Edwin Mwase

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Some chose to call them disparaging names such as ‘land invaders’, ‘looters’ and even squatters; but for Caston Muzavazi, this was a form of vigilante justice.

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The land reform, initiated in 2000 by Svosve villagers, has seen many success stories, especially in tobacco, which used to be a preserve of the whites

The land reform, initiated in 2000 by Svosve villagers, has seen many success stories, especially in tobacco, which used to be a preserve of the whites

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Muzavazi was among the group that pioneered the land re-occupation process in early 2000 in the Svosve communal areas of the Mashonaland East Province, a process which eventually led to the official land re-distribution exercise.

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Muzavazi and his fellow colleagues now look back to the defining Sunday afternoon with nostalgia.

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“So far so good,” he reckons.

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“At this advanced age, I feel more than satisfied that at last, most black families can now sustain themselves economically through agriculture.”

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Watching the April mid-summer sun setting as we sat on the veranda of his modest six-roomed brick and mortar house, which is a 10-minute walk from Dhirihori shopping centre, Muzavazi takes The Sunday Mail Extra crew back to the events of that day in 2000.

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He prefers to call it a “fine Sunday afternoon”, which he still insists corrected a then 110-year-old racially skewed agricultural land ownership structure where the minority whites constituting less than one percent of the entire population occupied 45 percent of the prime agricultural land.

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“It did not only define but also corrected the history of the country.

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“The 12 of us converged at Dhirihori Primary School, we were led by the late Chief Svosve — Enock Zenda. We decided to embark on what we termed as ‘silent violence’ which we thought would convince the white man to listen to the voice of reason,” he explained.

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“Violence was never part of our itinerary, what we simply called for was for the white men who owned vast farmland then to realise the need to co-habit or at least accommodate the landless Svosve villagers who were driven off their productive land by white settlers back in the late 19th century,” he explained.

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He said it became a matter of principle, on whether to take the bull by its horns or to wallow in poverty for eternity.

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The former prevailed.

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But a bit of background will assist in understanding what led the Svosve people to embark on such a radical initiative — when political independence had been achieved 20 years earlier.

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At the attainment of political independence in 1980, a handful of whites owned almost half of prime agricultural land.

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Then came the post-independence era. Government, then guided by the Lancaster House Agreement, embarked on a willing-buyer, willing-seller land expropriation programme.

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This programme did not yield much as the whites were not willing to let go vast tracts of land for the resettlement exercise. Only a few tracts of land were realised during this exercise.

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In the meantime, the landless black majority were becoming increasingly agitated.

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By 1990, Government had acquired only 19,77 million acres of the targeted 8 million hectares and only 71 000 families out of the targeted 162 000 families had been resettled.

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To add insult to injury, the Labour government of Britain under Mr Tony Blair, reneged on its initial pledge to fund the land resettlement exercise.

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On observing the snail’s pace that the exercise was taking, pressure reached boiling point and the Svosve people decided to take the initiative.

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This was about the same time a similar prime land re-occupation exercise was taking place elsewhere in the Nyamandlovu area of Matabeleland North.

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“That is when we decided that enough was enough, if the white farmers wouldn’t relent to our resolve to co-habit or at least let go of some of the land on the vast tracts they possessed, then we would make them see the light through our silent violence resolve,” added former Sub Chief Svosve Lovemore Zenda.

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He said the first white farmer they approached, Ancus Kenbell of Daskop Farm, thought they had inhaled some weird stuff and bluntly told them to go to hell.

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“But we stayed firm, never interfered with farming activities, never harmed the property at the farm, but just kept laying vigil on the gates, singing and beating our drums in the hope that the white man would finally see the light,” he said.

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The former Sub Chief said Ancus Kenbell eventually did see the light and left.

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Chipesa farm (then owned by Ian Kay, former Marondera Central legislator) was the next target and then Home Park Farm owned by John Fabes.

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“There was some resistance from a handful of white farmers and also on our side — malcontents bent on looting and plundering joined our midst resulting in confrontational incidences.”

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As a result, Government sent emissaries to try and rationalise the situation.

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The late Vice-President Simon Muzenda urged them to patiently wait for due Government processes but this would not change their tenacity to reach out to what they firmly believed was their heritage.

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“With no disrespect to authority, we frankly told Vice-President Muzenda on our desire to at least have somewhere, we could call ours,” he said.

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He said the then Minister of Lands, the late Kumbirai Kangai, also visited them and got the same responses.

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Like a veld fire, the “fine Sunday afternoon” resolve spread to other parts of the country and the Government soon decided to embark on the land reform exercise.

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This programme resulted in the resettlement of over 300 000 black families on over 4 500 farms that were previously owned by a handful of white farmers.

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The farms translate to more than 7,6 million hectares of prime agricultural land and about 20 percent of the total land area of the country.

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Newly installed Chief Svosve — Muziwa Sakirai — said there was need for the Government to provide maximum support to the agriculture sector so that the newly resettled farmers realise their full potential.

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“The authorities should double their efforts in providing support in the form of capital and implements. The sector needs to realise the previously recorded levels of success when monetary institutions were fully committed to the success of agriculture in the country,” he said.

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Chief Svosve said the land reform exercise was about addressing previous land imbalances and eradicating hunger and poverty.

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“There is need to improve productivity so as to shame the detractors of the land reform exercise,” he said.