock left the indigenous people vulnerable to economic pressure and exploitation at the hands of the colonial rulers.
Shorn of sustenance from the land and livestock, the locals were left with no option but agree to be drafted by the colonial masters as cheap labour in the commercial farms and mines that were springing up in the country.
Just as the initial colonial land seizures, the labour conditions on the farms and mines were brutally sub-human, in part intended as a tool of subjugation.
This, coupled with the earlier dispossession of the land and livestock, sowed the seeds of the Chimurenga rebellion and resistance.
So fierce was the resistance against the forced labour that the colonial authorities were compelled to ‘import’ labour from far-flung places like Malawi, then Nyasaland.
This explains why most farm and mine workers in the country are descendants of people who came from Malawi and other parts of the then Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which included what is now Zambia.
In spite of the labour relief for the locals – if it can be called that – through the ‘import’ of workers, the resistance against colonial rule still grew around restoration of land ownership, keeping the minority white authorities on the edge all the time.
The initial spontaneous resistance by Mbuya Nehanda and King Lobengula in the First Chimurenga mutated into the well organised armed liberation struggle by ZANU and ZAPU in the 1960s – as always over land dispossession.
This culminated in the surrender of white colonial rulers and independence in 1980, paving the way for the restoration of land ownership back to blacks in fulfillment of the wishes of all the stages of the Chimurenga resistance.
From 2 000 onwards, the government ‘recovered’ the stolen land and ‘restored’ it to more than 400 000 landless blacks under its Land Reform Programme, in what is viewed as the biggest economic empowerment scheme ever anywhere in the world.
The exercise ‘mainstreamed’ hundreds of thousands of previously marginalised people into the economy, with unprecedented social and economic benefits to the individual beneficiaries and the country as a whole.
As an example of the individual economic transformation, the resettled black farmers are now in full command of the US$1 billion tobacco industry as the main producers, a sector they were totally excluded from before the land reform exercise.
Tobacco is the country’s biggest single export.
The resettled farmers are also the main producers of most other vital crops, including the staple maize food.
As the country gears up to celebrate 40 years of independence, contrary to assertions that land reform was an election gimmick by the government, it has always been a grievance of the majority blacks from the 1890s.
Its return, therefore, undoubtedly ranks as the crowning achievement of both the liberation struggle and post-independence.
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