THE purpose of the Land Tenure Act (No. 54/69) is to ensure ‘that each race shall have its own area…the interests of each race shall be paramount in its own area … neither race may own or occupy land in the area of the other race, except by permit, which shall be issued or refused by a Minister of Government when it seems in his opinion desirable’.1 In implementation of the above, the 96 million acres of land in Rhodesia have been divided into 6 million acres of National Land,2 and 45 million acres each for the African and European areas. This division, with allowance for a 2 percent variation, is fixed for all time. For the purposes of the Act, an African is defined as ‘any member of the aboriginal tribes or races of Africa and the islands adjacent thereto, including Madagascar and Zanzibar: or any person who has the blood of such tribes or races and who lives as a member of an aboriginal native community’. A European is defined as ‘a person who is not an African’. The provisions of the Act are ‘specifically entrenched’ for the purposes of Section 80 of the 1969 Constitution.
The Land Tenure Act replaced the Land Apportionment Act, which had come into force in 1931,
but which had been frequently amended over the years. This Act was a direct result of the report of the Land Commission, set up in 1925, of which Sir W. Morris Carter was Chairman.
Many words have been written about the purposes of the Land Apportionment legislation and of the Carter Commission from which it sprang. To evaluate these it is necessary to go back briefly to the early days of the European occupation of Rhodesia. The first instance of land segregation occurred in 1894 when the Gwai and Shangani Reserves were created for the use of those Ndebele whose lands around Bulawayo had been taken over by Europeans after the defeat of Lobengula.
In 1897 the quality of the land set aside for African use came under heavy criticism in the Martin Report, and by 1902 some 20 million acres throughout Rhodesia had been allotted as Reserves. The balance of the land in the country, however, (approximately 80 per cent), remained open to purchase by persons of any race. The Reserves were solely intended for those ‘natives who cannot at once become assimilated to European conditions of life (so that they) can continue to live under their old tribal conditions’.3 In 1920 the Reserves were gazetted by Order-in-Council, and their special status was enshrined in the Constitution which established Responsible Government three years later.
At the date of setting up of the Carter Commission only 45 000 acres of alienable land had been acquired by Africans – compared with 31 million by Europeans. This disparity – when seen against the background of a rapidly expanding African population and the lack of African capital to purchase land – made some redistribution of land essential. Coupled with this was a growing urban public opinion among whites in favour of racial segregation.
The Carter Commission, which reported in 1926, recommended the segregation of all land on a virtually permanent basis. Its attitude may best be summarised in these words taken from its own report: ‘… until the Native has advanced very much further on the path of civilisation, it is better that the points of contact between the two races should be reduced.’
Based on this Report, the division of land, contained in the Land Apportionment Act, 1930, was as follows:
European Area 49 060 000 acres
Native Reserves 21 600 000 acres
Native Purchase Area4 460 000 acres
Forest Area 590 000 acres
Undetermined Area 90 000 acres
Unassigned Area 17 800 000 acres
Total 96 600 000 acres
Although the Land Apportionment Act and the Land Tenure Act are not basically different in intention or effect,5 there are certain distinctions between them that should be noted. In the first place, the Land Apportionment Act had no bearing whatever on the status of the Native Reserves. These were (as stated earlier) enshrined in the 1923 Constitution. No amount of amendment – nor even the repeal – of the Land Apportionment Act could have affected these
21 600 000 acres.6
A second vital difference lies in the fact that the Land Apportionment Act could be altered by simple vote in Parliament as and when circumstances made it desirable. In fact there were many occasions between 1931 and 1962 when amendments were both desirable and essential. In 1954 an Amending Act was passed to permit a multi-racial University and other inter-racial
organisations, to allow African advocates to have Chambers in the central area of Salisbury (Harare), and to provide for black MPs and other visitors to the Federal Capital. A later amendment permitted the operation of multi-racial hotels.
A third important difference concerns the comparative ease with which land was transferable
between different categories. Over the years all the unassigned Area was gradually allocated to other categories, mostly to the Special Native Area7 but also to the Forest Area and the European area. In 1961 all land within the European Area still held by the Government and the Undetermined Area were combined to form Unreserved Land, in respect of which there was to be no racial restriction on ownership or occupation. Another amendment permitted any rural landowner (of either race) to apply to have his land transferred to this category.
In consequence of all these changes the distribution of land by 1964 was such that the Tribal Trust Lands (formerly the Native Reserves) then comprised over 40 000 000 acres, whereas the European Area had shrunk to 35 710 000 acres. Indeed, the ‘terrific rate of application8 by white farmers for their land to be desegregated caused the RF Government to refuse to approve any further transfers. It was in these circumstances that the Government decided that the time had come to fix the distribution of land within Rhodesia on a permanent segregated basis. The Land
Tenure Act, 1969 – introduced under the new Republican Constitution of that year – was the direct product of that decision.9
1 Sections 11 and 24
2 National Land comprises Lake Kariba, together with various Game Reserves, National Parks and controlled Hunting Areas.
3 Papers relating to the Southern Rhodesia Native Reserves Commission, 1915 (Cd. 8674).
4 Where Africans could buy land on individual tenure at low prices.
5 See ‘Land Apportionment in Perspective’ by M. L. Rilkind (Rhodesian History, Vol. 3, 1972)
6 Rilkind, p.55
7 Constituted by Act of Parliament in 1950 (to relieve population pressures in the Reserves and to facilitate removal of Africans from the European Area).
8 Lord Graham (Parliamentary Debates, 55, c.355, 17, vii. 1963).
9 To some extent the ‘permanence‘ of the distribution of land introduced in 1969 has been affected by the recent Land Tenure Amendment Act, 1977 which allows, inter alia, Africans to purchase farming land in the European Area.