Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The real role of war veterans in Zimbabwe’s land occupations

Title: ‘War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Land Occupations: Complexities of a Liberation Movement In an African Post Colonial Settler Society’
Author: Wilbert Zvakanyorwa Sadomba
Publisher:Wageningen Universiteit, Vita, 2008.
Isbn: 9789085049173
218 pages
Reviewer: Memory Chirere

At the core of this well researched and footnoted narrative is the argument that the veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970’s war of independence were and are still the major drivers of the land movement in Zimbabwe and that History cut them a role from which they could not renege. The author, Wilfred Zvakanyorwa Sadomba is himself a veteran of the Second Chimurenga.

And the conclusion is: All the major forces in the Zimbabwean milieu in the past decade; the nationalists, those in power since 1980, the white farmers and ironically including the drivers of opposition politics have to contend with the war veterans and the land hungry of Zimbabwe or risk being swept aside. Therefore, this is a book about the history of the role of liberation war combatants in Zimbabwe much as it is about their driving role in the land reform principally between 1997 and 2000.

The question that drives this very detailed book is: Were the land occupations in Zimbabwe driven and sustained by land hunger dating back from colonialism or by the spoiling operations linked to the political survival tactics of those in power since 1980?

This question, as seen from the works of various writers on land in Zimbabwe; Sam Moyo, T.O. Ranger, A. Davidson, Raftopolous, Feltoe, Moore and others, creates a decisive watershed.

Working with real dates and statistical evidence, Sadomba argues that the phenomena of land occupations in Zimbabwe is as old as colonialism, admitting that the land issue changed form and intensity during the colonial period but it remained the central focus for the nationalist movement and later fuelled the guerrilla war itself.

Contrary to notions that land occupations and land reform have always been blest by and directed by those in power, Sadomba argues that the issue of land had been put on low key at independence in 1980, because the Lancaster agreement tended to encourage a soft approach on the issue. As a result of such circumstances, there developed a silent and sometimes unconscious alliance between black nationalists, the rising bourgeoisie and the white settler farmers. Sadomba thinks that this resulted in a rift within the liberation movement itself and the sidelined war veterans catapulted radical land reclamation from below, targeting the elite, settler farmers and the state itself.

He goes on to show evidence that when the veterans encouraged early land occupations in places like Goromonzi and Svosve around 1997/98 the government was not necessarily amused. Various Ministers of government were respectively dispatched to tell the land hungry to vacate the white farms that they had occupied. In some cases, the government had to unleash the security forces. In 1996 the war veterans even forced the government to designate 1 471 farms for compulsory acquisition by November 1997. This was heavily resisted by the white farmers through the courts. In 1997 the war veterans openly confronted President Mugabe himself, loudly demanding welfare benefits and a return to the liberation agenda.

Sadomba further argues that it is a fact that the nationalist establishment in Zimbabwe only unequivocally sided with the veterans when the referendum to decide on a new constitution got a ‘No’ vote in year 2000.Just after this result, war veterans occupied a white owned farm in Masvingo. They claimed that the referendum, an event in which the country’s white population had participated more actively that any other election since independence, was in essence an organised ‘No’ vote against the land clause included in the draft constitution.

The clause stated that the land for resettlement would be taken compulsorily and only land improvements would be compensated. Compensation would have to be paid by the British government as the power behind the colonial machinery that had originally appropriated land from the Africans of Zimbabwe.

This book shows how the veterans engineered the movement which attracted peasants, urban workers, professionals, farm workers, political activists, security forces and others. They are moments when war veterans were loaned from where they were highly concentrated like Guruve and Mount Drawin to help in areas of less concentration like Nyabira, Mazowe and Matepatepa.

In this book, there are sections on various methods of occupying a farm, sections on how white farmers variably reacted to the occupation of ‘their’ farms, sections on the role of chiefs and spirit mediums, sections on how information was relayed and the resultant changes in the farming systems as a result of occupations.

Going through this work, you feel that indeed there are no permanent friends but permanent interests. This book is a must for all those who wish to get detailed insights into the complexity of relations between and among major players in the land reform of Zimbabwe.

Wilfred Sadomba himself was on the ground during the land occupations. Anyone will quickly notice that this book is very professionally written from the point of view of a participant observer. This is a reminder to all veterans of the liberation war of Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa that it is important to document their experiences, not only on the war but also the aftermaths. The recent farm occupations in Zimbabwe had never been so meticulously described in writing by a participant observer and whether one agrees or not with Sadomba, this is clearly a first.

1 comment:

  1. I shall most certainly want to read this incisively honest and insightful book. For me the lesson is that Zimbabweans must start being much more assertive about their experiences and their interests. It never ceases to amaze me how many of us will unashamedly dignify white land grabs as of 1890 following and dutifully try to trash indigenous people's necessary land reclamation. The moment we use the word 'occupations' we legitimize what was essentially a theft under the guise of conquest.