• September 21st, 2019

Sentimentality, awareness and steadfastness: the land is the economy


Dambudzo Marechera was a difficult but gifted writer. Literature reviews have cited a precocious talent and a sleuthing hound. Others elevated him to “a seer and prophet.” The poem “Pledging My Soul” was one of my early introductions to his work.

   In the poem, Marechera reminisces about the land, his motherland (then overrun by colonialists). He brings the land to life as “an earth-mother figure with huge granite breasts” which provides sustenance and nourishment. It is noteworthy that contemporary literature still points to Africa’s future being “closely entwined with the developments of its agricultural sector.”

Marechera writes: “When I was a boy, I climbed onto your granite breasts; the cup of your breasts was my pillow; I was yours and you were mine.” The unmistakeable yearning for a broken relationship is amplified in the following lines:

   “Now a man, in exile from the warmth of your arms and the milk of your teeth; the breath of your secret whispers in my ear; shall I not stride back to you with haste; rout all my enemies and bind the wicked husbandmen...”

The separation is a heart-wrenching loss. The poet, then “a man in exile,” is nostalgic about a relationship that was broken by the “wicked husbandmen.” The poet’s loss echoes the parable of the wicked vinedressers in Mark 12 who plan to steal an “inheritance” that does not belong to them.

   Other poets, among them Henry Pote, in “To My Elders,” explore the same sense of deracination. They long for reunification with their motherland. But the process will not be easy. Any return to the land, any attempt to reclaim it, must invoke the writer’s traditions while fighting determined obstruction by the settler colonialists.

“Old enough am I through the span of years; yet neither tribal elder nor settler my opinion hears; my stand to the one is strange and preposterous, and to the other rampant, immature and boisterous.”
It is this feeling of loss and overwhelming sense of dispossession that formed the bedrock of African struggles to repossess her land. It is argued that in art, “men comprehend their own lives, their relation to the world around them.” Alex La Guma characterizes the dispossession through the following lines in Time of the Butcherbird:

   “We have been told that we must go from the land of our ancestors. But it is a very difficult thing to uproot an old oak of many years. The roots of such a tree are very deep. Certainly one can take an axe and cut down such a tree, that is easy, but the roots remain and are very hard to dig up. So you see, the tree really remains. The tree goes on.”

Land occupations in Zimbabwe did not first occur in the 2000s. Brian Raftopoulos and Alois Mlambo write in Becoming Zimbabwe that “in the 1980s there were a number of occupations of land…In the 1990s there were further occupations owing to a combination of a slow-down in the state’s land reform programme, intensified pressure on land in the communal areas, and economic liberalisation.” 

   Long after Africa has celebrated political independence, the continent still grapples with economic challenges and issues of social justice. New African magazine once quoted an African Capacity Indicators Report (ACIR) that said “improving the productivity and economic returns of agriculture has immediate effects on poverty and hunger in at least three important ways: it increases the productivity and incomes of the majority of Africa’s poor; it reduces food prices which affect real incomes and poverty in urban areas; and it generates spill-overs to the rest of the economy… It is a sector that governments cannot withdraw from or leave to the private sector and peasants alone.”

Indeed, a 2005 United Nations High-Level Panel report underscored the safety of synergies and singleness of purpose: “Ours is an age of unparalleled interconnection among threats to international peace and security, and mutual vulnerability between weak and strong.”

   In Comparative Politics of the Third World, the authors travel back in time to praise Mexican president Lazaro Cardenas who (in the 1930s) “recognized the necessity of providing support services to assist land recipients, whether they lived in the communal system of ejido, or on individual family plots.”

The editors of Constructing Human Rights in the Age of Globalization argue that “even for commoners, rights to land convey status. Indeed, the status of a whole class of people could rise with the acquisition of rights to land.”

   Pursuant to this observation, American cleric Jim Wallis suggests far-reaching and uncommon measures: “The destruction of our forests, farmlands, water resources, and wildlife can be reversed only when community-based commitments to stewardship replace the selfish and short-sighted practices of acquisitiveness that are ruining the earth and our fragile ecosystem.

Neglected biblical instructions and traditions could guide us today, such as the practice of leaving the edges of the fields unharvested so the poor can glean from them, leaving the land fallow occasionally to replenish its fertility, observing the Sabbath both to rest and avoid overproduction, and periodically forgiving debts…”

   In Advocates for Change, agriculture researcher Mandivamba Rukuni regrets the sad fact that, “one of the most serious post-independence errors of judgement by African nations is the lack of political wisdom to give priority to agriculture and rural development.

Ironically, governments in rich industrial countries…tend to support investments in farming more than governments in poor agricultural countries where hunger persists and productivity is lagging. Water control and management, particularly small-scale water harvesting, irrigation and drainage systems, are critical for averting famines…”

   At the height of the fast-track land reform exercise, Zimbabwe faced a slow uptake of resettlement farms. Studies found the answers in investing in land development, new technology (farm mechanization), improved farmer support services and research and development. It is also important for the previously advantaged farmers to meaningfully participate in the new agricultural thrust. It is a national duty.


Staff Reporter
2019-08-23 08:02:56 29 days ago

Be the first to post a comment...