30 Apr
  • By Jess Drewett

The Zimbabwean Spring

SLF Director Andrew Hartnack reflects on an international conference and the launch of his new book in Harare, Zimbabwe.

On the 2nd and 3rd of September 2016, I had the privilege of attending the 2nd annual conference of the Zimbabwe Historical Association, held at the University of Zimbabwe, Harare. This was a gathering of many historians and other social scientists from around Southern Africa and beyond, with a keynote address by Prof. Terri Barnes (University of Illinois), who has been a top Zimbabwe scholar for several decades.

Conference delegates after the Zimbabwe Historical Association conference in Harare
Conference delegates after the Zimbabwe Historical Association conference in Harare

Harare was ablaze with the blossoming trees it is famous for: pink and white bauhinias giving a particularly spectacular springtime show. Harare has recently been in the news for other reasons: riots, vehicle-torchings, police beatings and tear-gassings, linked to a new wave of protests (some say a different kind of “Zimbabwean spring”) about the government’s poor running of the economy. Indeed, the conference came at a pivotal moment in Zimbabwe’s history and many of the presentations, while historical in focus, touched on the contemporary moment and the unfolding political and economic situation faced by the country. It was a fascinating, energising and enjoyable conference with many presentations being of direct relevance to the work of SLF. Jooste Fontein’s paper on state power, violence and rain in Mathare (Kenya) was particularly relevant to our work. Other papers on child migration and human trafficking, urban livelihoods and shebeening made for some interesting reflections on SLF’s work.

On the first evening of the conference, I had the honour of launching my recently-published book, based on my in-depth PhD research on farm welfare, land reform and farmworkers in Zimbabwe. It is entitled Ordered Estates: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld and is published by Weaver Press (Zimbabwe) and UKZN Press (South Africa). The following is a synopsis of the issues explored in Ordered Estates:

‘There is a growing body of work on white farmers in Zimbabwe. Yet the role played by white women – so-called ‘farmers’ wives’ – on commercial farms has been almost completely ignored, if not forgotten. For all the public role and overt power ascribed to white male farmers, their wives played an equally important, although often more subtle, role in power and labour relations on white commercial farms. This ‘soft power’ took the form of maternalistic welfare initiatives such as clinics, schools, orphan programmes and women’s clubs, mostly overseen by a ‘farmer’s wife’. Before and after Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence these played an important role in attracting and keeping farm labourers, and governing their behaviour. After independence they also became crucial to the way white farmers justified their continued ownership of most of Zimbabwe’s prime farmland.

This book provides the first comprehensive analysis of the role that farm welfare initiatives played in Zimbabwe’s agrarian history. Having assessed what implications such endeavours had for the position and well-being of farmworkers before the onset of ‘fast-track’ land reform in the year 2000, Hartnack examines in vivid ethnographic detail the impact that the farm seizures had on the lives of farmworkers and the welfare programmes which had previously attempted to improve their lot.’

I hope that my book will be of relevance and importance to those seeking to understand the agrarian landscape in Zimbabwe, and in Southern Africa more generally, as well as the impacts of land reform in the region. It also pays great attention to the livelihood options and strategies of those who no longer rely on formal employment for their day-to-day survival. As such, it has some important parallels with SLF’s work.

I have so far been honoured to have received the following comments from fellow Zimbabwe scholars who have commented on the book:

Ordered Estates offers a sophisticated and nuanced portrait of Zimbabwe’s contemporary agrarian landscape, providing a valuable contribution to the growing body of work about changes in different social, political, structural and cultural spheres generated in the post-2000 “fast-track” era.” – Amanda Hammar, MSO Professor in African Studies, University of Copenhagen

Farm workers on a large-scale tobacco farm in Zimbabwe
Farm workers on a large-scale tobacco farm in Zimbabwe

‘This fine book fills a major gap in agrarian labour studies through its examination of maternalistic farm welfare endeavours. It also offers a sharp, lucid and convincing critique of notions that “fast-track” land reform eradicated exploitative power relations on farms.’ – Lloyd Sachikonye, Associate Professor, Institute of Development Studies, University of Zimbabwe

The book launch in Harare was a great success, with over 40 people attending and listening to Dr Ushehwedu Kufakurinani’s very positive reflections on the work. Several of the people who participated in my research were able to make it, which was very gratifying. Over 20 copies of the book were also sold, which was very encouraging. I was asked to sign many of these copies, which was also a new and humbling experience.

Ordered Estates will also be launched in Cape Town on the 19th of September 2016. Highly-regarded Zimbabwe expert Professor Brian Raftopoulos (UWC) will speak about the book at that event. It will be held at The Centre for the Book at 5.30pm. Copies of the book will be available, and are also available to order from the African Books Collective website.


Words by: Andrew Hartnack

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