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Racial crimes committed during colonial era

By Zvenyika E. Mugari,

Historical records show that Chief Huchu, a descendant of Chief Chirimu-hanzu, together with his people, were the first people to settle in and around the area between the little towns of Chivhu and Mvuma. The name of their first Chief was Chivasa.

Oral accounts from those who were old enough to recall how things were in the early 1900s say this area was virgin land when their fathers first settled there.

There was no European settlement anywhere near this area. It was our land.

Mr Fidelis Musemburi is reported (in the book Civil War In Rhodesia, A Report from the Rhodesian Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace published in 1976) as saying: "Things changed when a certain Mr Frog came and said to my father, ‘I have come to tell you that this land on which you plough and keep your cattle has been bought by Willoughby’s company (Central Estates) and is now their land.’"

The obvious question the people asked was: From whom has the land been bought since it is our land?

But as white rule became entrenched, it became clear that Huchu and his people could only remain on the land provided they gave their labour to the European Company, the new owners of the land, in a quasi-slavery arrangement.

It was really a form of internal slavery (chibharo) where each head of a family together with wife and children earned food rations plus half a crown per month, out of which they could pay their taxes.

They remained on their original homeland for the next three to four decades working as the company’s vassals (varanda).

In the early 1950s, when the process of implementing the Land apportionment Act intensified, the Huchu people had to be moved just like other Africans who were unfortunate to find themselves in areas demarcated as European areas.

They had to be relocated in those areas, which had been marked as Native Reserves.

But because the company still needed their services they moved from kuMacha to Hunyani Reserve, about 20 km to the west of Mvuma town along the Mvuma- Gweru road.

Their status remained unclear as the company continued to demand their labour as before.

The people’s resistance to the continued slavery sparked conflict between the Huchu people and the Central Estates authorities.

This conflict, compounded with the enactment of the Land Tenure Act of 1969, resulted in more land being annexed by white settlers.

All land in natural regions 1 and 2 as well as most of the land falling in natural region 3 was declared European land.

Hunyani Reserve was thus "legally" lost to the Europeans.

Those who lived in this area — chiefs Huchu, Gobo and Ruya — were to be moved to new tribal trust lands.

The initial plan was to relocate all these three chiefs with their people in Silobela.

While his colleagues willingly complied, chief Stephen Jojo Huchu, with the support of his people, offered resistance to this forced eviction from their homeland.

He refused to be resettled in an area whose agricultural potential was inferior to the place they were leaving behind.

He only agreed to be relocated to Charama area in Gokwe after the white regime had threatened to use force.

Because Charama was a tsetse-infested zone, the Huchu people were not allowed to take any of their livestock with them.

"We were forced to sell all our goats, sheep and cattle to the white man.

"As for pigs, we had to slaughter as many as we could dry in that short space of time, leaving the rest to roam in the ruins," recalls Mbuya Mazvidzeni Makoni, of Makoni village, Chief Huchu.

"The white man had decided that he was not going to buy the pigs. We were allowed to carry chicken and dogs with us, only after serious bargaining with the white man.

"Unfortunately, the dogs did not last long in our new land. They all died of a very mysterious disease, which caused dog blindness.

"I suspect that was the same disease which killed my husband and many other men we came with in the early 1970s. People died in many numbers then," she said.

Surprisingly, in 1970, when the Huchu people were being forcibly evicted from Hunyani and when they were being forced to sell their cattle, all the civilised talk about "willing buyer willing seller" had not been invented.

Incidentally, it was in this year when the colonial regime changed its currency from the pound to the dollar .

"And it caused so much confusion among our people, the majority of whom were semi-numerate when our cattle were being auctioned in the new currency.

"We tended to think that the dollar was equivalent to the pound when in actual fact the value of the dollar was half that of the pound," said Tozivepi Matimbe, one of the few remaining old men who migrated from Hunyani in 1970.

"The whole auctioning process was not only unfair to us, it was downright fraudulent.

"There were no prices for calves. They were simply taken over free of charge by the buyer.

"I was not always as poor as you see me today. I owned a flock of 15 sheep, 11 goats and 7 head of cattle, but that is all history now.

"With the money I got after selling all these, I was only able to buy a bicycle and the balance did not last until the next rainy season."

Unfortunately again for the Huchu people, the language of journalism of that time had not yet evolved such damning epithets as "land grabbing, farm invasions, farm looting, forced evictions and so on".

The media of the time was mum over the forced mass evictions and expropriation of the black populations, who formerly lived in the Central Estates area, Rhodesdale area, Fort Rixon area, to name only a few.

The black populations involved then were much larger than the 3 000 odd white commercial farmers who must make way for the new farmers now.

Such racial injustices on a national scale as were perpetrated on the Huchu people surely should have merited international media attention and condemnation.

But it was not to be because it was not in the interest of their capitalist financiers.

The tragic story of the Huchu people was something which the mellow drums of the journalistic fraternity ought to have been drumming loudly about for all the world to know instead of the melodramatic fictions about mayhem on the farms, hapless women getting beheaded by party functionaries and general breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

The legacy of those racial crimes committed during the colonial chapter of Africa’s history is still with us today in the form of a social class of the black peasantry.

To put the record straight, it must be known that peasant agriculture itself was a creation of colonialism.

Both the Shona and the Ndebele people had established a vibrant agricultural economy by the advent of white colonial settlerism on the sub-continent.

They kept enough livestock and grew enough crops for self-sustenance as well as for trade.

Mandivamba Rukuni’s book Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Revolution (1994) gives a clear historical perspective to Zimbabwe’s land question and on how the dual system of commercial/peasant agriculture was a deliberate outcome of the racial settlement patterns of the colonial system.

The centrality of the land question explains why revolutionary songs such as "Tinodawo nyika zuva rayo rasvika" inspired many generations of black Zimbabweans to fight for the restoration of their land.

Ask any ordinary Zimbabwean what they think the liberation struggle was about and they will tell you that it was fought so that we could take back our land, not about democracy, rule of law or good governance.

"Hunyani remains a lost paradise to us, and the whites who forcibly evicted us should be held responsible for this poverty which we are in today," said Mbuya Madzungudza.

She was pounding the dried fruits of a thorn bush, which they recently discovered as a good substitute for washing soap powder, which has been priced beyond their reach.

"Given the choice, going back to Hunyani would be paradise restored for me, and I don’t doubt for most of my people," said the acting chief Mr Tadios Huchu.

His father, the then chief Regis Huchu, had succeeded the legendary chief Stephen Jojo Huchu who died soon after his release from prison for the crime of harbouring three armed insurgents in his area in the year 1975.

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