Inside the Land Occupations in Bindura District, Zimbabwe

by Kirk Helliker and Sandra Bhatasara

Abstract

Zimbabwe witnessed nationwide occupations of white commercial farms and other agricultural landholdings from the early months of 2000. At the helm of these land occupations were ex-guerrilla fighters (or war veterans) who were aggrieved by the slow pace of land reform since independence in 1980. Based on numerous case studies, significant literature exists about the Zimbabwean state’s fast track land reform which soon followed the occupations, including its effects on agrarian restructuring, agricultural production, and on-farm livelihoods. However, focused studies of the actual occupations are rare, with scholarly commentary on the character of the occupations often not based on solid empirical research. In this context, the dominant scholarly (and popular) view is that the land occupations were the brainchild of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party. While political restructuring regularly has a top-down thrust to it, this prevailing view treats the occupations and occupiers instrumentally, as mere objects manipulated by powerful groups, a criticism raised by a small minority of Zimbabwean scholars. By way of an autonomist commoning perspective, we seek to restore the presence of occupiers, including ordinary men and women, onto the historical stage through a case study of occupations in Bindura District in Mashonaland Central Province. By looking inside these occupations, we conclude that everyday concerns, challenges, and agency, rooted in historical and contemporary experiences, intersected with a national project around land and gelled into diverse localised mobilisation in occupying farms. At the same time, we conclude that to consider the occupations as a commoning movement is problematic.

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Kirk Helliker is an associate professor, Department of Sociology, and Director of the Unit of Zimbabwean Studies at Rhodes University. His research interests are land reform, civil society, and political transformation with specific reference to Zimbabwe, and theoretical interests in autonomist Marxism and de-colonial theory. He is co-editor of The Promise of Land: Undoing a Century of Dispossession in South Africa (2013) and two other books.

Sandra Bhatasara is a senior lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Zimbabwe, and writes on agrarian issues, rural and environmental sociology, and women’s studies. Recent publications include a chapter “Victims, victors, and saviours: the politics of aid and women’s rights in Zimbabwe”(2016), “The Party-State in the Land Occupations of Zimbabwe: The Case of Shamva District” (Journal of Asian and African Studies, 2016) and “Beyond Gender: Interrogating Women’s Experiences in FTLRP in Zimbabwe” (Africa Review, 2017).