Ancestors and the images of land tenure

In Ancestors Chenjerai Hove dramatizes that exercise casually but illuminating very typical images of land use and governance of land in Rhodesia. In fact it would not be possible for any reader to appreciate the issues in Ancestors fully without some general knowledge of the Rhodesian land tenure system. Summary details from the London based New African magazine of June 2000 show that the massive land Tenure Act of 1930 changed the face of land ownership in Rhodesia and continued in series into the 1960’s. The Act and its series excluded Africans from about half of the country’s land surface area which made up the best farming lands. This despite the fact that Africans made 95 percent of the Rhodesian population. It divided land as follows: Native Reserves (29 million acres), Native Purchase Areas (8million acres), European areas (49 million acres) and Forests (3 million acres), Unassigned Areas (6 million Acres). Then the black population was 1.1 million against the whites’ 50 000. In his novels and even in his poetry in Up In Arms and Red Hills of Home, Chenjerai Hove is keen on portraying how skewed the Rhodesian land tenure was. The Native areas, like the one Mucha’s family finds itself in initially, tended to be overcrowded and subsequently the land lost its little fertility, tress, pastures and rivers. The Muramba village in Bones is like Mucha’s village. It is described as “not even good enough for donkeys to live in” and a zone where “people and dogs eat from one plate.” In contrast the European areas were in very fertile territories that received heavy rains and were more suitable to all types of commercial farming activities. But in Ancestors Hove is concerned specifically with the historic ‘promotion’ of a few ‘elitist’ Africans from the Native Areas to the Native Purchase Areas. The creation of the Native Purchase Areas, as hove dramatizes here was a very cunning move by the colonial masters. Some research by Ranger and Cheater are also elaborate on the forces that led to the creation of the Native purchase Areas. At some point within the Native Areas emerged some African farmers who either tilled large acres of land or demonstrated a high level of entrepreneurship in the manner in which they farmed. As a result this elite group of African farmers were perceived as a danger to the colonial system because they would soon become frustrated by the limited farming space and poor quality of land in the Native areas. They would complicate the land question. As a result the Native Purchase areas were created for such African farmers. The purchase areas were made spacious enough for individual farmers and their families but not large enough to allow the African farmers to compete with white farmers. The process would generally involve removing the entrepreneurial farmers from the Native Areas, train them to become ‘Master Farmers’ and exclude them from both the colonial and the Native areas societies as a way of isolating them. In Ancestors Mucha’s father is one such farmer who is ‘promoted’ into the isolation of such areas. He feels excited by his new land and happily removed from his poor folks in the Native area: “In these moments he forgets about you all, about everything, about the graves of his ancestors abandoned in far away lands. He is alone without the interference of the dead and the living . . . ” Sometimes these farmers made a good buffer zone between the European Areas and the Native areas. Rabger and Cheater cite Marirangwe area, southwest of Salisbury as one of the earliest Native Purchase areas in Rhodesia. The Africans still refer to them as Matenganyika (bought lands) maybe because they were offered on rent -to-buy conditions. Before ‘promoting’ Mucha’s father to the Native Purchase Area, the Land Development Officer, a white man, first entices him towards the idea of growing cash crops and engaging in commercial farming. He says to Mucha’s father: “You must not grow crops just to feed the belly. You must feed the belly of the purse too, the purse.” Eventually he is transferred to the newly created Native purchase area of Gotami. Ironically Gotami’s original people are first pushed off by the colonial masters “beyond those smoke-blue hills in the distance” in order to make space for the new class of black farmers. Ownership or loss of land and space is an important issue in Ancestors as in all other novels by Chenjerai Hove. Evident is the colonial forces that take or give land and space. The removal of the original Gotami’s people is well dramatized in this novel: “It is sad how Gotami’s people were removed from these lands. One day the white man came to the chief. He drove his Land-Rover through the thick, dark forest. He knew what he wanted. He came to Gotami and told him: ‘This land no longer belongs to you. By next week, when the moon shines, your people and you must move . . .'” In the Native areas Mucha’s father grows to dislike the poor soils. He becomes sleepless. When he moves across his fields, “he steps on the soil he has grown to love for many years and now feels detached from it . . . he now despises it like an unwanted child . . . He fingers it . . . Pitiful sand. Sand. Sand. An ocean of sand without end . . .” The prospects of better land are not lost to the chief and the villagers in the Native areas. When Mucha’s father receives the Master Farmer certificate and is promoted to the Native Purchase area his chief whispers into his ear enviously: “You are a nestling that has grown its feathers . . . If you do not fly, it is your own fault . . .” In this novel, good land represents life and abundance. When Mucha’s family settles in Gotami, their fortunes are very clear: “When your mothers plant seeds in Gotami’s soil, the fields are green before you know it. It is like a miracle . . .” Mucha’s father becomes stupefied, too: “Your father stands on the edge of the field, on a hot moist day, listening to the voices of the maize plants talking . . . alone he walks the fields talking to the soil . . . An outburst of joy overpowers him like a man in a trance . . .”

April 2006
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