Academic journal article African Nebula

Local Responses to Colonial Evictions, Conservation and Commodity Policies among Shangwe Communities in Gokwe, Northwestern Zimbabwe, 1963-1980

Academic journal article African Nebula

Local Responses to Colonial Evictions, Conservation and Commodity Policies among Shangwe Communities in Gokwe, Northwestern Zimbabwe, 1963-1980

Article excerpt

Introduction

The 1950s and 1960s were a momentous era of forced change for Shangwe (1) communities of Mbumbuze, Gokwe. Colonial agrarian and forestry policies combined to deliver a vicious blow on Shangwe livelihoods. The first major blow was delivered by state-induced migration of Madheruka (2) farmers from Rhodesdale (3) in 1953 and the consequent introduction of commercial agriculture in Gokwe. The migrant group was largely composed of Shonaspeaking people, the majority of whom had emigrated from their traditional homes in districts such as Gutu, Mwenezi, Chirumhanzi and Bikita to Rhodesdale in search of better agricultural land and seasonal employment on white farms. (4) The migrants were termed "Madheruka" or "MaRhodesdale" by Shangwe people, the first name depicting their sudden and undesired relocation in government-provided lorries and the second identifying the migrants by the name of the place from where they had come, Rhodesdale Estate. (5) The second blow was eviction of the Shangwe from their forest homeland, Mafungautsi forest.

Prior to 1953 Gokwe had largely been known as an isolated region, infested with malaria, tsetse flies and wild animals. (6) Local inhabitants of the area, the Shangwe, had only had limited contact with the outside world (7) with the result that the majority of people in Mbumbuze had not yet been exposed to European clothes, schools, churches and modern farming methods. Because of this, the Shangwe were in turn labeled by colonial officials and by Madheruka migrants as "backward", "uncivilized" and "resistant to change", among other negative tags. (8) Unlike the migrants, the Shangwe were a forest community and not agriculturalists at any significant scale. The immigrants, on the other hand, were large-scale farmers who had gained a lot of farming experience from their contact with the white agricultural sector as seasonal farm labourers and neighbours settled on the margins of white farms. (9) Madheruka had also acquired a lot of agricultural knowledge from government-provided conservation, extension and master-farmer programmes designed to make African agriculture more productive and environmentally sustainable on small pieces of land (in a context characterized by deliberately engineered land shortages among the African population). (10) Making the two groups, with different economic organization, live in the same habitat set the stage for conflict between them, particularly over land. Madheruka agricultural activities negated the very core of Shangwe livelihood. The Shangwe lived on the forest, while for Madheruka agricultural activities to take place the forest had to be cleared. Clearing the forest did not only provide farmland, but it kept vermin such as baboons, jackals and hyenas away from their fields and domestic animals. (11) This was the first frontier of conflict.

The second blow--eviction from the forest--was particularly severe for Shangwe communities. This was done on the basis of the Forest Act of 1948. The legislation provided for the declaration of state-protected forests in the colony to preserve indigenous forests and their bio-diversity. (12) The Forest Act provided for the creation of a government regulatory organ, the Rhodesia Forestry Commission (FC), to preside over management of forests in the colony. Mafungautsi forest was gazetted in 1954. (13) Nine years later, the Shangwe were forcibly relocated to Zanda plateau and areas on the margins of the 101 000 hectare forest, on the right side of Bulawayo road, such as Mafa, Matashu and Maruta villages while other Shangwe families migrated to far-off places such as Kana, Nemangwe, Chireya and Nembudziya. (14) The eviction deprived the Shangwe of their livelihood. The last straw for Shangwe economic independence was the introduction of cotton in 1962. Cotton production would represent a major departure from their traditional way of life. The State thought the eviction would usher the Shangwe into the vagaries of capitalist farming. …

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