The unsettled history of the land question: Zambia beware

“When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, we had the Bible and they had the land,” – Jomo Kenyatta.

1. This allegory relates to how Africans lost some of their best land at the initial contact with the Europeans. The acquisition of African land by the colonialists was accompanied by trickery and violence.

2. Now Zambia auctions away land without receiving the Bible which has been replaced with pieces of bribing silver, gold and green American paper; and without violence by those who get the land. State cadres have used violence to get land.

3. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, there was only one type of land tenure system, the customary land one. Europeans introduced the statutory land tenure system where stolen or violently grabbed land was called various names including crown or state land.

4. The initial theft or violence engaged in by the Europeans to get African land is called “primitive accumulation of capital”.

5. Primitive accumulation of capital simply means the divorce of the owners (peasants for example or owners of land like chiefs and their citizens/subjects) from their means of production or survival (land or fishing) and turning them into landless people or migrants or workers for someone else and converting their prior means of production or livelihood into capital or property.

6. The process of primitive accumulation of capital takes different forms and different periods in different countries. The violence accompanying this process differs from country to country and period to period.

7. The classic form of primitive accumulation of capital and where it was most complete, that is where the landed peasantry were whipped out, was in England. The enclosure movement as it was called transformed the peasantry into surplus urban labour, de-rooted from their origins and used as disposable labour for industrialisation. The process took a long time.

8. While the Magna Carta of 1215 is mostly known as a platform for the writ of habeas corpus, trial by jury of your peers, due process of the law and related rule of law entitlements, it was in fact mostly a document dealing with the land tenure system to lessen the impact of the violent primitive accumulation of capital that had been ongoing in England.

9. The land tenure system in the rest of Europe was also initially accompanied by this process of primitive accumulation of capital.

10. Primitive accumulation of capital was exported to the new worlds of North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere and where in North America it included forms of wars and genocide against the Native populations who resisted this European primitive accumulation of capital.

11. Europeans purportedly engaged in treaty formulation and therefore mutual agreement between them and some of the native populations. These treaties never met the standards of legal strictures that they were held out to be and they never met the so-called European standards of binding contracts. The Europeans never lived up to the bargain of these treaties, leading to some ongoing violent clashes and legal skirmishes in North and South America to today.

12. In North and South America primitive accumulation led to the consignment of surviving Native populations to the reserves or jungles of these territories, similar reserves that were created in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and were also so-called in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and elsewhere.

13. The Europeans had from the beginning intended to stay forever in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and to a less extent Kenya, Zimbabwe, Namibia and therefore primitive accumulation in these countries was more violent than in other places where Europeans didn’t intend to settle. Where the Europeans intended to settle, these places became known as settler colonialism. To this day, The USA, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand etc are permanent settler colonies or countries, as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia became known.

14. In Africa, primitive accumulation of capital initially took the form of the violent slave trade to divorce previously free people and turning them into usable labour elsewhere to accompany European accumulation of capital.

15. When primitive accumulation in the form of slavery was subjected to diminishing returns in profit margins for the survival of capital, slavery was turned into primitive accumulation of capital in the form of colonialism proper, the acquisition of land itself in Africa, India and elsewhere. In some places this primitive accumulation of capital in form of land engaged violence.

16. Primitive accumulation of capital did not only involve the divorce of the Native from the land, it also included the forcible acquisition of other property, especially minerals under the earth, and using divorced from the land African labour as usable labour on the mines to create wealth for export to the Metrople.

17. Colonial struggle everywhere was for the purpose of reversing the ongoing primitive accumulation of capital, it was a struggle to reclaim stolen land and property like minerals and so on.

18. Wherever primitive accumulation of capital took the form of settler colonialism, and therefore assumed more of a violent character to implement, e.g in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Kenya, Angola, Mozambique and elsewhere, the resistance to remove this settler colonialism took on also a more violent form, including forms of guerrilla warfare.

19. The land question in former settler colonies is still an unsettled business and has taken various forms in different countries, in Zimbabwe it took some violence to reclaim, in South Africa the question may be resolved by expropriation of previously stolen land without compensation as was done in Cuba; and in Namibia, it may take a violent turn in the future.

20. In history primitive accumulation of capital has been spearheaded by many entities: landed classes, emerging bourgeois classes, the crown, companies like the British South Africa Company, mineral magnates like John Cecil Rhodes, the king like King Leopold etc.

21. In the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the state embarked on massive primitive accumulation of capital in the form of communist collectivisation of farms to accelerate communist industrialisation which resulted in mass suffering, state brutality, hunger and misery akin to the earlier domestic primitive accumulation in Europe and the Atlantic slave trade involving Africans and later the brutal European colonial primitive accumulation.

22. In China under Chairman Mao Tsetung, the Great Leap Forward policy of the late fifties and early sixties which intended to collectivise agriculture on a massive scale to supply industry, was a form of state primitive accumulation of capital. This process was accompanied by mass brutality and suffering, akin to similar processes of primitive accumulation experienced in England, Soviet Union and elsewhere.

23. Collectivisation as a form of primitive accumulation of capital to facilitate rapid industrialisation was attempted in Tanzania and Mozambique to varying degrees of success and failure. In Cuba collectivisation as a form of primitive accumulation of capital has been ongoing.

24. The land issue in many countries as it has been historically everywhere else provides the basis for primitive accumulation of capital. Any discussion about land policies and land tenure system appropriate for each country touches on what kind of primitive accumulation involving the land must take: trickery, violent or negotiated.

25. In Zambia now, land is being auctioned to foreigners both individuals and companies. The majority of countries, including Nigeria, do not sell land to foreigners. As a Zambian, try and negotiate to buy land in China, India, and Japan then come back and report the reaction you get.

26. The recent land policy document that has generated some buzz in the land issue constituency has left customary land tenure system in the hands of chiefs and village headmen who will continue to be prey to the laws of primitive accumulation of capital engaged in by the Chinese and western investors. The gap must be closed.

Dr Hamalengwa teaches Law.

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