Donald Moore. Suffering for Territory: Race, Place and Power in Zimbabwe. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. 424 pp. $23.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8223-3570-2.
Reviewed by Elaine Windrich (Stanford University)
Published on H-SAfrica (October, 2006)
The Struggle for Land in Zimbabwe
The author of this book could hardly have chosen a better place for a study of land, race, and power in Zimbabwe. For Kaerezi, home of the Tangwena people in the Nyanga District in the Eastern Highlands bordering Mozambique, has long been a disputed territory. From the 1960s it was a site of land evictions and black resistance, culminating in the "Second Chimurenga" (the war of liberation from white minority rule), which was launched from that area. It will also be remembered for its multi-racial initiatives, pioneered by Guy and Molly Clutton-Brocks at St Faith's Mission (and later at Cold Comfort Farm), and by the Nyafaru farm cooperative, a project founded on white-designated land and managed by African nationalists such as Didymus Mutasa (now Minister of Land and Security) and Moven Mahachi. Although these endeavors were ruthlessly suppressed by the white settler regime, the resistance of Chief Rekayi Tangwena and his people became a cause of international concern, with posters and t-shirts depicting the heroic chief (see photo p. xii) and letters, articles, and pamphlets being produced and widely circulated by anti-apartheid organizations. The Tangwena people also assured their place in Zimbabwe's history by helping Robert Mugabe to escape through their territory to Mozambique, where they too went into exile to continue the struggle after their homes and livelihoods had been destroyed by the Rhodesian authorities.
But the irony of this history (and the theme of this book) is that after these people had their land restored by Mugabe's ZANU-PF government, they found themselves once more in opposition, not to their former white oppressors but to their black allies in the war of liberation. While much of this history is included in Moore's book, it serves mainly as a background for his analysis of land policy after independence. As he explains in the introduction, this study "highlights how, in the 1990s, Kaerezians invoked memories of suffering for territory during colonial rule to stake claims to postcolonial land rights" (p. 2).
When the author began his field work in 1990, tension was already high as a result of the Mugabe government's imposition of a policy of "villagization" which sought to resettle the people living in Tangwena territory, including those who had returned from exile in Mozambique, along the "lines" designated by the authorities. Their leader, Rekayi Tangwena, had been restored as chief, appointed a senator in Zimbabwe's parliament and, after his death in 1984, given a televised state funeral at Heroes Acre. But even after death, the chief became a source of controversy because his successor ("a lineage mate of Rekayi") was appointed by state officials in defiance of popular objections. However, within five years even he had become an opponent of the government's "lines of spatial discipline," thereby supporting the Tangwena case for "the pragmatic agrarian benefits of entangled fields and homesteads" (p. 103).
While Kaerezi differed from other resettlement schemes in that the resettled were indigenous to the area and had resisted the evictions imposed by white minority rule, it was also unique in being located in Zimbabwe's most preferred agro-ecological zone, where it shared a border with Nyanga National Park, a major international tourist attraction. Nevertheless, it also shared many of the same disabilities as its less fortunate counterparts, such as the "bureaucratic nightmares" arising from the fact that the resettlement schemes involved "a staggering array of actors, ministries and departments" (p. 75). These included the Ministry of Lands, the Agricultural and Technical Extension (AGRITEXT) within the Ministry of Agriculture, the Department of Rural Development within the Ministry of Local Government, and even the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management, for schemes bordering national parks, as Kaerezi's did. However, this administrative oversight was matched by political neglect, as the author reveals, when "the rarely seen face of the area's MP" (the junior finance minister conveyed in a "golden Mercedes Benz") appeared for a meeting to settle the dispute over the government resettlement officer (p. 300). But the constituency was not neglected by the government's intelligence agents (the Central Intelligence Organisation, or CIO), who were deployed there to root out any opposition to the ruling party's policies. As one of the targets of this "official surveillance," the author was obliged to curtail his observance of "grounded Kaerezi politics" during his return visit in 1996, which included an appeal to human rights NGOs concerning the intimidation of the local inhabitants by ZANU-PF supporters at the district center (p. 320).
Although the fieldwork for this book was concluded in 1996, a brief epilogue mentions some of the momentous events affecting land tenure after that date. Foremost of these was the Land Acquisition Act of 2000, which provided legal authority for the occupation of white-owned farms by a new generation of "squatters"--the so-called war veterans and the party youth militia supporting them. However, this legislation was primarily used for party political purposes: to reward Mugabe's ZANU-PF cronies and to punish their rivals in the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which nearly won the 2000 parliamentary election. One example cited here concerns a "savvy colonel" (a former "freedom fighter") who intimidated the locals while "circumventing the usual resettlement application process to establish a commercial farm on state-owned land" (p. 318). Another example was Didymus Mutasa (Clutton-Brock's "man of integrity"), who became implicated in a "shady deal" that leased land at Nyafaru to an outside timber concession, and this while serving as "the anti-corruption minister" (p. 311). As for punishing the MDC, the prime example was the confiscation of the 7,000-acre Chimanimani estate owned by the popular white MP, Roy Bennett, whose farm workers and party supporters were beaten, tortured, evicted, and even murdered by ZANU-PF agents before he was falsely imprisoned and then forced to flee the country.
This is a remarkable book in many ways. For the author not only observed "the natives," as anthropologists are wont to do, he actually joined them. As a result, he provides a vivid picture of life in a resettlement area, beginning with the building of his own hut in the village and going on to the planting of trees and the mediation of local land disputes. Also unusual is the mixture of literary flourishes and professional jargon, with the latter providing the chapter titles and much of the commentary. As an example of the "literary inventiveness" (noted by a reviewer on the back cover), the book opens with the sentence "A spectre is haunting Zimbabwe--the spectre of racialized dispossession" (p. ix). And many of the later chapters begin in a similarly dramatic style: for example, "I left Nyamutsapa one 1992 dawn, my strides lightening to sunrise's warming of the mountain chill as I walked toward Headman Nyakurita's territory near the Mozambique border" (p. 250). But these flourishes appear under chapter titles such as "Selective Sovereignties" and "The Traction of Rights and Rule" and along with commentaries such as the following: "Ethnographic representation thus emerged across multiple moments and sites through recursive relations among my practices, those of Kaerezians, and analytics--producing sediments and traces contingently assembled in text" (p. 4). Consequently, this is not an easy book to read, but it is well worth the effort because it provides a comprehensive account of land resettlement in Zimbabwe and of the people living in one of the country's most important sites of struggle for territory. In addition, to quote one of the anthropologists cited by the publisher, this is a work of "enormous erudition and keen observational insight," apparently influenced by the works of Michel Foucault, Stuart Hall, and Antonio Gramsci, twenty-eight of which are cited in the references.
. Guy and Molly Clutton-Brock, Cold Comfort Confronted (London: Mowbray, 1972), 170.
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Elaine Windrich. Review of Moore, Donald, Suffering for Territory: Race, Place and Power in Zimbabwe.
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