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Although Chisadza had no right to give or take away land, we still obey the boundaries he pegged. We cannot undo history. We will hand over the half an acre that we took from our neighbours because it is not good to keep fighting about land for a long time.

There has been a land dispute in our village. Our neighbours, the Nyakudirwa people, recently accused me and my brother Sydney of fencing in half an acre of their land.

They argued that we ignored the land boundaries that had been clearly pegged by Chisadza back in the 1940s.

We appealed to Sabhuku, the village head, and he said we should obey the old land demarcation and give the half an acre back to the Nyakudirwa people.

Every dry season, people around here cut down trees to dry tobacco and make garden fences. My brother and I therefore decided that barbed wire was the best way to stop people encroaching and cutting down trees on our ancestral land.

We own this land from the bottom of the hill going right down to the river. Most of our land was inherited from my grandfather, Sekuru Dickson and all the uncles. The land was allocated to them by Chisadza, an envoy of the then Native Administrator. When we were growing up around here, my grandmother, Mbuya VaMandirowesa used to tell us the story of Chisadza, one of the first white men to venture this far into the Tribal Trust Lands.

Chisadza was not his real name.

They called him Chisadza, meaning, the one who gives sadza. Giving sadza was also the same as giving land.

Chisadza came here around 1940, seven years after the Rhodesian government’s Land Apportionment Act of 1933.

The act had ordered Africans to live in allocated Tribal Trust Lands or Native Reserves while the European settlers were given fertile land in good areas where there was plenty of rainfall. The white people came from all over England, Ireland and Scotland.

After the First World War, some of the British people who had migrated to India and other colonies also came to Rhodesia to farm tobacco, maize and cotton.

Later on, more British settlers were supported by their government to come to Rhodesia and farm.

There was an aert inviting people to migrate to Southern Rhodesia because there was plenty of good land and there was sunshine 365 days per year.

Chisadza arrived on his horse, accompanied by Native Assistants and Blackwatchers or mabhurakwacha who rode bicycles. They wore khaki outfits, pith Safari type helmets and heavy brown boots. Many people had never seen a white man that close, let alone a fierce big animal called a horse, or bhiza. When others fled, Mbuya and several others stayed. Chisadza spoke in English and Mubhurakwacha translated. The people were all ordered to sit under the big muchakata tree behind the village homestead.

The horse stood nearby while Chisadza told everyone that he had come to sub divide the land into individual fields.

Each male head of the family was to be allocated munda, or fields of land where he would grow his maize, groundnuts, sorghum or whatever he so wished. But, terraces had to be built before anyone could plough because the land was rocky and rain washed away all the good soils.

Terraces, or madhunduru as Mbuya and others used to call them, would safeguard the soils and stop it from being washed away to the rivers.

Chisadza rode his horse and his assistants followed behind placing big wooden pegs at the corner of each five or six acres for every male with a wife. Sekuru Dickson, my grandfather, got eight acres because he was the village kraal head and head of the family. He tried hard to convince Mubhurakwacha that he needed three times the size of one individual land allocation because he had three wives and many sons.

One day, his sons were going to need land as well. How was he going to feed them all on eight acres? But Mubhurakwacha had no time to listen. He was obeying orders. Chisadza kept on pegging from the river valley right up to the foot hills where we later built our village homestead.

When the land allocation started, Chief Svinurai was summoned to come down from the top of Svinurai Mountain where he lived so he could also get some land. But the chief said he would not be given land that he already owned by a foreigner, mubvakure. His aisers begged him to come and speak to the white man. But the chief refused. As a result, no land was allocated to him. He was forced to claim the hills and the plateaus. Years later, the chief was stripped of his chief’s watch and he was a chief no more. Up to this day, the Svinurai people are still fighting for the return of their chieftainship and their traditional land.

Land disputes and fights are not new to this village. I recall a time when my mother staged a bopoto, or the shout to demand her land back from my grandfather. Bopoto only happened when a woman was very angry and to make her point, she threatened to strip naked in front of everyone. But that was not done lightly. Only a serious injustice over a period of time warranted a bopoto.

When my mother married into the family Sabhuku gave her a field to grow her groundnuts. Then Sekuru Dickson simply took away my mother’s ground nut field and gave it to Mbuya Chenzira, his youngest and beloved fourth wife.

At that time, the extended family was getting bigger and there was a severe shortage of land. There was no additional land other than what had been allocated to Sekuru Dickson and his three brothers during Chisadza’s time.

Like a good daughter-in-law, my mother knelt down in front of Sekuru and politely addressed him by our totem, Mhofu the Eland. She then asked him to give her back the groundnut field, because without it, she was not a wife or a mother. Sekuru reminded my mother that he was the family head, and therefore free to give and take land as he wished.

One day at dawn, just before the rains came, my mother decided to stage a bopoto, the protest. We were woken up by my mother’s loud angry voice. She stood on top of the anthill behind Sekuru’s hut with her skirts raised above her knees, clearly showing her brown thighs.

Mbuya VaMandirowesa and all the uncles and aunts heard the shout and came out of their respective huts. They gathered around the anthill and waited. My mother did not see them because anger had possessed her. My mother’s voice rose higher and higher and she raised her skirts up even more. Mbuya VaMandirowesa said this bopoto had gone on for too long. Mbuya banged hard on Sekuru and Mbuya Chenzira’s hut and shouted: “Mhofu, do you not hear this bopoto? Come out and see your son’s wife’s naked thighs. The nakedness of your daughter-in-law is the same as that of your daughter. It must be avoided.”

Sekuru came out pulling his old khaki trousers up. He took a glimpse at my mother’s thighs, winced and quickly turned away in embarrassment. He apologised to my mother and addressing her with the totem name of her people, Nyati, the Buffalo. Sekuru knew very well that when a she buffalo was angry, nobody stood in her way. He gave her back the land.

In those old days, before independence, people left the village and travelled to look for work on the farms or in Salisbury. There was one bus that carried them along the road from Hwedza. On the left side of the road, was Imire Game Park and sometimes they saw giraffes, rhinos and elephants. On the right side there were thick jungles and virgin land. Along the same road they could look through the windows and see tobacco farms, maize, fat cattle grazing land and dams way beyond. The bus did not stop here because there were no villages along this road. Nobody, other than the white farmer and his native workers lived around the farms. There were signs saying: “Trespasses will be prosecuted.”

Our extended family has lived back here in the village since resettlement in the early 1940s through the liberation war for independence right up to the land reform program in 2000. Although the land is dry and rocky, it is very scenic.

When some people started to move to the big farms after the land reform program, my cousin Tonde was very quick to take his wife Mai Wadza and their four children to a farm near Hwedza. While many others left the village, my mother and brother Sydney stayed back here in the village. My mother said she was too old to work on new lands. Besides, she could not abandon the homestead and leave my father’s grave unattended.

Although Chisadza had no right to give or take away land, we still obey the boundaries he pegged. We cannot undo history. We will hand over the half an acre that we took from our neighbours because it is not good to keep fighting about land for a long time. Besides, we want to live in harmony with our neighbours.

Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.

Source : The Herald