THE SOIL OF SALVATION: AFRICAN AGRICULTURE AND AMERICAN
METHODISM IN COLONIAL ZIMBABWE, 1939-1962
TODD HOLZGREFE LEEDY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Todd H. Leedy
Research for this study was made possible by funding from the United States
Department of Education, the Ford Foundation, the University of Florida Center for
African Studies, and the University of Florida Department of History. Documentary
evidence could not have been obtained without the help of staff at the National
Archives of Zimbabwe, the United Methodist Church Archives at Drew University,
and the Old Mutare Archives.
Hunt Davis has offered constant support, insightful criticism, and good-
natured patience throughout his tenure as my advisor. Steven Feierman and John
Mason made many helpful comments on this project in its proposal stages. Luise
White, Tim Cleaveland, Abe Goldman, David Colbum, and Jon Sensbach all made
useful suggestions towards revisions for the final manuscript. Alois Mlambo
facilitated my last research visit and made me welcome in his department at the
University of Zimbabwe. Allen Isaacman offered advice and constant
encouragement during the uncertainty of field research. After returning from
Zimbabwe, Haba Musengezi assisted with his meaningful translation and detailed
transcription of long interview tapes. Belated appreciation also goes to Harold
Marcus and David Robinson, whose early seminars actually helped make me tough
enough to survive this process.
While assisting with my research and data collection, Abraham Inasio Frank
taught me more about life in Zimbabwe today than I had ever hoped to understand.
The entire Frank family generously gave me a real home away from home in
Highfield, providing me with a family when I was missing my own. The Mashingas
welcomed me to their house in Dangamvura and it eventually became 'base camp'
for many interview trips. The Matanga, Jerahuni, and Zvinavashe families also
opened their warm homes to me on so many occasions, providing much needed
sustenance and companionship. The collection of oral testimony would not have
been possible without cooperation and assistance from the minister-in-charge at
each of the six stations I visited. Of course, I owe a great deal to all those who
enthusiastically opened their memories to my lengthy questioning about their past.
The largest debt is naturally to my parents and family, who introduced me to
a part of Africa fifteen years ago. Their backing of my goals has never wavered.
My wife, Nance, has been there from the beginning. Without her love and
dedication, I probably would have abandoned this endeavor on innumerable
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................. ............... iii
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ............................................................... vii
NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY ....................... .. ............. viii
ABSTRACT ....... ........................ ............. .... ......... ix
1 INTRODUCTION: MISSIONS AND AGRICULTURAL
EVANGELISM IN COLONIAL ZIMBABWE ................................ 1
2 ONLY YOUR HANDS SHOULD WORK: AGRICULTURE,
SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION, AND AMEC MISSIONS IN
COLONIAL ZIMBABWE ........................................ ............... 28
3 THEIR SOIL IS GOING TO GEHENNA: AMEC MISSIONS
AND STATE POLICIES FOR AFRICAN AGRICULTURE ................... 62
4 MONEY RUNNING DOWN THE RIVER: FARMING AND THE
ECONOMY OF MISSION COMMUNITIES .................................. 95
5 THE WORLD THE STUDENTS MADE: AGRICULTURE AND
LABOR IN MISSION EDUCATION .................... ................. 131
6 PROFIT FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE: MISSIONS, CHRISTIANITY
AND FARM-BASED ENTREPRENEURS .................................... 166
7 LET ME TELL YOU A STORY: ABRAHAM KAWADZA AND
THE CONSTRUCTION OF HISTORICAL NARRATIVES ................. 191
8 CONCLUSION: MISSIONS, AGRICULTURE AND THE WAY
OF LOOKING AT DAYS .............. ...................... ................ 215
APPENDIX A: ORAL SOURCES .................... ................ 224
APPENDIX B: MISSION FARM FEATURES .................................... 226
APPENDIX C: MAP .................................................... 227
BIBLIOGRAPHY ............... ......... .. .......................... ... 228
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............................. ............. 238
AMEC American Methodist Episcopal Church
ANC Assistant Native Commissioner
BSAC British South Africa Company
CNC Chief Native Commissioner
DFM Division of Foreign Missions
DNA Department of Native Agriculture
GPSR Government Publications relating to Southern Rhodesia
LAA Land Apportionment Act
LDO Land Development Officer
LMS London Missionary Society
NAD Native Affairs Department
NAZ National Archives of Zimbabwe
NC Native Commissioner
NED Native Education Department
NLHA Native Land Husbandry Act
NPA Native Purchase Area
NRB Natural Resources Board
OMA Old Mutare Archives
PNC Provincial Native Commissioner
RAC Rhodesia Annual Conference of the Methodist Church
SNA Secretary for Native Affairs
UMCA United Methodist Church Archives
WDCS Women's Division of Christian Service
During the period under study, the Methodist Episcopal Church changed in
structure several times, becoming part of the Methodist Church in 1939 and later
the United Methodist Church in 1968. However, most of the literature on
Zimbabwe simply refers to this denomination as the American Methodist Episcopal
Church to more easily distinguish the MEC from other Methodist organizations in
the country. Therefore, the use of AMEC in this dissertation continues within an
existing pattern, but should not be confused with the African Methodist Episcopal
The spelling or names of many places changed following the end of minority
rule in 1980. The list below covers those appearing in the text. Since this study
covers the period from 1939-1962, the official names utilized during that period
appear consistently to avoid confusion. Old Umtali mission is now called Old
Mutare mission and this is reflected in those citations referring to its current archival
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the
University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
THE SOIL OF SALVATION: AFRICAN AGRICULTURE AND AMERICAN
METHODISM IN COLONIAL ZIMBABWE, 1939-1962
Todd Holzgrefe Leedy
Chair: R. Hunt Davis, Jr.
Major Department: History
This work explores the relationship between religious identity and
economic behavior by examining American missionary 'agricultural evangelism'
alongside the adaptive agricultural strategies created by Zimbabwean farmers
between 1939-1962. It explores the assumptions that shaped missionary activity in
colonial Zimbabwe, as well as missionary impressions of agriculture in African
communities. The period under study also covers the expansion of state intervention
in rural areas as African agricultural methods became a source of official concern.
Government officials and missionaries alike identified agriculture as the material
and ritual core of most African societies. Despite their similar approaches,
however, each had distinct motivations and goals for a transformation of African
farming practices. Methodist Episcopal Church missionaries placed agricultural
improvement at the center of their long term evangelical and educational plans. For
state officials, more intensive farming would allow for the continued resettlement of
Africans into legally demarcated reserves.
Just as converts actively created their own forms of Christianity, farmers
adapted or appropriated the new manners of agriculture which suited their
capabilities and needs. Mission education and extension programs therefore
remained only one factor shaping these farmers' economic choices. Likewise, their
ethos of commercial production did not simply emerge whole or intact from within
a new religious identity. The larger realities of the colonial experience in
Zimbabwe, particularly segregationist land tenure and marketing policies, would
affect every farmer's options and choices. Agricultural change occurred as the
result of individual encounters with often tremendous structural forces, becoming a
product of both material and cultural factors. This project utilizes mission and
government documents, newspapers, missionary accounts and personal papers, as
well as oral testimonies collected by the author.
INTRODUCTION: MISSIONS AND AGRICULTURAL EVANGELISM IN
IHa' penny bread and soup, sir, is meat an' drink for heaven's military
coup; a starving belly doesn't listen to explanations.'
Christian missionaries to Southern Africa in the 19'h century constructed
several discrete evangelisms within their broader conversion projects. The most
influential of these multiple messages addressed those aspects of African production
and reproduction controlled by local ritual authority. For instance, newly
introduced medical techniques, regardless of their relative effectiveness, confronted
established ways of understanding health and healing. Similarly, missionary
promotion of new farming practices inevitably challenged the existing spiritual
landscape by insisting that 'rationalized' individual labor could overcome powerful
natural forces. In the 20th century, specific elements of this 'agricultural
evangelism' frequently mirrored the more secular efforts of colonial authorities to
control economic differentiation and natural resource use in rural communities.2
Both missionaries and government policymakers in colonial Zimbabwe consciously
identified agriculture as an important avenue in establishing broader paradigms of
D. Marechera, Scrapiron Blues (Harare: Baobab, 1994) 27.
2 The term 'agricultural evangelism' is adapted from Paul Landau, "Explaining Surgical Evangelism
in Colonial Southern Africa: Teeth, Pain and Faith." Journal of African History 37, 2 (1996) 261-
explanation. African farming routines thus became a site of competing efforts to
control both the material and semantic practices of colonized peoples.3
In recognizing the close association between religion and indigenous
farming practices, most missionaries were convinced of agriculture's potential as a
powerful agent for social transformation. Farming thus became an arena for
contesting religious idioms, "one in which superiority in the interpretation of
environmental processes became a symbol or a test of the superiority or truth of the
Christian religion."4 Both church and state sought to remold rural society along
lines determined by distinct institutional motivations. Each viewed agriculture as a
double-edged blade that could excise the obstacles which either indigenous religious
idioms or resource management strategies placed in their paths. Mission authorities
hoped their farm programs would create fertile ground for the expansion of
communities transformed by a Christian prosperity. State officials desired the
stabilization of African populations without threatening a system of race-based land
While various missionary bodies included agriculture in their overall
program, the American Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) mission system
exuded a particularly well-articulated activism. These missionaries promoted social
change and held their own vision of an African future. Many hoped religious
conversion would inspire a corresponding transformation of agricultural practices.
3 J.L. Comaroff and J. Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism and
Consciousness in South Africa, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); P. Richards,
"Ecological Change and the Politics of African Land Use," African Studies Review 26 (1983) 1-72.
4 R. Grove, "Scottish Missionaries, Evangelical Discourses and the Origins of Conservation Thinking
in Southern Africa 1820-1900," Journal of Southern African Studies 15 (1989) 168.
AMEC mission programs attempted to provide clear alternatives to established
farming routines and structures of community resource management in order to
promote "abundant living with Christian motivations." In addition, a successful
system of farms served to strengthen mission access rights to land and water in the
face of local pressures from both indigenous and settler farming communities.
By 1939, AMEC missionaries' outlook on African agriculture, like that of
many state officials, had turned towards the problems of natural resource
conservation. The long presence of this topic in government and mission discourse
across Eastern/Southern Africa had been substantially amplified by the Dust Bowl
that devastated United States agriculture.5 Like their London Missionary Society
(LMS) counterparts in South Africa a century earlier, American missionaries in
colonial Zimbabwe also tended to utilize a particular rural mythology as an "all-
purpose metaphor."6 However, rather than a simplistic nostalgia for the vanished
Jeffersonian yeomanry, AMEC discourse on agriculture reverberated with the
concerns produced by several decades of progressive critique of American society.
The ill effects of unfettered industrialization and unplanned urbanization so
carefully documented by the "muckrakers" in popular literature found an unintended
place within the missionary critique of the colonial economy. According to AMEC
missionary characterizations, a degenerating Zimbabwean rural economy originated
s D. Anderson, "Depression, Dustbowl, Demography, and Drought: the Colonial Slate and Soil
Conservation in East Africa during the 1930's," African Affairs 83 (1984) 321-43.
6 J.L. Comaroff and J. Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution: the Dialectics of Modernity on a
South African Frontier, vol. 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997) 121.
from the social erosion left by the increasingly broad flow of urban and labor
AMEC missionaries became even more staid than their LMS predecessors in
the belief that only complete irrationality or ignorance could explain the continued
dependence of the agricultural cycle on chiefly and community rituals. Faith in
rational individualism had only intensified amidst the pervasive concern with
efficiency and productivity which, by the end of the 1920s, had permeated even
rural and smalltown American culture. Therefore, 'rational' and 'progressive'
agriculture continued to represent these missionaries' best opportunity to counter
superstition, that which John Phillip a century previous had called "confused ideas
of invisible agency."8 The agrarian disaster of the 1930s that shook the modernized
U.S. farming sector only further convinced AMEC missionaries that small-scale
agriculture was the key to regenerating rural society in colonial Zimbabwe.
By 1939, the Rhodesian state had also begun escalating its direct efforts to
transform African agriculture and thereby maintain a segregated system of land
distribution. The published report of the Natural Resources Commission and
eventual passage of the Natural Resources Act in 1941 marked a significant
transition in the colonial state's overall approach to agricultural and conservation
policy. Under this legislation, a Natural Resources Board (NRB) was appointed to
publicize conservation issues and direct attention to any natural resource
management issues. The NRB could also investigate conservation problems and
SComaroff and Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 2, 125.
8 Comaroffand Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 2, 129.
propose solutions to landholders.9 Notably, upon failure to comply the Board could
order individuals to undertake appropriate measures. Thereafter, the state
increasingly based its hopes for agrarian transformation on a foundation of
enforcement rather than extension. Deepening state intervention efforts prompted
new forms of accommodation and resistance from African farmers who faced
changing patterns of opportunity or constraint.
Struggles over agricultural methods and conservation practices achieved new
levels of intensity. Crop selection, tillage routines, field management strategies, and
irrigation schemes all became sites of a broader contest to gain control of the
processes by which people defined their everyday existence. In this atmosphere,
farmers, missionaries, and government officials all sought to assert their own forms
of agricultural knowledge. The new state policies emerged as part of a long-term
colonial trend towards 'ecological managerialism' in which "African rural progress
was understood primarily as a technical question. . ." Yet despite the changes
towards a more coercive outlook, expanded government conservation programs
could not ensure the continued viability of agriculture in the most crowded African
reserves. Various government departments often operated independently of one
another despite consistent complaints of under-staffing. More important than any lack
of personnel, rising population pressure, fragmentation of landholdings, and public
resistance each made the Natural Resources Act difficult to enforce."
9 T.P.Z. Mpofu, "History of Soil Conservation in Zimbabwe," History of Soil Conservation in the
SADCC Region (Maseru: SADCC, 1987) 4.
'0 W. Munro, The Moral Economy of the State: Conservation, Community Development and State
Making in Zimbabwe (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998) 59.
The official perceptions of impending disaster in the reserves continued,
taking on a new character in the years following the Second World War.
Government efforts to find land for new groups of settlers combined with a boom in
tobacco prices to create another land squeeze which placed even more pressure upon
the fixed resources of reserve lands. Not only did declining yields threaten further
white settlement within the segregated system created by the Land Apportionment
Act of 1930, but also future external markets based on cash crops and secondary
industry. The Chief Native Commissioner (CNC) expressed his growing concern in
1947, some twenty years after the initiation of state-sponsored agricultural
The fact, however, remains that the vast majority of Native peasant
farmers still continue to scratch the soil. In a drought year this type
does not even produce sufficient food for its own survival and
becomes a parasite on the remainder of the population...and without
some form of compulsion in proper farming methods he is unlikely
to subscribe to any great extent to the economy of the Colony in the
Believing that the Natural Resources Act had remained ineffective through its lack
of scope and direction, state policymakers increasingly sought the path to better land
husbandry through more enforceable standards of agriculture and resource
With its passage in 1951, the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA) became
the next legislative response to these conditions. The NLHA attempted to address
production and conservation problems in the reserves from several directions.
According to the CNC's announcement, the new laws did more than "make good
12 GPSR: Annual Report of the Secretary for Native Affairs and the Chief Native Commissioner
husbandry methods compulsory and control stock and grazing; it gives power to give
individual farming rights which can devolve to an heir, and so make the right-holder
more land conscious; the power for provision of labour to ensure soil conservation in
the communal grazing areas. . ."3 The NLHA contained powers to enforce a
"reasonable standard" of land husbandry and affirm African responsibility for
resource protection. Various mechanical and biological soil conservation practices
became mandatory. Under this act, earlier destocking practices also broadened
significantly. By legally limiting cattle holdings, the NLHA attempted to relate
stockholdings to arable land holdings in order to control farming practices.
Restricted grazing programs would bring areas to their carrying capacities. Further
destocking, along with the reallocation of land, presented African farmers with a
disturbing contradiction. Cattle and land were both taken away while many rural
inhabitants spent increasing amounts of time working on compulsory conservation
measures. As Michael Drinkwater concludes, state policies appeared to promote
simultaneous impoverishment and development in the reserves. Consequently, "to
the rural peoples the white community was a concentration of irrationality."14
The government had hoped to create conservation incentives for individuals by
providing security of tenure on arable land and guaranteeing grazing rights on
communal lands. With a further division of land into specified 'standard' areas, the
policy attempted to control the number of peasant cultivators on the land and thereby
"~ GPSR: Annual Report of the Secretary for Native Affairs and the Chief Native Commissioner
14 M. Drinkwater, "Technical Development and Peasant Impoverishment: Land Use Policy in
Zimbabwe's Midlands Province," Journal of Southern African Studies 15, 2 (1989) 295.
preventing future increases in population pressure.15 Rainfall regimes determined the
size of standard areas. In a continuation of earlier state land policies, this took no
account of the micro-ecologies which certainly affected pre-existing African
approaches to land utilization. Government land use planners similarly paid no
attention to the "sacred ridges, trees, and propitiation sites" that made up an established
spiritual landscape directly connected to these varied ecosystems.'6 Furthermore, this
policy denied urban workers any land in the reserves, with those males absent at
implementation having to choose between industrial or agricultural futures. Migrant
labor would end, permanently splitting the African population between rural and urban
locations.'7 The various components of this comprehensive effort to re-engineer
African society in colonial Zimbabwe produced so much rural and urban opposition
that the state abandoned implementation of the plan prematurely in 1962.
While scholars have often examined the emergent tensions between state and
peasant agendas which colonial rural 'improvement' policies produced, a nuanced
understanding of this period requires the inclusion of missions and their adherents as
active participants in local agricultural development. Accounts and analysis of
agrarian change must move beyond the usual cursory portrayal of early missionaries
who introduced Africans to modem farming methods. It is likewise crucial not to
overstate the activities of the missionaries themselves at the expense of African
15 W. Duggan, "The Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951 and the Rural African Middle Class in
Southern Rhodesia," African Affairs 79 (1980) 231-32. See also V. Machingaidze, "Agrarian Change
from Above: the Southern Rhodesia Native Land Husbandry Act and African Response."
International Journal of African Historical Studies 24 (1991) 557-88.
'6 Munro 60-62.
7 Duggan. 229-31.
agency. As with so many other aspects of mission Christianity, converts
appropriated and adapted the missionary messages concerning "proper" agricultural
practices.18 Meaningful agricultural innovation also took place without the
motivations of mission Christianity. But an extended mission presence frequently
influenced the form and direction of these changes.'9
Despite recognition by missionaries themselves of the centrality of
agriculture in African societies, historical studies of missionary endeavors in Africa
have tended to focus narrowly on the relationship between Christianity and the
extension of colonial rule. Much of the literature initially produced considers
missionary relations with the colonial administration and the impact of their
activities on African society in the early contact period. These analyses dealt
primarily with the political and economic factors of expansion, frequently
neglecting the religious and cultural significance of missionary messages.20 Such
emphases reflect the common perception of missionaries within nationalist
historiography. As Beidelman stated early on, most studies had considered
Christianity in Africa "mainly in terms of the relations of the convert to his
traditional society, to the process of social change, or sometimes to the development
of native separatist churches. .it never included the missionaries who had made the
18 H. Bredekamp and R. Ross, "The Naturalization of Christianity in South Africa," eds. H.
Bredekamp and R. Ross. Missions and Christianity in South African History (Johannesburg:
Witwatersrand University Press, 1995) 4.
T.O. Ranger, "Protestant Missions in Africa: the Dialectic of Conversion in the Methodist
Episcopal Church in Eastern Zimbabwe, 1900-1950." eds. T.D. Blakely, W.E.A. van Beek, and D.L.
Thomson. Religion in Africa: Experience and Expression (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1994) 297.
20 On this issue, see T. O. Ranger, "Religious Movements and Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa,"
African Studies Review 29, 2 (1986) 1-69.
conversions or described everyday affairs at the mission station .. ."21 Subsequent
studies, however, did begin to address these very concerns.22
More specifically, although scholars mentioned the impact of missions on
progressive farming, only a few ever moved beyond fragmentary descriptions of the
broader relationship between Christianity and agricultural change. In Chenjcrai
Zvobgo's recent overview of Christian missions in Zimbabwe. agriculture is only
one of many important topics examined from 1890-1939. He is more directly
concerned with the onset of Christianity and educational impact, so mission fanning
endeavors receive only scattered attention.23 Furthermore, historians have seldom
treated mission communities as long-term actors in local agricultural development.
Many have proposed that missions provided some initial inducement for
commercial farming, few study the extended character of most mission endeavors.
Robin Palmer's brief agricultural history of Rhodesia had previously argued that the
inherent uncertainties of their agricultural economy made Shona farmers quite
responsive to new markets that accompanied the arrival of while settlers. He
mentions that the VaShawasha people, "helped by the Jesuit fathers of Chishawasha
Mission, were able to supply Salisbury with maize.. .and a certain amount of wheat,
'i T.O. Beidcinan. "Social Theory and the Study of Christian Missions in Africa," Africa 44 (1974)
2 For example, see R. Strayer, The Making of Mission Communities in East Africa: Anglicans and
Africans in Colonial Kenya, 1875-1935 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1978); P. Zachrisson, An African
Area in Change, Belhnwe 1894-1946: A Study of Colonialism, Missionary Activity and Afiican
Response. University of Gothenburg: Department of History, 1978); GZ. Kapenzi, The Clash of
Cultures: Christian Missionaries and the Shona of Rhodesia (Washington: University Press of
America, 1979); H. B. Hansen, Mission, Church and State in a Colonial Setting: Uganda 1890-1925
(New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984).
23 C.J.M. Zvobgo, A History of Christian Missions in Zimbabwe, 1890-1939 (Harare: Mambo Press,
barley and grapes."24 However, his general observation that "mission stations not
infrequently acted as a stimulus to agricultural innovation" receives no elaboration
and appears only in an endnote.25 Several years later, Colin Bundy discusses similar
patterns early in his influential examination of peasants in South Africa.
Agriculture held a central importance for LMS missionaries the 19"h Century Cape
colony as "the championship of fixed settlements, of the sale of farm produce and of
the purchase of artificial wants" structured much of their discourse.26 Although
often mentioned as the agents who introduced African farmers to cash crops,
rotation systems, or new conservation measures, accounts of the missionary role in
agricultural matters rarely progress beyond the early colonial period.2
Scholars have more usually sought to connect church influences with the
emergence of nationalist organizations. This could expose links between
Christianity, agriculture, and politics, as in Mac Dixon-Fyle's investigation of
popular protest on Zambia's Tonga plateau. He demonstrates how missionary
activity could influence farmers' receptivity to new state agricultural programs.
Early mission adherents still farming in the 1940's refused to join the
administration's improved farming scheme. These farmers felt they had already
24 R. Palmer, "The Agricultural History of Rhodesia." eds. R. Palmer and N. Parsons. The Roots of
Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977) 229-
2' Palmer, "Agricultural History," 248.
26 C. Bundy, The Rise and Fall of the South African Peasantry (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1979) 39.
27 0. Kalinga, "The Master Farmers' Scheme in Nyasaland: a Study ofa Failed Attempt to Create a
'Yeoman' Class," African Affairs 92 (1993) 367-88.
mastered improved techniques and methods based partially on mission instruction.28
But the study of religious movements in Africa, as Beidelman noted shortly
thereafter, needs to account for the powerful non-political impacts of Christianity
since missionaries "invariably aimed at overall changes in the beliefs and actions of
native peoples, at colonization of heart and mind as well as body."29
In an early attempt to examine the connection between Christianity and
agricultural change, Norman Long's data revealed that the religious ethic of
Jehovah's Witnesses in Zambia contributed to their economic success.30 His study
of Kapepa parish details how the ideology of Jehovah's Witnesses enabled farmers
to disregard kinship obligations, thus significantly altering their economic behavior.
Religious networks also played a role as impoverished or inexperienced churchgoers
forged relationships with more established farmers in the congregation to acquire
equipment or expertise. In other instances, people used church networks to resolve
problems of labor or farm management. Similarly, Marcia Wright's later study of
Zambia's Mazabuka district mentions how former residents of a local Seventh Day
Adventist mission came to comprise a separate community on unoccupied reserve
land. Community members pooled resources to arrange transport for crops, irrigate
28 M. Dixon-Fyle, "Agricultural Improvement and Political Protest on the Tonga Plateau, Northern
Rhodesia," Journal of African History 18 (1977) 581.
29 T.O. Beidelman, Colonial Evangelism: A Socio-Historical Study of an East African Mission at the
Grassroots (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982) 6.
30 N. Long, Social Change and the Individual: a Study of Social and Religious Responses to
innovation in a Zambian Rural Community (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1968) 239:
their fields, and surmount other local difficulties which had discouraged prior
Conversely, Angela Cheater's study of Msengezi Purchase area found no
general association between membership in a particular denomination and
successful production or accumulation.32 While the small membership of the
Vapostori weMaranke church had a higher percentage of semi-capitalized or
capitalized farms, she carefully notes that in this case the relationship between
religious identity and capital accumulation existed only amongst farmers using a
traditional idiom of accumulation. Furthermore, she suggests that individuals in
pre-colonial African societies "did adapt traditional institutions in order to
circumvent pressures towards the distribution of accumulated, non-durable wealth,
and there did emerge. .a mode of individual accumulation. . .33 Under
colonialism, this existing mode could interface with multiple variables, including
Christianity, to produce forms of rural entrepreneurship.
Another significant study for insights into the mission Christianity-
agricultural nexus was Terence Ranger's important analysis of peasant
consciousness in Zimbabwe. He suggests that several new religious idioms figured
substantially in the decisions of farmers to produce for commercial markets.34
3' M. Wright, "Technology, Marriage and Women's Work in the History of Maize-growers in
Mazabuka, Zambia: a Reconnaissance," Journal of Southern African Studies 10, 1 (1983) 75.
32 A.P. Cheater, Idioms of Accumulation: Rural Development and Class Formation among
Freeholders in Zimbabwe (Gweru: Mambo Press, 1984) 94.
33 Cheater xiv.
34 T.O. Ranger, Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War in Zimbabwe (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1985) 185.
Ranger argues that aspiring peasant entrepreneurs favored membership in AMEC
churches for their avowedly pro-market stance on farm production. His data also
points to the eventual questioning of the mission 'cultural package' (including
elements of Christian community, literacy, self-sufficiency, and commercial
agricultural production) in the face of increasing government hostility towards
In the 1990s, several of the most important works relating to the history of
Southern Africa began to explore more fully the relationship between missionary
activity and agricultural change in African communities. The pattern that emerges
from these accounts points towards the frequency of missionary attempts to
construct forms of 'agricultural evangelism' within their wider endeavors at
conversion. Although they varied between (and even within) denominations, such
efforts contain several common themes. Mission stations provided some access to
different farming technologies with the intention of generating cash incomes and
challenging local ritual authority. New forms of agricultural production
transformed gender roles within households, although not always in ways
missionaries could anticipate. African converts appropriated spiritual and technical
ideas in accordance with their own needs or abilities, eventually resulting in the
creation of new forms of rural Christianity.
Although it covers developments in another region, Steven Feierman's
Peasant Intellectuals includes a relevant assessment of Lutheran missionary
activities in Shambaai, revealing aspects of the power they could wield in local
affairs. Shambaa communities often treated early missionaries essentially as
potential rainmakers, such that individuals "spoke to them not as confidants, but as
powerful and dangerous men." After colonial occupation in Tanzania, missionaries
frequently replaced chiefs as the primary source of relief during severe famines.
During the crisis of 1899-1900, station populations mushroomed after food imports
arrived.3 These missionaries also hoped to create an example of Christian
prosperity in an era when increasing numbers of men began to enter the wage
economy. Early programs focused on the training of artisans and clerks, but
eventually individual missionaries also promoted specific agricultural paths. With a
"paternalistic desire to see their adherents prosper," several Lutheran missions
provided surrounding farmers with Arabica coffee seedlings. By 1928 over 45,000
coffee trees stood in Shambaai.36 Yet converts incessantly blended older ritual
practices with their new Christian beliefs. Established ideas about harming or
healing the land clearly remained important for most of the rural population, as
evidenced by election to the district council of a deposed chief famous for his
rainmaking abilities. The four years of drought that followed his previous removal
from office apparently convinced all but the staunchest opponents of the power he
could exert. The result was a landslide victory in his favor (1496-80) despite a
predominantly Christian electorate.37
The first volume in John and Jean Comaroffs Of Revelation and Revolution
set begins to examine the role of agriculture within broader London Missionary
" S. Feierman, Peasant Intellectuals: Anthropology and History in Tanzania (Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1990) 128-30.
Society (LMS) attempts to transform Tshidi-Rolong consciousness. According to
the Comaroffs, much of the literature prior to 1990 contributed to the understanding
of missionary roles in terms of changing relations of production and emergent class
formations but virtually ignored the importance of culture, symbolism and ideology.
They basically ask, by what process had missionaries wrought any changes without
access to significant political and economic resources? Their analysis treats such
confrontation in terms of a struggle between the missionaries and Southern Tswana
for control over signs and practices, since colonizers "at most times try to gain
control over both the material and semantic practices through which their would be
subjects produce and reproduce the very bases of their existence. . ."38 In other
words, whose social constructs intellectual, linguistic, spiritual, spatial would
dominate this exchange of information and ideas? Missionary ideas about their
surroundings often reflect fundamental aspects of the culture and society which they
left behind. The outcome of missionary efforts, on the other hand, always echoed
important elements of their host society as converts inevitably created new syncretic
religious identities. Only recently has this deeper exploration of colonial
consciousness become prevalent.
The establishment of mission farms and gardens therefore entailed much
more than a response to the basic economic imperatives of missionary work. LMS
missionaries tried to "make their agricultural labors into an exercise in moral
instruction. .what they were sowing was a new hegemony."39 Their notions of
38 J.L. Comaroffand J. Comaroff, "The Colonization of Consciousness in South Africa," Economy
and Society 18, 3 (1989) 268.
3 Comaroff and Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 1, 36.
civilization and appropriate prosperity revolved heavily around the seemingly
inherent attributes of sedentary agriculture. As in much of Southern Africa,
implementing any program of farming in a dryland environment immediately
brought control over water resources to the forefront of missionary relations with
Tshidi political and ritual authorities. Missionaries hoped to appropriate power
"over water and well-being" through the construction of various irrigation
Successful performance of the annual rainmaking rituals, upon which the
continuity of chiefly authority often balanced, appeared to the LMS as "the essence
of savage unreason." Irrigation technology would therefore quite publicly represent
the application of a rational knowledge to overcome and master the natural
environment. The Comaroffs utilize the contested terrain of water to expose one of
the main contradictions of broader 'agricultural evangelism' in Southern Africa:
missionaries constantly sought to provide a "quasi-scientific" explanation for "the
magic of water" while simultaneously asserting the fundamental authority of God
over nature.41 But the dense connections between Tshidi ritual authority and
agricultural methods would not easily disintegrate. Converts created their own
forms of Christian identity which reflected the continued necessity of confronting
agricultural uncertainty through spiritual faith.
The second volume of the ambitious Comaroff project on the extended
encounter between the Southern Tswana and British missionaries also points to the
40 Comaroff and Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 1, 203.
' Comaroff and Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 1, 208.
central importance of agriculture in LMS evangelical efforts. A thorough, durable
spiritual conversion would depend upon remaking multiple facets of Tswana
economic and social patterns, or "the terrain of everyday practice." Recognizing
that much of Tswana religious identity coalesced around agriculturally-based rituals
and symbols, LMS missionaries sought to construct a completely transformed
worldview upon the foundation of prescribed farming methods. Religious
conversion in rural African communities necessarily became "a matter of both
culture and agriculture."42 Missionaries hoped expanded sedentary farming would
promote and perpetuate a new civilization based upon the individuated production
of surplus crops for new markets.
Any demonstrable success in the mundane realm of agricultural methods
would publicly challenge various impediments to their evangelism, such as belief
"that successful cultivation depended on the observance of taboos. .; that female
pollution could cause the clouds or the crops to abort; that the fertility of fields
might be increased by the ministrations of medicine men . ." LMS personnel also
wished to diminish the controls of established political authority, regarding the ritual
power of Tswana chiefs as "a major obstacle to the development of an agrarian
economy based on private enterprise, commodity production, and free labor."43
There were other impediments to a simple wholesale adoption of the missionary
model for rural society. A transition to plough-based production presupposed a
certain level of wealth required for the purchase of technology and provision of
42 Comaroff and Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 2, 119-21.
4 Comaroff and Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 2, 128-29.
draft power. Market-oriented production also confronted the existing division of
agricultural labor, as men who ploughed increasingly gained control over the sale of
crops produced largely by women's regular cultivation and care. The Comaroffs
conclude, "to the degree that males entered the arable sector, the gendered politics
of production were radically altered."44
The Jesuit missionaries at Chishawasha who Elizabeth Schmidt describes in
Peasants, Traders, and Wives viewed agricultural instruction largely as a critical
component in teaching Shona pupils the dignity of labor. This order had no desire
to create a group of school graduates that had "contempt for the pick and the
shovel."45 Mission houses and buildings went up with materials paid for through
the sales of surplus produce in nearby Salisbury. As on many mission farms,
student labor became integral to continued viability of the agricultural production
that underwrote educational and evangelistic activities. This education also
emphasized a new ordering of household labor, reflecting an essential missionary
perception of women as actors only within the domestic realm. The training
program offered to female students at Waddilove, a Wesleyan mission school,
insisted that pupils should learn cooking with food they had produced themselves.46
Girls at Chisawasha also grew sisal for their handicraft production which provided
substantial income for the mission. But mission education itself did not provide
most girls with substantive training for life outside the domestic sphere.
4 Comaroff and Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution, vol. 2, 142.
45 E. Schmidt, Peasants, Traders and Wives: Shona Women in the History of Zimbabwe, 1870-1939
(Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1992) 127-28.
4 Schmidt 134.
Henrietta Moore and Megan Vaughn's analysis of colonial agricultural
improvement schemes in Cutting Down Trees assesses the prominent place of
mission-educated men in government efforts to create 'progressive' farmers.
Because these programs entailed substantive shifts in personal behavior, colonial
policies presumed that "engagement in farming involved an ideological and political
commitment, and not merely an economic calculation."47 'Progressive' farmers
were supposed to reject antiquated methods, break the constraints of kinship
obligations, and build 'proper' houses/households that included educated children
and a domesticated wife. By the 1950s, men such as John Mboo and Kenneth
Kaunda had "an investment in modernity and in the benefits of modern education
and modern agriculture."48 This outlook allowed them to utilize official agricultural
programs for their own agendas. While Moore and Vaughn utilize missionary
records to understand the relationship between being Bemba and practicing
citemene, they do not fully discuss mission communities or Christianity in the
context of changing perceptions of farming. Given the evidence from elsewhere in
the region, however, it seems likely that mission Christianity played a role in the
formation of local attitudes towards government agricultural policies.
Paul Landau examines additional aspects of 'agricultural evangelization' in
The Realm of the Word. LMS missionaries among the BaNgwato Tswana utilized
existing agricultural rites as the basis for a new Christian form of rural spirituality.
Community prayers of thanksgiving gradually supplanted a local version of the
7 H. Moore and M. Vaughn, Cutting Down Trees: Gender. Nutrition, and Agricultural Change in the
Northern Province of Zambia, 1890-1990 (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1994) 125.
8 Moore and Vaughn 113.
widespread first fruits ceremony.49 The missionaries helped converts create a
Christian alternative to the annual ritual in which the ruler opened the ploughing
season. This new letsema drew thousands by 1900. Men and women also
apparently made particular efforts to attend Sunday prayers during the planting
season. The ruler's ceremonial sanction of reaping that followed months later soon
began to occur within a popular Christian service.50 More prosperous BaNgwato
households expanded their grain production with plough technology, creating new
forms of power in both the public and private sphere. Wealth flowed from royalty
to the entrepreneurs even as male control of cattle ensured their place in a new
farming and transport system dependent upon draft power. While the plough could
lessen women's early season labor in preparing lands for planting, their regular
harvest and threshing period could not easily accommodate the expanded acreages
this new technology made possible. Male household heads attempted to assert
control over expanded surpluses and the negotiated allocation of grain supplies
thereafter "reflected the new positioning of men at the start of the productive
Steven Edgington's 1996 dissertation is perhaps the most direct attempt to
address the role of agriculture within missionary enterprise. Although he does not
cover all of colonial Zimbabwe, the scope of his study does extend to cover the
" P. Landau, The Realm of the Word: Language. Gender, and Christianity in a Southern African
Kingdom (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1995) 24.
50 Landau, Realm of the Word, 31.
5' Landau, Realm of the Word, 104.
farming activities of five denominations through 1939.52 While he assesses mission
farms within the context of settler colonialism, central themes of economic and
control imperatives drive his analysis of these complex, differentiated communities.
In examining these issues, he does lay substantial groundwork for additional studies
of mission farming systems. However, this focus largely bypasses the importance
of missions and agriculture to broader issues of culture, ideology, and identity.
In his highly regarded Voices From the Rocks, Terence Ranger describes the
'agricultural confidence' exhibited by Brethren of Christ missionaries arriving from
Kansas farms to evangelize amid the Matopos hills of southwestern Zimbabwe.
They subsequently "did their best to reshape the landscape" and had "no intention
of leaving this idyllic scene to nature."53 The Brethren established a mission farm in
1899 and managed to attract the required labor by holding tea drinks, thereby
tempering the community practice of labor in exchange for sorghum beer to fit
within the prohibitions of their doctrine. The missionaries also accessed local draft
power, borrowing cattle to plough their fields and returning them with the hope the
owners could use the foundation of a trained team to begin their individual
agricultural transformation. Within fifteen years African ploughmenn' surrounded
the mission, with many extending their initial holdings to supply the expanding
market of nearby Bulawayo. This produced rapid changes in the gender division of
labor as women experienced an intensification of their labor in planting and
52 S.D. Edgington, "Economic and Social Dimensions of Mission Farms on the Mashonaland
Highveld, 1890-1930s," dissertation, UCLA, 1996.
5 T.O. Ranger, Voices From the Rocks: Nature, Culture and History in the Matopos Hills of
Zimbabwe (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999) 47-49.
cultivating to match the extension of tilled area. Ranger, however, is careful to
balance the new income potential that drove these changes with less tangible
influences such as the mission's impressive overall "atmosphere of miracle and its
message of divine power." It was these entrepreneurial ploughmenn', together with
more numerous small peasant producers, who eventually became the focus of
intensifying colonial conservation efforts despite evidence that mining camps
impacted the Matopos environment much more severely.54
Given the range of issues relating to Christianity and agriculture which these
prominent recent works introduce, more focused studies of mission farming
programs are needed to better reveal the multiplicity of individual experiences
within broad patterns of rural change. Missionary efforts to transform African
agriculture varied with denomination, personality and background, station
geography, and available resources. Despite their purposefulness, the missionaries
themselves could not normally control or direct the manner in which converts
utilized both technical and spiritual messages to face the colonial world.
This dissertation explores the relationship between religious identity and
economic behavior by examining the various facets of AMEC 'agricultural
evangelism' in a period of growing state intervention. Although missionaries of all
denominations necessarily saw themselves foremost as agents of religious
conversion, more mundane practices immediately became part of evangelization
efforts, particularly among Protestant churches. Education, clothing, housing, and
sanitation habits each formed a significant aspect of the new identity presented
wholly for converts to absorb or internalize. This 'cultural package' also influenced
54 Ranger, Voices From the Rocks, 50-51: 57.
individual economic pursuits, since acquiring the symbols of proper Christian living
normally involved gaining access to cash incomes. These multiple priorities
converged in the realm of agriculture, recognized by missionaries and government
officials alike as the material and ritual core of most African societies. Any spiritual
conversion would therefore remain temporary without an accompanying change in
The study focuses on six of the largest AMEC mission centers in colonial
Zimbabwe. Each center possessed its own local socio-economic geography and the
surrounding communities each experienced the late colonial period differently. The
period between 1939-1962 draws the most intense focus for two major reasons.
Few previous studies of missions in Zimbabwe extend beyond the 1930s. More
importantly, however, these years mark a period of intensified government concern
with agriculture and conservation on lands designated for African occupation.
Further examination of the relationships between African agriculture, mission
Christianity, and state policy therefore crucial becomes for understanding an era of
various comprehensive attempts at social engineering. Serious consideration of
these issues addresses some important questions: to what extent did mission-based
networks provide African farmers with the social or technical resources for
managing land and labor in new ways? how did missions mediate state-peasant
relations amidst the expanding scope of official programs? did missions enable
local farmers to deal effectively with increasing government intervention or were
they rendered more vulnerable? Finally, what conclusions can be drawn about the
broader connections between religious identity and economic behavior? Exploring
such questions offers new insights on a period important for understanding both
economic change in colonial Zimbabwe and the historical context of contemporary
rural development efforts.
Chapter 2 explores the motivations and assumptions which shaped AMEC
missionary activities in colonial Zimbabwe. Beginning with trends in American
Protestant thought on the mission enterprise, it then examines missionary
impressions of African agriculture and its effects upon local communities. The
chapter also looks closely at how missionaries attempted to transform the ritual and
social practices associated with local farming patterns that they encountered. It
argues that converts adapted or appropriated those aspects of missionary messages
on agriculture which best fit their personal situation and goals.
Chapter 3 analyzes the peculiar relationship between mission and
government policies on African agriculture. The similarities in these approaches
were based on more than general assumptions about the nature of local farming
methods. Many commonalties emerged from the rural background and university
education that certain AMEC missionaries shared with the longtime head of
government agricultural programs for Africans, himself an American and former
missionary. As official intervention expanded in the rural areas, mission
communities experienced a variety of circumstances, occasionally buffered but
usually still vulnerable to encroaching state land and livestock policies.
Chapter 4 examines the economic importance of farming in the variety of
mission communities. Mission educational and evangelical efforts relied
substantially upon making productive use of extensive land holdings. Any
expansion of outstation schools required funding drawn from the tithing of local
churches. Parents' ability to pay school fees largely depended on the success or
failure of their agricultural efforts. Attempts to boost productivity on mission lands
produced differing results, including irrigation schemes and new efforts to control
tenant farming methods.
Chapter 5 builds around pupils' experiences with agriculture during the
course of their mission education. For much of the period under investigation,
instruction in farming methods was an important part of a curriculum designed to
prepare pupils for a return to rural life in the reserves. Student labor remained an
integral element of overall mission efforts to attain some level of station self-
sufficiency in foodstuffs. Agricultural courses involved substantial amounts of
'general work' by which student labor produced the bulk of boarding school rations.
But students and parents often held educational agendas distinctly different than
Chapter 6 outlines several family histories to illustrate the variety of
entrepreneurial strategies that emerged in these rural mission communities. Access
to transport and markets usually determined the nature of opportunity for
commercial activities. Mission stations themselves could comprise a marketplace,
as well as contact with more regularized transit lines. While many recognized
entrepreneurs maintained long-term mission connections, other factors seriously
influenced the direction and success (or failure) of their commercial enterprises.
Chapter 7 discusses how the nature of available sources has influenced the
understanding of missions and agricultural change in Southern Africa. Similar to
their government counterparts, missionary accounts present a series of historical
snapshots that place themselves squarely in the foreground. Uncritical acceptance
of this material has led towards a popular version of the rural past in which converts
passively adopt the mission cultural and agricultural package. In some ways, this
interpretation continues to shape religious identity amongst contemporary United
Chapter 8 concludes the study by assessing the long-tenn relationship
between agricultural evangelism and agrarian change in colonial Zimbabwe.
Specific aspects of mission Christianity did influence practical farming behavior but
often in an unanticipated manner. Religious affiliation could shape economic
behavior, yet for most individuals it constituted only one of several identities
competing for public expression.
ONLY YOUR HANDS SHOULD WORK: AGRICULTURE, SOCIAL
TRANSFORMATION, AND AMEC MISSIONS IN COLONIAL ZIMBABWE
This chapter examines various ideas vital to shaping the American Methodist
Episcopal Church (AMEC) mission enterprise in colonial Zimbabwe. It begins with
an overview of Protestant missionary thought in the United States, for it constituted
an important element in the formulation of general mission policy and goals. Basic
assumptions about the purposes of missionary activity actually produced a variety of
programs in the field, many depending upon denominational priorities. An
important and useful way of approaching this struggle lies in defining the
relationship between religious beliefs and the character/organization of missionary
activities. Yet an analysis limited to this strategy may overlook decisive forces,
since the basis for mission policy often relates to "values and beliefs not essentially
part of basic Christian theology"' Thus, the cultural background of the missionary
becomes crucial to understanding interactions with African people and the colonial
system. Pursuit of these goals within the particular context of settler colonialism in
Southern Africa produced an extended missionary concern with African agriculture.
Most mission programs in colonial Zimbabwe incorporated some form of
agricultural training, but it commonly remained peripheral to their educational
SBeidelman, "Social Theory," 241.
goals. AMEC missions always considered agriculture as a high priority, although
the results that this interest yielded varied over the period in question. Discussion
then moves to the relationship between agricultural methods and cultural practices,
exploring how converts appropriated certain elements of mission Christianity to suit
their own purposes. Missionaries themselves had broader hopes concerning the
social impact of any transformation in agricultural methods. The chapter concludes
with a consideration of the Lord's Acre, a mission program meant to represent the
most important aspects of a Christian farming ethic. While this program included
all the elements of a Christian farming idiom, it also illustrates the difficulties that
frequently beset the various mission farming endeavors.
During the 1890s, a liberal theology of missions, hitherto focused on
problems of urbanization and social transformation within the United States, began
to search for a variety of Christianity suitable for export to colonial domains.
According to William Hutchison, discussions of missions at this time "turned rather
naturally toward the more positive work of defining just what it is that Christianity
has to offer the world, and on what terms the offer should be made."2 By 1900, this
shift had not moved concern for missions beyond a minority of Protestant church
members. Yet this gradually expanding minority has been characterized as earnest,
confident and articulate.3
2 W. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1976) 133.
3 W. Hutchison, Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1987) 91.
The publication of Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
Capitalism (1905) only reaffirmed the necessity of missions to Africa, since it
evidently demonstrated the role of religion in the creation of modem Western
civilization. Although he carefully noted the attendant factors which produced
capitalism in Europe, for missionaries driven by a particular calling, Weber's
theories would resonate strongly with their own ideas of purpose. By this point in
the early 20th Century, that a new religious identity could foster specific material
and social changes had already become a central tenet of increasingly activist
Protestant missionary societies. Many felt their designs for model Christian
communities in Africa could never survive without removing converts from the
influences of a superstitious or backward environment. Complete conversion would
require individuals to use new economic strategies or skills in establishing a
Christian household independent of traditional ritual and kinship constraints.
Despite its critics, The Protestant Ethic certainly reinforced these
missionaries' view of their own place in history. Civilization in Africa would begin
upon a Christian foundation, with subsequent rational economic behavior to finance
its completion. But Weber himself did not predict such a quick and easy
transformation towards his definition of modern capitalism. He actually argued that
its emergence in the West was the product of a specific historical conjuncture. As
such, Weber never argues that religion comprised sufficient causation for the
transition to capitalism. He states near the conclusion of his analysis, "it is not my
aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic
causal interpretation of culture and of history. Each is equally possible, but each, if
it does not serve as the preparation, but as the conclusion of an investigation,
accomplishes little in the interest of historical truth."4
Yet most missionaries, according to their very worldview, naturally tended
to place more emphasis upon the primary role of spiritual transformation. Believing
Africans lacked any ascetic tradition, missionaries and colonial officials alike
regarded religious conversion essential to the creation of either proletarians or
entrepreneurs. Like Weber, they believed that "the most important opponent with
which the spirit of capitalism...has had to struggle, was that type of attitude and
reaction to new situations which we may designate as traditionalism."5 Weber's
primary example of this obstacle, the difficulties encountered by employers utilizing
piece-rates, closely resembles widely held colonial economic theories such as the
backward-sloping labor curve. In each case, analysis rested upon the presumption
that "a man does not 'by nature' wish to earn more and more money, but simply to
live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that
purpose."6 These ideas fortified already ubiquitous colonial attitudes about
'traditionalism' and 'laziness' within African societies that remained somehow
closer to the 'natural' state of humanity. In much of southern Africa, settler
4 M. Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905; New York: Routledge, 1993)
5 Weber 58-59. This fundamental conclusion still undergirds much contemporary analysis of
economic behavior in Africa. For example, according to one study, African religion "provides no
mental frame which could easily link with the impersonal instrumentalism and functionalist rigidity
of modem capitalism or which could smoothly assimilate the capitalist ethos of 'profit for profit's
sake' and the compulsive pursuit of surplus which subjects human desires to economic necessities."
V. Wild, Profit Not for Profit's Sake: History and Business Culture of African Entrepreneurs in
Zimbabwe (Harare: Baobab, 1997) 157.
6 Weber 60.
governments would eventually deem a variety of coercive measures quite
appropriate to 'rescue' indigenous peoples from a static pre-capitalist world.
The World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910 moved awareness
and concern for overseas missionary activity to a new level. Scholars have
consistently interpreted this event as a major breakthrough for missionary enterprise
as a whole. For example, Beaver contends that the conference clarified the basic
principles of mission and solidified commitment to overseas activity for the
remainder of the decade. Churches now had to develop foreign missionary boards
to appear in the mainstream of American religious life.7 The optimism initiated by
Edinburgh rapidly diminished in the aftermath of the First World War. Charles
Forman describes a return to normalcy: "in reaction to idealism came a wave of
cynicism and in disillusionment with internationalism came a revival of
isolationism."8 By his account, inter-war contributions to mission boards declined
first as a result of demoralization and then from economic depression.
Consequently, the 1920s are commonly perceived as a period of general
retrenchment in American mission work, with a serious decline in the student
volunteer movement as perhaps the most conspicuous symptom. Beaver argues the
economic dislocation of the 1930's only exacerbated this tendency which by mid-
decade had thrown "the whole Protestant missionary enterprise into reverse."9
7 R.P. Beaver, "American Protestant Theological Seminary and Missions: an Historical Survey,"
Missiology 4, 1 (1976) 84.
8 C. Forman, "A History of Foreign Mission Theory in America," American Missions in Bicentennial
Perspective, ed. R.P. Beaver (South Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1977) 96.
9 Beaver, "Theological Seminary and Missions," 84.
Bowden seemingly agrees, noting an abandonment of many important programs
established in previous years. But his account moves further towards a more subtle
interpretation while making some significantly broader conclusions. The inter-war
era did not entail the complete failure of mission programs, "but it served as the
background for a certain curtailment of action, this congruent with the more radical
collapse of religious influence in America itself."10 This trend would continue to
shape the mission enterprise for decades. Indeed, Hutchison points to data
indicating a decrease of personnel after 1935 that reduced mainline Protestant
mission staffs by over two-thirds (from 10,000 to 3,000 by 1980). Yet the absolute
number of missionaries increased to over 35,000. The preceding era of dominance
in missionary work by mainline Protestant churches had ended with conservative
evangelicalism reasserting itself over ecumenical liberalism.'
Yet for many parts of Africa, the 1920s brought a new generation of
missionaries into service. Education, agriculture, community development and
politics became legitimate areas for focused missionary involvement.12 At certain
points in this new activism, the ideals of a Western society, encompassing even
material aspirations, were portrayed as a complete cultural package. In other
instances missionaries made a clear distinction between the constructive and
"' H.W. Bowden, "An Overview of Cultural Factors in the American Protestant Missionary Enterprise,"
American Missions in Bicentennial Perspective, ed. R.P. Beaver (South Pasadena: William Carey
Library, 1977) 57.
" W. Hutchison, "Americans in World Mission: Revision and Realignment," Altered Landscapes:
Christianity in America, 1935-1985, eds. Lotz, Shriver, and Wilson (Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans, 1989) 155.
1 Strayer, Making Mission Communities, 8.
destructive elements of modem life.3 One common example was their idealized
view of African village life in contrast to the ill effects of industrialization. While
many activist missionaries espoused ideas about the commercial and material
foundations of an African Christian community, they tended to reject those aspects
of European influence patently urban or secular. Rather, missionary thought often
"envisaged that traditional African society, once shorn of its grossest abuses and
infused with Christianity, would represent a more desirable cultural alternative and
better base for future development . ."14
The liberal theology of overseas mission marked a significant departure from
the long-standing evangelical emphasis on conversion. Liberals were much more
inclined to envision world mission as an active Christian presence. Hutchison
characterizes liberal thinkers as defining conversion not on an individual basis but
rather striving towards an overall restructuring of host societies. His analysis
parallels Beaver's in stressing the connection liberals commonly made between
individual spiritual welfare and the more general condition of body, mind, and
society.15 A contradiction inherent to this outlook disturbed many of its adherents.
Their unwillingness to affirm proactively the preeminence of a 'western civilization'
led to some hesitancy in declaring the superiority of Christianity as a world religion.
Subsequently, within liberal mission theory the affirmation of Christianity's truth
" Beidelman. "Social Theory," 236-40.
14 R. Strayer, "Mission History in Africa: New Perspectives on an Encounter," African Studies
Review 19, 1 (1976) 13.
15 Hutchison, "Americans in World Mission," 159. See also R.P. Beaver, "North American Thought
on the Fundamental Principles of Missions during the Twentieth Century," Church History 21 (1952)
emerged alongside the recognition of value in other religions/cultures. Hutchison
concludes that liberal Christians "did indeed want to have it both ways. ..that they
wished both to affirm a God-infused natural and cultural order and to maintain the
specificity of a Christian revelation."16
The association drawn between missionary endeavors and general social
conditions nevertheless seemed to necessitate a certain level of proficiency in
dealing with issues of local concern. Forman posits that this emphasis on
competency became strong enough to cause some mission theorists to recommend
closure of inadequate facilities in order to concentrate resources on more successful
enterprises.17 The eventual goal of consolidation would be a smaller cohort of
missionaries, better trained and more capable of dealing with particular individual or
social needs. Consequently, a more activist theory of mission gradually developed
in coherence and popularity during the 1920s. By the early 1930s, it could
effectively be considered the official foreign policy of American mainline Protestant
This outlook solidified largely in reaction to a series of commission reports
which had disparaged the widespread lack of missionary training in methods for
social transformation. Most notably, the ecumenical 1932 Laymen's Inquiry report
"conveyed a sense that the missionary hero. ..was nonetheless a kind of loose
cannon, bumbling and banging around in virtual ignorance of his surroundings.""1
16 Hutchison, Modernist Impulse, 113.
" Forman 101.
18 IHutchison, Errand to the World, 164.
The report explicitly confirmed the inherent value of educational and social services
to missionary efforts. The report designates these services as legitimate functions of
missions, even when distinctly separated from any specific evangelical message.
According to Hutchison, the activist missionary during this period became "the
religious representative of what the American culture as a whole was commonly
perceived to be."19
Beaver, however, rightly cautions to avoid conflating such attitudes with
actualities. While liberal theology unquestionably gained influence during the
1920's, he argues that since it directly challenged many of the pre-suppositions of
foreign missionary enterprise, missionary circles remained more resistant than most
other sectors within the churches.20 In the years following the Laymen's Inquiry, the
majority of American missionary leaders actually rejected many of its specific
recommendations, demonstrating that the mission theory/theology of the
commission often clashed with that of the mission staff. Most missionaries fully
accepted neither the liberal relation of Christianity to other religions nor the
conservative doctrine of discontinuity.21
Furthermore, the liberal/activist conception of mission did not go
unchallenged. These views came under attack during the 1920s from conservative
19 W. Hutchison, "American Missionary Ideologies: 'Activism' as Theory, Practice, and Stereotype,"
Studies in the History of Christian Thought, ed. H. Oberman (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979) 35 1.
20 Beaver, "'North American Thought on Missions," 349.
2' Beaver, "North American Thought on Missions," 352-54.
evangelical thinkers in the United States and Germany.22 Both segments generally
agreed upon the ongoing mistake of permitting educational and social services to
gain ascendance over 'true' evangelism. They deemed liberal theories of social
Christianity successful only in distracting people from attention to God. Moreover,
the German evangelical writers opposed American activism with the contention that
the goal of activism was not religious conversion. Rather, the Germans perceived
American intentions as a form of cultural imperialism seeking to convert others to a
particular style of religion and civilization.
By the late 1920s, having been forced to face the relative success of liberal
missionary efforts, conservative evangelicals posited the necessity of a choice in
mission between Christian orthodoxy and no Christianity at all. This theme unified
those evangelicals who felt confident that continued liberal policies would "cut the
nerve of missions."23 Beaver also confronts this issue in discussing the conservative
response to the Laymen's Inquiry. This reply reaffirmed their emphasis on
evangelical conversion as the sole valid purpose of missionary activity.
Furthermore, they denied the validity and affirmed the essential failure of any
religion not based upon the Bible. Accordingly, "the Gospel cannot be presented as
a set of truths, a system of ethics or a social program, although such may be by-
products ...."24 This view in particular raised a contentious issue amongst liberal
22 Hutchison deals with this issue more extensively than any other author. For examples, see Errand
to the World, 125; Modemist Impulse, 155 and 258-260; "American Missionary Ideologies," 353-
23 Hutchison, Moderist Impulse, 259.
24 Beaver, "North American Thought on Missions," 353.
activists. How could one promote Christianity as the best religion for humankind
while simultaneously attempting to accept the validity and strength of other
At another, often unrecognized level, liberal missionaries also had to
question to what extent they perpetuated a parallel process on cultural and material
issues. Forman argues that liberals' outward concern and respect for other cultures
meant they had to oppose outright imperialist domination but could still support an
altruistic imperialism based on cultural/material exchange.25 Forman's
interpretation meshes well with other scholars emphasis on the notion of progress.
Beaver contends that conceptions of progress help to explain missionary enthusiasm
and optimism. Progress in social transformation and economic improvement nearly
became more important than the progress of religious conversion. In some sense,
"the kingdom of God came to be confused with progress to a considerable degree,
that is, with the development and extension of modem European technological
Given that liberal activism offered deliverance through social services, it
was somewhat inevitable that certain institutions in American culture would be
presented as crucial to this redemption. Even serious attention to distinguishing
between Christian values and cultural mores could not ameliorate this contradictory
situation. Submerged ethnocentrism decreased the absolute distinctions which
25 Forman 85.
26 R.P. Beaver, "Missionary Motivation through Three Centuries," Reinterpretation in American
Church History, ed. J. Brauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968) 131.
liberals and conservatives attempted to draw between themselves. According to
Hutchison, both sides suffered from a "common inability to take seriously any
norms or testimonies not originating in Western Christendom, an unwillingness to
grant exotic cultures the kind of hearing automatically expected for Christian and
Western values."27 The tensions between various theories of mission enterprise
would often emerge in the particular orientation of mission systems and programs.
In colonial Zimbabwe, the AMEC directed its efforts primarily towards rural
society, to communities which for missionaries seemingly comprised "first of all, an
agricultural people" that would continue "to live by some kind of agriculture
whether good or poor."28 Most generally, the Shona agricultural knowledge and
practices encountered by the early AMEC missionaries were the long term result of
complex decisions made annually to gauge opportunity against constraint. The bulk
of pre-colonial farming in eastern Zimbabwe took place within forms of a swidden
system known as chibhakera. The most widely planted food crops included
varieties of sorghums, millets, rice, maize, cowpeas and groundnuts. Households
also grew a variety of other supplements, with pumpkins, beans, sweet potatoes,
tomatoes, melons, and lemons among the most popular choices.29 Seasonably
available wild fruits provided additional nutrition and culturally-valued variations in
diet. Cattle and goats formed an important part of this agricultural system, more as
27 Hutchison, Errand to the World, 113.
28 OMA: The Methodist Episcopal Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old
Umlali: Rhodesia Mission Press, 1937) 137. See also UMCA George Roberts Papers: G. Roberts,
"Africa Letter," 23 March 1938.
29 D.N. Beach, The Shona and their Neighbors (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994) 55: Palmer, "Agricultural
accumulated insurance against potential crop failure or drought, however, than as
sources for regular domestic meat consumption.30
From crop selection to harvest, any family's level of connectedness with
local ecology and society largely determined their farming performance.
Knowledge of soil types, crop behavior, and typical rainfall patterns all figured in
calculating yearly production efforts. Necessary additional labor or inputs
commonly depended upon relationships with other individuals and households in
the community. With consent of the local chief or headman, fathers allocated sons
land upon marriage for the use of their new household. These rights remained
usufruct, with land reverting to communal status upon lack of use. Therefore,
although individual men held land rights, the continuation of access depended
heavily upon the entirety of household labor.31 Peak season tasks such as field
clearance or harvesting generated intense short-term labor requirements. The
practice of holding a nhimbe (work party), wherein the provision of beer encouraged
a crucial exchange of extra-household labor, usually worked to the advantage of
successful farmers who had more harvested grain available for beer production.
Those households without sufficient surplus for brewing found it difficult to attract
additional labor with any regularity.32
Under chibhakera, male tasks tended to revolve around several peak periods
in the agricultural year. When clearing land for initial planting, younger men
30 Beach, The Shona and their Neighbors, 57.
32 Beach, The Shona and their Neighbors, 59; I. Phimister, An Economic and Social History of
Zimbabwe 1890-1948: Capital Accumulation and Class Struggle (New York: Longman, 1988) 73.
moved with hoes in a retreating fashion to raise a first series of harwa (low ridges)
across the field.3 Men and women then followed together, increasing the initial
ridges. Meanwhile other men cut selected trees within several feet of ground level
while women gathered the branches into nearby mavivi (piles for burning). Men
might also enclose these new fields by creating a ruzhowa (hedge of cut branches).34
The inavivi usually dried for several months before being burnt, their ashes
scattered, and turned into the ridges with hoes. Women would eventually plant seed
along the ridge tops. Chibhakera relied upon intercropping techniques to maximize
both basic household food security and a preferred variety in diet.35 Intercropping
also helped to conserve female farm labor, since it at least minimized the most
regular, time-consuming tasks such as weeding which remained the responsibility of
women. Women controlled the produce of smaller plots they held within household
lands but spent most of their time in the larger fields whose crops remained under
Chibhakera operated as one part of a wider belief system through which
Shona peoples managed their relationship with the unpredictable world around
them. In order to ensure survival amid a powerfully charged landscape, agricultural
production remained subject to a ritual structure that attempted to mediate between
human activity and natural forces. Missionaries therefore arrived to find an
environment already immersed in spiritual symbols and meanings. Although
33 NAZ file AOH/37: Testimony of Chari Rwambiwa (April 1978) 18-22.
34 NAZ file AOH/5 1: Testimony of Pauros Mugwagwa Musonza (March-April 1979) 26-28.
35 NAZ file AOH/32: Testimony of Chief Marufu Chikwakwa (February 1978) 30.
36 Schmidt 44.
following Mwari (a supreme god) grew increasingly popular during the late 19th
Century, in agricultural matters most Shona peoples concerned themselves more
directly with their local mhondoro (territorial spirit). Land actually belonged to the
mhondoro with the chief only acting on its behalf. The mhondoro determined
annual rainfall, soil fertility, and crop pests. Significant annoyance of the mhondoro
could result in community-wide punishments such as drought or locusts.37 In other
instances, parts of forested land became classified as dambakurimnwa and could
never fall under cultivation because of their significance as home to vadzimu
(ancestral spirits). According to author Matsosha Mike Hove, "there were always
areas which were demarcated for spiritual purposes .Certain areas were the abodes
of the spirit world... So the soil had the knowledge, it provided a spiritual map of an
area, and this knowledge was passed on from generation to generation."38
Community recognition of the spiritual power over agriculture occurred in
many different ritual moments. Prior to beginning each agricultural year, the entire
community provided grain for brewing the ritual beer used to conduct chipwa or
mukwerere (prayers for rain). This ceremony usually took place at the local
rutumba (mhondoro shrine) located near a specific tree outside the residential
perimeter.39 At this ceremony household representatives also received the ritual
seed that opened the planting season. However, nobody could work the soil on the
37 M. Gelfand, Ukama: Reflections on Shona and Western Cultures in Zimbabwe (Gweru: Mambo
Press, 1981) 9-10.
38 C. Hove and 1. Trojanow, Guardians of the Soil: Meeting Zimbabwe's Elders (Harare: Baobab,
39 M.F.C. Bourdillon, The Shona Peoples: An Ethnography of the Contemporary Shona. With
Special Reference to Their Religion (Gweru: Mambo Press, 1976) 301-302.
day of this ceremony. Throughout the subsequent growing season, communities
regularly reproduced this initial observance through chisi, a specified day each week
when every household refrained from farm labor to honor the nmhondoro and its
power over agriculture.4 Harvest and consumption of crops also fell under ritual
sanction. A mushashe (first fruits) ceremony preceded any enjoyment of the
season's labor. This ritual also took place at the rutumba. Once again, the
community provided grain for beer production. Vazukuru (elders) went into the
fields to gather samples from the entire range of crops. After gathering this produce
around the rutumba, the vazukuru dedicated it to the vadzimu and all households
could then partake of their own crops. Ignoring this phase in the ritual calendar
risked the destruction of everyone's fields by locusts.4'
Individuals also sought to utilize less public rituals in order to ensure
abundant agricultural results. Some farmers employed various types of muti
(specialized medicines/charms) to enhance yields. Such devices supposedly
provided their user with additional safeguards for crops before and after harvest.
Among the specific agricultural muti, for example, the most common was divisi,
which would create an abundance of grain. Dikibvu also promoted crop fertility.
Rukwa or chipingo were added insurance against crop theft. Mbondokoto would
protect granaries from common storage problems. While farming success remained
a socially acceptable end, application of these different muti usually remained a
0 Gelfand 10.
1 NAZ file AOII/12: Testimony ofChisandau Gumbo (June 1977) 30-31.
private affair since publicly "their use is held to convey an unfair advantage over
others in the community."42
Several of the longest serving AMEC missionaries first encountered Shona
agricultural knowledge, methods, and ritual during an extended period of food
insecurity in eastern colonial Zimbabwe. In 1935 Rev. George Roberts recalled that
"in the early days we saw three years in which the food supply was short and there
was real suffering from hunger."43 This period culminated with the Great Drought
of 1912.44 The resultant impressions of local farming practices led these
missionaries to conclude that in addition to its problematic spiritual connections,
chibhakera could not provide households with a diet adequate in either quantity or
variety. Reflecting upon these rather unfavorable initial appraisals of chibhakera,
AMEC missionaries quickly focused on a particular model of agricultural
development as central in creating self-supporting Christian communities. They
hoped that as more Africans came to accept the "benevolent power of God they
would be open to His plan for rational and progressive development."45 AMEC
programs therefore stressed the gospel of the plough in order to cultivate modern
entrepreneurs who utilized better farming methods. Missionaries felt a thriving
peasantry would constitute a more receptive and permanent audience for their
evangelical efforts, as "one whose struggle for existence is too severe has little
'2 Bourdillon 202.
4' E.L. Sells, On Trek with Christ in Southern Rhodesia (Old Umtali: Rhodesia Mission Press, 1936)
44 J. lliffe, Famine in Zimbabwe, 1890-1960 (Gweru: Mambo Press, 1990) 42-55.
45 Ranger, "Protestant Missions in Africa," 286.
likelihood of long remaining a strong Christian."46 Successful modem farming
would also promote a more general level of stability and civilization amongst local
AMEC missionaries frequently portrayed plough agriculture and market
production as a fundamental part of a complete cultural package appropriate for "a
people whose hearts are never far from the soil." With the help of various mission
agricultural programs "many a farmer is raising better crops, has healthier and fatter
cattle, sells more eggs, eats more vegetables and fruit, plants more trees, wears
better clothes, builds a better house and has more to offer his family in the way of
education. . .47 Yet in other instances they drew clear distinctions between the
positive and negative aspects of modern life. When contrasting an idealized vision
of rural life with the ill effects of industrialization, missionaries hoped to blunt the
threat posed by cities to converts' spiritual welfare and continued church
membership. By the late 1930s, increasing urban labor migration was cause for
concern in missionary reports from many denominations active in Southern Africa.
At that time, missionaries interpreted the problem as something more than
merely colonial economic policy since many people had seemingly succumbed to
the lure of the bright lights. As Rev. H.E. Taylor wrote in his 1937 report, "We
must face the fact that the number who fail to return is increasing and that unless
great enough interests be built up about rural life, the number who go away to stay
"4 OMA: The Methodist Episcopal Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old
Umtali: Rhodesia Mission Press, 1936) 52.
7 OMA: The Methodist Church, Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali: Rhodesia
Mission Press, 1961) 97.
will increase. For their own sakes we are sorry that they face such a possibility."48
This phenomenon affected mission communities in varying degrees. Communities
surrounding Murehwa, the AMEC mission closest to Salisbury, apparently
experienced labor migration sufficient to warrant the posting of an African preacher
there by 1930. He was charged with following up on "Methodist workers who
might otherwise drift away from the church while in the city."49 Thus, missionary
enterprise faced a dual responsibility for the social welfare of local communities, to
not only make a religious impression but to also find avenues by which people
would continue to stay on the land. Taylor concluded, "we must bring to bear all
the powers we can use for helping make the social and economic appeal of the life
in the land such as to hold our people there."50 Developing and promoting an
economically viable system of plough-based market production became the
alternative to the negative effects of labor migration on rural society.
Several of the earliest improved farming proponents within the AMEC had
substantial agricultural training prior to their missionary calling. George Odlum,
who arrived to take charge of the agricultural department at Old Umtali in 1901,
graduated from Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University).'
48 OMA: The Methodist Episcopal Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old
Umtali: Rhodesia Mission Press, 1937) 137.
9 J.T. Copplestone, History of Methodist Missions, vol. IV: Twentieth Century Perspectives, 1896-
1939 (New York: Board of Global Ministries, 1973) 973.
50 OMA: The Methodist Episcopal Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old
Umtali: Rhodesia Mission Press, 1937) 137.
5' E.K. Nhiwatiwa, Humble Beginnings: a Brief History of the United Methodist Church. Zimbabwe
Area (Harare: United Methodist Church Zimbabwe, 1997) 18. Odlum went on to enter government
service as an advisor on commercial tobacco production.
George Roberts arrived in 1907, following his graduation from Iowa State
University with a B.Sc. in agriculture. His family had managed to make their
Marathon (Iowa) farm pay during the tough 1890s, to the extent that all but one of
eight children eventually attended university.52 Ideas and techniques for successful
production in the American Midwest would therefore play a large role in the
formulation of early AMEC agricultural programs. The perceived irrationalities of
swidden cultivation, broadcast sowing and intercropping would have to be replaced
by orderly, monocrop plantings that conformed to a regular annual rotation.
Perhaps no other area of practical endeavor could provide such a complete analogy
for what these missionaries hoped to achieve. Agricultural 'progress' would
provide the essential foundation of a more profound social and spiritual
transformation. These missionaries, however, seldom questioned whether their
extensive agricultural operations, largely reliant on student labor, could even
provide an appropriate example for the extension of 'modem' techniques. People
farming only a few acres were in fact expected to better the practices employed in
the relatively extensive mission fields.53 AMEC missionaries often placed so much
faith in the transformative potential of the plough that they simplified or ignored the
other constraints in local farming systems.
In his attempt to describe the 'typical' African farmer, Rev. E.L. Sells
recounted a conversation from the early 1930s concerning anticipated crop results.
This particular farmer feared low yields would fail to carry his household through
52 UMCA Lulu Tubbs Papers 1079-6-2:03-04: L. Tubbs, "The Record of a Great and Useful Life,"
53 E. Sisimayi, personal interview, 25 February 1998.
the dry season. Locusts had eaten off the maize shortly after coming up, forcing the
family to replant. The next rains came in an intense downpour and compacted the
soil. The family could not secure the necessary labor to keep their various fields
weeded. Finally, cattle from the next village wandered into the sorghum and
demolished most of the crop. The farmer managed to obtain only 2 as partial
compensation. Sells' eventually interrupted, "but why don't you dig the soil deeper
so that it will hold the moisture and crops will have loose earth for growing?"54
Like so many AMEC missionaries, his response to such seasonal vagaries presented
a rather narrow path to progress.
Similarly, the importance missionaries placed on transforming peasant
agriculture did not produce a very thorough analysis of government land policies.
Rather, many mission groups seemed to regard the consequences of a racialized
land apportiomnent as fait accompli, a fact of life that only further justified their
emphasis upon intensive and rational farming methods.55 Missionary attitudes
reflected the government position that "what was needed was not more good quality
land available to Africans, but rather what was needed was to change African
farmers. . .56 By the mid-1940s, their outlook, like that of many state officials,
had also turned towards the problems of natural resource conservation. Thereafter,
55 Ranger quotes one missionary's 1923 statement on segregated land tenure: "Against such racial
division in the past I have protested in principle. I could not see the justice of it. My views have
undergone a change. The right of natives to purchase land anywhere means that they purchase
nowhere." T.O. Ranger, The African Voice in Southern Rhodesia 1898-1930 (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1970) 116.
5 Edgington 180.
AMEC missionary discourse on agriculture frequently invoked a particular notion of
stewardship. This concept sought to infuse the broader ideals of natural resource
conservation with a sense of Christian duty and purpose. Human control over the
environment was ordained by God, but with this power came the responsibility to
utilize the land properly. In promoting their idea of stewardship, AMEC
missionaries attempted to move converts beyond the state's tendency of simply
presenting resource conservation as an issue for "your future generations" or "the
country's economic future." Of course, missionary discourse did not discount these
emphases, but stressed instead that Christian farmers had a higher spiritual
obligation to cultivate their fields in a specific manner.
Not surprisingly, the specifics of AMEC stewardship tended to focus on
aspects of African agriculture suspected of causing environmental degradation.
Recommendations for crop rotation, appropriate fertilization, and physical soil
conservation methods closely reflected newly implemented state policies. The
Conference Board of Lay Activities recommended that "all Christians should be
urged to carry on their farming and gardening programs in a scientific way as taught
by the demonstrators and other agricultural authorities, so as to be an example to
others."57 Mission support for the policies of the Department of Native Agriculture
remained fairly consistent, which meant that a particular vision of 'progressive
agriculture' became embedded within their conception of stewardship. The
supposed economic benefits of this stewardship would increase the ability of
" OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1947) 422.
communities to support church activities and expansion, once again infusing the
adherence to a specific farming system with spiritual rewards.
Proper stewardship would extend to ensure that any increase in rural
prosperity would also benefit the missions. In 1947, Rev. H.I James reported from
Mrewa, "perhaps never was our special emphasis on stewardship more timely.., the
world-wide wave of materialism has not missed Rhodesia and has touched every
class of her people."58 Just as mission agricultural policies had earlier reflected a
concern over the impact of labor migration, stewardship was another attempt to use
essentially agricultural methods to buffer social forces beyond missionary control.
It appeared only successful peasant farming could stabilize rural populations and
only a powerful notion of stewardship would channel the envisioned prosperity
towards appropriate ends. Oft-repeated references to this version of stewardship
represent the culmination of a long process, in which various farming technologies
and methods increasingly became part of a mission Christian identity built atop the
idealized 'proper' Christian farmer.
In reality, converts adopted and adapted elements of this identity according
to their own priorities. One of the earliest missionary accounts of this process
recalls the advice provided by Rev. George Roberts, then stationed at Old Umtali, to
Abraham Kawadza concerning the purchase of a plough. In 1908, Kawadza
questioned Roberts on the implications of plough agriculture:
'If I get a plough, will the mealies grow the same for me as they do
in your field?' I assured him that they would. 'If I get a plough, will
5 OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1947) 367.
the rains come upon my field as it does on yours?' There was the
fear that without the sacrifice of beer to the rainmaker there would be
By Roberts' recollection then, plough agriculture and indigenous religion
necessarily assumed an oppositional relationship from the moment Kawadza
became the first African plough owner in that locality.
Like most missionaries, Roberts felt a plough-based farming system would
not only challenge the centrality of local religious rituals in seasonal production, but
also promote individualization by ending dependence upon the labor garnered
through the nhimbe. Missionaries attributed all sorts of immoral and violent
behavior to these neighborly beer drinks which took place during periods of peak
labor demand. By the mid-1930s, Roberts would argue that the plough made the
nhimbe obsolete: "Thus in the breakdown of the old plan of life the heavy task of
making beer with its waste of grain, the making of beer pots and the carrying of
water have become unnecessary. The cattle yoked to the plough give the individual
family a new outlook and plan of living."60
Yet despite Roberts' outspoken enthusiasm, the gospel of the plough did not
render nhimbes redundant. Several informants related how converts managed to
reconcile the existing labor system with their newfound faith. In Shona
communities, boys and girls were not allowed to consume alcohol. Many
households also produced a sweet brew called maheu which had no intoxicating
" OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1946) 227-28.
60 Sells 21.
qualities: "The youngsters who were about fifteen or sixteen, up to about twenty
years .would have this sweet beer. But these people now who had changed from
beer drinking, also joined the youngest ones in drinking maheu. So there was no
change whatsoever shall we say in the system of work.""6 However, acceptance of
this practice amongst AMEC communities only emerged as the product of struggle
between mission authorities and local congregations.
As early as 1921, the Southern Rhodesia Missionary Conference had warned
all pastor-teachers about consumption of maheu. Apparently, the AMEC attempted
to implement this advice, extending the prohibition to include all members of their
congregations. It appears likely that the resistance of congregation members to a
church mandate that effectively isolated them from important community events
caused the Conference Board to reverse this decision in 1924. Concern, and
apparently confusion, among missionaries remained, as evidenced by the Board's
suggestion that pastor-teachers promote citrus cultivation in order to provide
alternative beverages. The Conference Board eventually recommended that any
maheu drinking take place within twenty-four hours of brewing to avoid excessive
fermentation prior to consumption.62
The introduction of Christianity, plough-based farming and its associated
techniques did not always disrupt the important social aspects of indigenous
agriculture. This speaks not only to the resiliency of local cultures, but also
provides insight on the broader process of African adaptation of mission doctrine.
6 E. Sisimayi, personal interview, 25 February 1998.
62 J.W.Z. Kurewa, The Church in Mission: a Short History of the United Methodist Church in
Zimbabwe, 1897-1997 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997) 88-89.
Conversion to Christianity therefore did not necessitate the removal of oneself from
community responsibilities or activities. Rather, it produced variations based on
existing and accepted social norms (e.g. the production ofmaheu). Roberts' dream
of ending nhimbe for the sake of conserving labor and food stocks would go
unrealized due to the reluctance of most Christians to abandon this particularly
important connection with the wider community.
Rev. Roberts also expected hope an expansion of plough ownership to
gradually eliminate polygamous households. The combination of lower female
labor requirements and increased yields which the plough supposedly offered would
make the polygamous household irrelevant to farm production. As Roberts had
viewed Kawadza's initial ploughing effort in 1908, Abraham's three wives stood by
"watching with great delight the turning over of the soil as it meant emancipation
from the hard work of digging the garden." Kawadza's subsequently dispersed the
household as his youngest wife married another man and his eldest wife (whom he
had inherited) then married one of his brothers. As a result, Kawadza "retained his
rightful wife and became an active member of the Church."63 But Roberts had
gotten it somewhat, if not completely backwards. Although plough agriculture
might lessen the labor required of women during the planting season and expand the
acreage which a household might plant, it often stretched their resources well
beyond normal patterns when weeding or cultivating.64 The expansion in acreages
63 OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press,1946) 227-28.
64 C. Summers, From Civilization to Segregation: Social Ideals and Social Control in Southern
Rhodesia, 1890-1934 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994) 233. See also Schmidt 70.
concurrent with the pressure to abandon polygamy would actually increase women's
seasonal workloads and/or possibly a dependence upon extra-household labor.
Those Christian households able to attract extra labor through nhimbe or
cash wages often flourished, but many others found it more difficult to cope with
the demands of the plough. Some Christian families worked each others' fields
cooperatively, even without maheu, in an arrangement known as gumwe. This
informal arrangement based on church connections could allow between six and ten
families to better cope with various peak labor situations or equipment problems.
For these households, "it took the place of beer drinks, of beer used in working
together like that."65 The two practices did not exclude one another. Christian
gumwe participants might also alternately work in the fields of beer drinkers,
although they would only consume maheu. Work in the context of gumwe
constituted a separate (but not an oppositional) category from a nhimbe with maheu.
Thus, the gumwe again provides evidence of a particular Christian utilization of
local reciprocity arrangements which remained flexible enough to accommodate
church doctrine and household labor requirements.
In another instance, tension with conventional ideas concerning agricultural
fertility prompted converts to redefine the concept of divisi. The word represents a
category of knowledge and practice specifically related to the promotion of farm
production through use of muti: "They used to say it is the herb to put in the field so
you'll have a lot of yields. We have never proved that it is working but it was
65 E. Sisimayi, personal interview, 25 February 1998. The gumwe arrangement appears similar to
what Cheater's informants termed machangano, a form of specified labor reciprocity. See Cheater
there."66 Another informant remembered, "It was secret. It is secret even up to
now. They would just see your crop doing very well and the next field not doing
well."67 Despite divisi remaining an essentially private-sphere activity, mission
doctrine sought to reorder this explanation for success by affirming the value of
individual labor, personal responsibility and rational methods. In effect, Christians
transformed divisi from muti into manure. Those who continued to rely upon divisi
were deemed indolent or ignorant. Divisi became a site of contestation precisely
because it dealt with attempts at human control over natural processes. The results
of an emphasis upon proper fertilization/rotation would mount a clear and direct
challenge to the importance of "invisible agency."
On one hand, nhimbe were integral to the public life of most rural
communities and therefore African congregations found ways to incorporate these
long standing social relationships within their Christian doctrine. The brewing and
consumption of maheu not only enabled converts to maintain an important
communal activity, but also provided continued access to farm labor in times of
peak demand. On the other hand, divisi was necessarily private, individual, and
presented such a direct challenge to Christian doctrine that it necessitated a
complete conceptual reconfiguration. Rishon Jangano expressed the essence of this
change: "Those people who say that divisi is very important, it is that they don't
want to work. They want to say that we get these yields out of divisi. But to we
66 E. Mukasa, personal interview, 4 March 1998.
67 M. IIandreck, personal interview, 12 March 1998.
Christians, divisi is your hands and your brains, manure and fertilizer, cultivating
and ploughing. That is our divisi. . "68
The topic is a sensitive one for most people, as no Christian could
reasonably admit to its use, and many now refuse to acknowledge its existence. Yet
it is perhaps in the discussion of muti where the modernizing Protestant idiom is
most clearly found. Consider the following example:
There was a man who came around here who said, "Mr. Kawadza,
can you tell me the muti you use for getting such big harvests?" He
said, "Don't worry. Come in the morning and I will show you." So
when he came, Kawadza took two hoes and said, "Let's go." The
man thought they were going to dig some muti in the bush. They
went to the field and started working. The man said, "Why are we
doing this? When are you going to show me the muti?" Kawadza
said, "Don't worry, I will show you very soon." Then at lunch the
man asked, "Are we still going back to the fields or are you going to
show me the muti?" Then Kawadza said, "What I have been showing
you is the muti for a good harvest."69
The contrasting of divisi with ideas of learning, progress, and individual hard work
reflect the ideology of AMEC mission Christianity very closely. As only a few
other informants were willing to point out, however, some Christians continue to
recognize the use and sometimes even the success of divisi when employed by local
farmers. So it appears that even the powerful influence of mission Christianity on
several generations of farmers has not completely severed this particular connection
between supernatural forces and agriculture in Zimbabwe.
AMEC missionaries also discouraged converts from observing locally-
determined chisi days. While those living in the immediate mission communities
6' R. Jangano, personal interview, 23 April 1998.
69 A. Kawadza and C. Kawadza, personal interview, 4 April 1998.
might more easily ignore chisi in favor of Sunday, Christians living further outside
in the reserves found it more difficult to make such a switch. Most chiefs and
mediums disapproved of any entreprenuerial excuses to avoid observance of chisi.70
Some mission communities even made an effort to continue chisi in its original
form. However, in a number of places, a meaningful compromise emerged.
Because converts could not work on Sundays, certain chiefs allowed them to work
on chisi days, but only in their garden plots and not in the larger fields. This
permitted Christian farmers to maintain their pattern of worship but avoid losing a
second day in their agricultural week. Confining this activity to plots away from
open fields enabled chiefs to accommodate a certain type of work during chisi, since
it did not publicly flaunt their authority. Again, this indicates the dynamic
relationship of religious belief and local social concerns to the configuration of a
model Christian farming household.
AMEC missionaries further attempted to intertwine the goals of creating a
Christian farming ethic, community self-sufficiency, and rural stability through the
introduction of an agricultural program intended specifically for churches. Ralph
Felton originated the Lord's Acre Plan in the United States to support and enlarge
the program of rural churches through increasing local participation. Individuals or
groups would set aside part of their crop, livestock or produce for "the Lord's
work." The plan encouraged participation not only by local members of the church
but also from "all who receive the benefits of the church."71 Participants pledged
70 Ranger, Peasant Consciousness, 44.
7 UMCA file 1463-5-2:07: R. Felton, The Lord's Acre (Asheville: Farmers Federation, 1946) 5.
some amount of crops to raise and dedicate to the plan rather than simply giving
leftovers at the end of the year. This would transform the act of giving into a truly
sacrificial effort. Farmers thus encountered a new sense of "God's presence" in
their daily work. Although the AMEC missionaries associated many of their goals
with the spread of progressive agriculture, some certainly agreed with Felton that
"Science sometimes takes away a sense of dependence upon God. Modem
agriculture is rapidly becoming more scientific. This plan of a field dedicated to
God deepens the spiritual life."72
One of the additional key benefits of the Lord's Acre plan would enable the
poor to pay the church through their labor and hopefully increase the likelihood of
regular attendance. The plan in effect made both tithing and farming practices open
to the scrutiny of the congregation, hopefully both increasing church finances and
promoting better land husbandry.73 In 1946, second year teacher training pupils at
Hartzell Training Institute (Old Umtali mission) became the first group to
implement this project with the hope that they would in turn introduce the plan
when going out to teach. Upon planting, they held a dedication service with the
cooperation of Rev. Chimbadzwa and eventually finished the season with a harvest
offering or service. At that point they were expected to either give the vegetables to
the church for sale or sell the produce themselves and give the proceeds to the
72 Felton 5.
73 Felton 33. A survey conducted by Felton amongst U.S. pastors utilizing the plan in 1944 yields
some interesting results: 61% indicated the plan taught stewardship, 58% indicated a direct
contribution to increases in church budgets, 53% indicated the plan taught cooperation, 48% felt it
spiritualized farm life, and 46% indicated it gave poor people a method of supporting the church.
However, only 12% felt it would improve interest in missions and a mere 8% indicated that it
improved agricultural practices.
church.74 Theological students at the Old Umtali Biblical Institute also planned a
similar project to operate in conjunction with their individual gardens. The AMEC
agricultural department hoped that by incorporating these elements in the training of
key church personnel, the concept would spread to other people around the mission
Although some of these cooperative programs ran successfully, even
providing the resident pastor with several bags of maize annually, the Lord's Acre
could often suffer from a shortage of regular participants. Attendance at some sites
fluctuated according to the activity at hand, suggesting a particular valuation or
prestige for different types of agricultural labor. As Doris Kanyimo remembered,
"You would find that a good number of people would offer to plough that land for
free. When you are asked to come and plant the maize, nobody is going to be there.
You are asked to come and cultivate or asked to come and put fertilizer. But then
you will find that people, they don't all come."75 The status ascribed to ploughing,
especially for the Lord's Acre, certainly inspired such participation, but it seems
likely that the gendered division of farm labor in most households also influenced
turnout for these events.
The most regular and time-consuming aspects of small-scale agriculture in
Zimbabwe have usually been the domain of women. Much of the 'agricultural
package' which United Methodist missionaries professed--adoption of the plough,
crop rotation and use of fertilizer--only increased these demands. Performing tasks
74 OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1946) 246.
75 D. Kanyimo, personal interview, 4 March 1998.
such as planting, cultivation or fertilization in the Lord's Acre would have to occur
nearly simultaneously with the domestic fields. Much of this activity had to occur
within a limited seasonal window. In those households already experiencing a
shortage of labor during peak demand periods, women necessarily gave work in an
essentially communal plot lower priority. By their timing in the agricultural cycle,
volunteering for ploughing or harvesting allowed more church members the
flexibility to devote time for the Lord's Acre. But when the regular, everyday tasks
of mid-season competed for women's time, even the powerful metaphors employed
by the Lord's Acre programs were often not enough to ensure regular or continuous
The long-term emphasis upon generating social change through agricultural
means, which already characterized AMEC missions in colonial Zimbabwe by
1910, only intensified in the period leading up to the Second World War. The
isolationism and depression that gripped much of American society in these years
decreased financial support, ensuring that self-reliance would remain the watchword
of foreign missions. Tension between evangelical and activist missionary
personalities often emerged in the irregular funding of station farming operations.
Some clearly felt that their mission should remain more strictly confined to the
actual conversion process. Any social benefits of a missionary presence were of
secondary importance to spreading the Gospel. Others argued for the potential
social changes that new agricultural methods might effect, reflecting the broad trend
amongst American Protestant missions towards provision of social and educational
services. But despite such differences, for the rural AMEC stations, economic
necessity normally reinforced the centrality of agricultural productivity in
missionary discourse. These issues of self-sufficiency receive further attention in
Chapters 3 and 4.
AMEC missionaries promoted a specific farming agenda, citing the spiritual
benefits associated with the gospel of the plough and the Lord's Acre program. As
in their broader experience with mission Christianity, converts did not simply accept
a new "package" of cultivation methods and concepts. Except on their tenant farms,
missionaries had little actual control over the various forms that this new knowledge
took in individual fields. Differential access to land and labor resources left most
Christian households unable or unwilling to uniformly apply all the techniques of
AMEC progressive agriculture. Farmers sought to incorporate those agricultural
practices or technologies that might improve their output, yet also fit their
immediate production constraints. Christian farmers also adapted the AMEC
agricultural message to better balance the new elements of their individual identity
with existing social relationships and economic conditions. They created a new
form of nhimbe in order to reconcile the necessities of community participation in
farming with a church prohibition against alcohol. A particularly Christian
acknowledgment of chisi allowed many communities to avoid an outright
confrontation over this symbol of political and ritual authority. AMEC farmers
even sought to reconceptualize the established rationality of divisi as a supernatural
production aid, configuring instead a new Christian divisi of rational methods and
THEIR SOIL IS GOING TO GEHENNA: AMEC MISSIONS AND STATE
POLICIES FOR AFRICAN AGRICULTURE
This chapter examines the relationship between mission communities and
the state in the realm of agriculture. Over the period 1939-62, increasing concerns
over soil erosion prompted a substantial state effort to transform African agricultural
practices. The justification for such state intervention "lay in the belief that peasant
agriculture was backward and inefficient, and that through technical development,
production levels, and hence living standards, could be raised in the reserves."' Early
attempts at simply moving African farmers away from swidden cultivation methods
evolved into centralization, the establishment of consolidated villages to facilitate
increased government authority over soil conservation measures. Programs to
individualize land and stock holdings under the Native Land Husbandry Act (NLHA)
later emerged from a belief that the prevailing African tenure system lay at the root of
conservation difficulties.2 Elements of this broad state initiative had their origin
partly in missionary ideals and education. Closer government attention to mission
lands also necessitated a reevaluation of their utilization. As state agricultural
2 However, doubts remained as to the wisdom of encouraging such a process. Some Native
Commissioners apparently realized that this trend might eventually result in stronger political and
economic competition from the African population. As early as 1920, the CNC report stated: "the tribal
system will gradually disappear, but no sudden breaking down of such a system should be attempted."
J.C. Mutambirwa, The Rise of Settler Power in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), 1898-1923 (London:
Associated University Press, 1980) 151.
policies increasingly moved from persuasion towards coercion, mission
communities often experienced this heightened government intervention in different
ways from their neighbors.
Many areas in Southern Africa experienced a substantial transformation of
conservationist thinking during the 1930s. Even colonial officials, previously
concerned only with the sustainability of European farming practices, now
perceived widespread degradation on lands farmed by Africans. By the middle of
the decade, a variety of government experts argued that African agricultural
methods were at the center of a severe environmental crisis. Perceptions of soil
deterioration and the faltering of African subsistence production also generated
wider governmental policy concerns. Satisfying continued settler demands for land
could only occur if the reserves maintained their capability to absorb an increasing
African population. Forthcoming government policies sought to "develop the native
reserves so as to enable them to carry a larger population, and so avoid, as far as
possible, the necessity for acquisition of more land for native occupation."3
This new outlook was evident in the minority government's fear that an
impending ecological disaster would coincide with their implementation of a
racially-based land apportionment scheme. In 1925, the Morris Carter Commission
had issued its findings, recommending demarcation of separate African and European
purchase areas. To reduce friction over land tenure issues, the Commission suggested
eliminating Africans' right to own land in areas of their choosing. Africans would no
3 R. Palmer, Land and Racial Domination in Rhodesia (Berkeley: University of Clalforma Press,
1977) 202. The same CNC report for 1932 goes on to state, "it is plain that we must take more
positive control, if we are to see an increase, and not a reduction in the life-supporting capacity of our
longer have legal rights to occupy land in areas designated for Europeans, forcing them
onto reserve or purchase area land. They were to own land only within eighty-one
Native Areas (later called Native Purchase Areas) which usually abutted existing
reserves.4 But the reserves remained virtually unchanged in acreage, as the
government maintained that enough land had already been allocated for communal
tenure.s Local reports of overcrowding, erosion, and pasture degradation soon
followed implementation of the Land Apportionment Act (1930). Government
officials directed their resultant anxiety into policies that would increasingly coerce
Africans to transform their productive practices. Planners hoped the new system
would result in higher-yielding, more intensive cultivation on reserve lands, thus
ensuring sufficient agricultural production and avoiding the transfer of land from
William Beinart has argued that state conservation concerns in Southern Africa
originated in response to the perceived difficulties facing settler agriculture.6
Recognizing the frequent rural opposition to development programs, he queries, "how
did governments arrive at schemes which stimulated such hostility and why did they
persist, with sometimes crusading zeal, in trying to implement them?"7 To discern
local officials' motivations and how they shaped specific projects, he relies upon an
examination of conservation ideology across the region. He seeks to place the roots
4 B.N. Floyd, "Land Apportionment in Southern Rhodesia," People and Land In Africa South of the
Sahara, ed. R.M. Prothero (London: Oxford University Press, 1972) 234.
5 Ranger, African Voice, 113.
6 W. Beinart, "Soil Erosion, Conservationism and Ideas About Development: a Southern African
Exploration," Journal of Southern African Studies 11 (1984) 52-83.
7 Beinart, "Soil Erosion," 52-53.
and content of conservation ideology within the larger framework of state intervention.
Beinart maintains that an exploration of conservationist thought is crucial to
understanding processes of state intervention in agriculture beyond the mere technical
aspects. He avoids suggesting that these ideas were the determinant factor in state
activities, since such notions interacted with other political and socio-economic forces.
But because conservation efforts remained based upon methods drawn from settler
farms, the ideas which eventually formed the core of state polices for peasant
agriculture emanated from settler experiences.
lan Phimister subsequently criticized Beinart's emphasis on the importance of
conservationist ideas.8 Instead, he views conservation policy evolving as a state
response to political and economic pressures. Cultivation of tobacco for export
expanded so swiftly that by the early 1940's Southern Rhodesia lost its self-sufficiency
in foodstuffs. Government marketing and production agencies realized that increased
food production would necessitate a general improvement in farming operations.
Phimister also attests to the influence of converging settler and industrial interests.9
Segregationist land policies, coupled with other economic factors, had increased the
population of reserves, resulting in declining yields and soil erosion. Simultaneously,
the development of secondary industry generated new requirements for a large, regular
workforce. Over the long term, these industries would increasingly require a strong
and diverse internal market. Phimister therefore sees the convergence of these factors
8 1. Phimister, "Discourse and the Discipline of Historical Context: Conservationism and Ideas About
Development in Southern Rhodesia, 1930-1950," Journal of Southern African Studiesl2, 2 (1986) 263-
9 Phimister, "Discourse and the Discipline of Historical Context," 270.
as motivation for expanded government attempts to control peasant production
processes and stabilize rural populations. Thus, he argues that conservationist ideas
were initially implemented in relation to peasant agriculture and challenges the
importance Beinart places on conservationism's role in affecting state policy.'0 While
Phimister is likely correct about the motivations behind implementation of coercive
land husbandry policies, the popularity of conservationist views during this era ensured
that authorities then channeled many of their social engineering efforts towards
agricultural improvement schemes.
Beginning in 1927, the Department of Native Agriculture (DNA) had
dispersed trained African agricultural demonstrators into the reserves to promote
changes in cultivation habits through persuasive example. In some areas, initial
alliances between farmers and demonstrators emerged from church connections.
Oftentimes, the demonstrators themselves had been selected from amongst the
mission-educated and "naturally sought to work with similarly progressive men.""
The departmental director, E.D. Alvord, hoped that demonstration plots would
encourage surrounding communities to emulate a model of successful intensive
production that included crop rotation, manuring, winter ploughing, and physical
protection of the soil. Alvord based this scheme on experiences during his tenure
until 1919 as an American Foreign Board agricultural missionary at Mount Silinda.
Ten years later he wrote, "It is our aim to teach them how to grow on one acre the
10 Phimister, "Discourse and the Discipline of Historical Context," 263.
" Ranger, Peasant Consciousness, 62. See also J. McGregor, "Woodland Resources: Ecology, Policy
and Ideology an Historical Case Study of Woodland Use in Shurugwi Communal Area,
Zimbabwe," dissertation, Loughborough University of Technology, 1991.
quantity of crops they now grow on ten. .our policy is one of conservation. .and
intensive farming on small areas."'2
Consequently, a program originally developed on a mission station became
official government policy, was then frequently disseminated by staff with a mission
education, and made many of its earliest inroads amongst mission adherents. So it
should not be surprising that much of the agricultural propaganda generated by the
DNA during Alvord's administration contained overt references to Christian
doctrine and experience. Alvord long maintained that properly cared for, smaller
acreages, were actually the Christian ideal. He warned that "a man who ploughs
and plants more land than he is able to cultivate, weed and look after properly, is
greedy and wasteful and is not working together with the Lord . ."3 This
commonality in missionary and government discourse eventually resulted in
accusations against both for promoting intensive agriculture simply to make
segregated land apportionment somehow more palatable in the reserves.
The first Native Reserves Commission had issued reports in 1914-1915 after
extensive travel throughout the country. Their new demarcations generally replaced
the best land in the reserves with more marginal areas.14 The resultant insecurity
'2 Ranger, Peasant Consciousness, 93. But only two years later, the NC Goromonzi commented, "the
precepts of the demonstrators are not being taken to heart. Once the first flush of enthusiasm is over, the
painful fact that better farming methods mean more work is brought home, and interest quickly wanes."
GPSR: Annual Report of the Secretary for Native Affairs and the CNC (1931) 4.
13 E.D. Alvord, "Soro Chena Says," Harvester, 19 March 1952: 6. Some scholars have even accused
Alvord of seeking to "destroy the validity of indigenous agricultural practices in order to more
effectively convert Africans to Christianity." S. Moyo and H. Page, "Western Hegemony over
African Agriculture in Southern Rhodesia and its Continuing Threat to Food Security in Independent
Zimbabwe," Santa Cruz: University of California Conference on Varieties of Sustainability, 1991.
'4 R. Palmer, Aspects of Rhodesian Land Policy 1890-1936 (Salisbury: Central African Historical
Association, 1968) 31.
prompted many Africans to reject agricultural improvement instruction for fear of
losing the improved land to further readjustments. Farmers in these reserves
became justifiably suspicious of government motives for promoting conservation
works. Fears of losing their land once the agricultural potential had been improved
generated numerous rumors across the reserves. As late as 1944, one report stated,
some of the Natives, particularly those with a smattering of
education, are very suspicious of the motives behind the present
drive by the Native Agriculture department to improve the
productive capacity of Native lands. They fear that any success will
be a reason for depriving them of portions of the Reserves set aside
for them or a ground for refusing their demands, which are insistent,
for an extension of the Reserves.15
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Alvord denied that African farming
constituted a simplistic system. While he claimed a casual observer might only
recognize the outward appearance of basic methods, a closer examination would
reveal a complicated set of ritual practices that accompanied them. But for Alvord,
this recognition of the social and spiritual complexities in local agricultural systems
by no means generated even grudging approval. Rather, he viewed the African
farmer as a victim of superstition and dread since "every operation in his daily life
of tilling the soil was related to spirit worship, taboos and superstitious customs."16
These included the performance of rituals to ensure good germination and crop
protection, as well as the use of divisi to promote fertility and increased yields.
Even worse, these ceremonies frequently involved beer production and
consumption. In addition to encouraging immorality, Alvord saw beer brewing as
15 Palmer, Land and Racial Domination, 219.
6 E.D. Alvord, "The Gospel of the Plough and Superstition," Harvester, 8 September 1948: 3.
as waste of valuable food resources. Moreover, he considered beer drinks as a
severe constraint upon the adoption of new techniques and the effective utilization
of available labor supplies. For the day after such ceremonies, "they went out to the
lands with bloodshot eyes and weary bodies to scratch the soil with their crude
native hoes and scatter the spirit blest seed."17 Alvord therefore considered it
essential to make use of "expert knowledge" in substituting the gospel of the plough
for local religious and agricultural idioms.
Although many government officials linked the activities of missions with
social change, Alvord's personal background led him to place more emphasis than
most on the positive impacts of Christianity. Like many Protestant missionaries of
his generation, he believed that the spirit could not truly be changed without an
accompanying transformation of mind and physical being. Thus, it became essential
for his Department and the various missionary bodies to work hand in hand. He
considered it "a useless waste of time for missions to try to win their souls to the
Kingdom of God unless they also teach them the gospel of the plough."'" For
converts could not long remain Christians if they returned to an agricultural life
filled with the influences of "superstition and ignorance." Alvord also placed
substantial emphasis on the material improvements necessary for a proper Christian
lifestyle. Low income levels on the reserves were therefore cause for great concern.
Rural people would never become real Christians unless "we educate them out of
7 E.D. Alvord, "The Gospel of the Plough and Superstition," Harvester, 8 September 1948: 3.
8 E.D. Alvord, "The Gospel of the Plough and the Kingdom of God," Harvester, 3 November 1948:
their environment, create in them wants and desires that will lift them up out of the
sea of superstition and ignorance that engulfs them."19
Evidently, Alvord did not consider the mere fact of religious conversion as a
sufficient impetus towards better land husbandry. He shared the concern of many
missionaries that converts might only temporarily adopt portions of Christian
doctrine. If traditional religion had accounted for the success of agriculture through
purely spiritual explanations, might not African converts simply transfer this
explanatory power to God and thus continue to avoid personal responsibility for
their failures? Alvord thereby stressed the biblical tenet that "faith without works is
dead." Since prayers without action were useless, the gospel of the plough meant
hard work: "we must combine praying with hoeing if we want our prayers to be
answered."20 Although he stressed the important role of missions in extending these
concepts among the population, Alvord could also sharply criticize those stations
that failed to live up to his Departmental standards. In 1951, he agreed heartily with
the assessment of a mission farm by one American observer, who concluded that
"their souls may be going to Heaven, but their soil is going to Gehenna."21
From the outset of Alvord's efforts to maintain soil fertility on arable plots,
DNA demonstrators consistently recommended green manuring and a crop rotation
" E.D. Alvord, "The Gospel of the Plough and the Kingdom of God," Harvester, 3 November 1948:
20 E.D. Alvord, "The Gospel of the Plough," Harvester, 28 July 1948: 2.
21 E.D. Alvord, "Soro Chena Says," Harvester, 24 January 1951: 2. Despite sharing similar ideas
about the transformation of African agriculture, when Rev. George Roberts compared their long
careers, he explained that "a person with one thousand pounds a year, and the native department
police force to help put it over, can run a larger show than the old teacher did on his 1,5/- per month."
UMCA George Roberts Papers: G. Roberts, letter, 25 August 1951.
that included legumes.22 But many people continued to reject rotation, preferring
higher-earning maize monoculture. As Bessant has noted, most peasants were
farming to make money, not to preserve the environment.23 Alvord had noticed this
by 1934, even complaining to his superiors that "the greatest handicap to our efforts
to introduce better methods of tillage among reserve Natives is the lack of
marketing facilities. In many areas it is impossible for Natives to sell for cash. ..
[which] imposes a hand to mouth existence upon him under which he cannot
progress."24 In conjunction with demonstration work, a resettlement policy began
under the aegis of centralization. In order to permit increased carrying capacity of
both humans and cattle, reserves would be delineated between residential, arable,
and grazing areas. The plan consolidated and fenced arable lands to prevent damage
from cattle. Following harvests, cattle were to browse on crop residues and uneaten
herbage in the arable sections, giving grazing lands a rest.25 Surveyors reorganized
residential sections to permit future development of water supplies and transportation.
The plan transformed villages containing dispersed clusters of households into
straight lines of homes, facing each other along the boundaries between arable and
grazing areas. This pattern provided centralization with its common name, maraini
22 t. Weinmann, Agricultural Research and Development in Southern Rhodesia. 1924-50 (Salisbury:
Government Printer, 1975) 204.
23 L. Bessant, "Coercive Development: Peasant Economy, Politics, and Land in the Chiweshe
Reserve, Colonial Zimbabwe, 1940-66," dissertation, Yale University, 1987, 93.
24 GPSR: Annual Report of the Secretary for Native Affairs and the Chief Native Commissioner
25 Weinmann 207. Centralization frequently hindered manuring, as pastures and kraals no longer
adjoined arable plots.
(the lines).26 In some areas, missionaries recognized African opposition to this
mandatory reorganization, but supported its implementation on the grounds that it
grouped potential converts together and made them easier to evangelize. Yet at
certain junctures, centralization exposed the conflict between missionary ideals of
rational order and their idealized vision of rural African life. In 1942, the Southern
Rhodesia Missionary Conference requested of the Secretary for Native Affairs that
"the typically European and unaesthetic street form of centralization in native
reserves not be insisted upon."27
Centralization occurred within the larger context of government attempts to
implement the Land Apportionment Act of 1930. In designating specific areas for
European and African occupation, one of the Act's requirements stipulated that
European farms could only contain those Africans in direct employ of the farm
owner. All others had to take up residence in the reserves. The impact of this
relocation policy on mission programs could be serious. Some schools and
congregations drew most of their people from the families living on European-
owned farms. For example, AMEC missionaries at Arnoldine near Headlands
watched as surrounding European farm populations decreased under the new law.
Declining enrollment at the primary school endangered its existence and church
authorities suggested displaced people move onto nearby Weya Reserve. This
would at least allow continued educational contact and congregational stability.
26 Bessant 69.
2 NAZ file S RH179: Southern Rhodesia Missionary Conference, Proceedings (Salisbury, 1942) 8.
See also Zachrisson 317.
Mission officials feared the scattering of congregations would result in a reversal of
their educational and evangelistic achievements.
Even prior to actual implementation of the Act, its effect could be felt in
mission communities as people suspected they would not be staying for much
longer. This uncertainty made extended planning and building upkeep quite
difficult. So although mission farms and tenants did not face the same official
policies as the reserves, broader government land policy did impact the mission
system. Rev. H.E. Taylor remarked, "It looks as if a reserve is the only area in
which every native will be driven to stay. What will happen to our schools and
churches on the farms?"28 In 1940, the Game Valley farm school shut down
completely due to the removal of people from European areas. Some missionaries
questioned any expansion of activities until this period of government-mandated
resettlement concluded. Others expressed concern over the changing situation in the
reserves, as populations expanded quickly and arable land became less available.
Missionary criticism of these official land policies usually remained understated,
however, when it appeared at all. In 1945, for instance, Rev. T.A. O'Farrell
revealed his own views, stating, "Every good plan for developing the reserves and
2s OMA: The Methodist Episcopal Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old
Umiali: Rhodesia Mission Press, 1938) 217. Edgington also maintains that the 1930's land squeeze
resulted in overcrowded reserves, causing more significant levels of tenant occupation on stations
like Amoldine and Nyakatsapa as opposed to Murewa or Old Mutare. While availability of land in
the reserves certainly affected the attractiveness of a mission residence, decisions concerning the
acreages available for tenant occupation remained largely in missionary hands. For example, the
majority of tenants at Arnoldine originated not in the surrounding reserves, but came instead from an
area in the highlands following their eviction by a timber company. M. Itandreck, personal interview,
11 March 1998.
conserving the land should have our hearty approval. But some of us would
welcome a bit more liberality in making land available to the Africans."29
Other state programs in the countryside also drew missionary attention. In a
further effort to re-engineer rural society, Alvord's department proceeded in
developing irrigation projects for resettlement by African plotholders. Such projects
concentrated rural populations on designated individual plots, usually between two
and five hectares in size. Missionaries quickly noted the multiple impacts of these
developments for their own endeavors. E.L. Sells advised, as with centralization,
"these opportunities for reaching more people must not be neglected."30 Yet the
relocation process did stress or even fragment labor networks that had previously
evolved from church connections. Irrigation projects changed patterns of influence
and power as plotholders came under the more direct authority of government
irrigation or land development officers. While irrigated farming frequently meant
additional economic opportunity, other missionaries feared widespread material
accumulation might turn interests away from the spiritual. On the effect of these
projects in Mutambara district, Rev. George Roberts wrote, "their responsibilities to
the government and irrigation managers is such that the building of a church or
school is a new and different proposition."31
2"OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1945) 104.
30OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1939) 340.
31 OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1944) 25.
The state-sponsored irrigation projects also tended to create a new form of
community, as they drew together households from over a wide geographic area.
Thus, these communities distanced many plotholders from familiar institutions of
political authority. In March 1943, Mutambara demonstrator H.D. Sibiya
complained, "there is no proper leader [such] as a chief to give a control to these
people, for each wants to rule himself .these people cannot go forward in the
work, for they always object to some instructions by means of saying 'we know'."32
This attitude may have arisen from several background events. The government-
subsidized construction of irrigation works at Mutambara began in 1931. However,
irrigation on reserve lands there originated prior to any government involvement,
initially based on the experience gained by a number of former commercial farm
workers. They headed construction of the system upon which the Department of
Native Agriculture then expanded as part of its broader scheme for Manicaland.
By 1934, the project furrow irrigated nearly 100 acres for the use of twenty
plotholders.33 Across the river, the mission grounds had included irrigated fields
since 1912. So when the state scheme got under way, many residents of Mutambara
reserve already had either direct or indirect familiarity with irrigated farming
techniques. This led, rather naturally, towards a certain resistance to the
recommendations of the young demonstrator only just empowered to oversee their
plots. Such resistance continued, causing the Mutambara Land Development
Officer (LDO) R. Sheppy to wonder, "Why only this project should give us trouble,
2 NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: LDO Mutambara Reserve to DNA, March 1943.
3 NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: ANC Melsetter to NC Chipinga, 15 November 1934.
is something I cannot get to the bottom of is it the mission influence or is it the
chief?"34 Certainly both would have difficulties contending with elements of the
state's expanding land management policies.
An extended struggle over riparian rights on the Mutambara project would
expose the competing agendas of reserve farmers, missionaries, and state officials.
State officials initially hoped the Manicaland irrigation schemes would boost
productivity in the reserves, alleviating some of the pressure to make more arable
land available for an increasing African population. For the Mutambara project, this
would entail expanding upon the existing furrow and incorporating its' users under
the authority of the Department of Native Agriculture. Not only did this transfer
place plotholder methods under a demonstrator's scrutiny, it meant that irrigation
water became subject to annual user fees and limitations. Even vegetable gardens
now began to draw a fee assessment.
To avoid these restrictions, some plotholders attempted to maintain rights to
arable lands outside the project, intending irrigated areas for supplemental income
or as safeguards against drought. This reluctance to focus solely on irrigated lands
for household income ironically led some officials to conclude that these farmers
could access too much land outside the project. Other plotholders tried a different
approach to promote economic security. Officials complained about the difficulties
in marketing grain from these projects when farmers held crops back, hoping for a
subsequent rise in prices. This eventually led the Provincial Agriculturalist for
Manicaland to request further control over production on the projects in order to
4"NAZ file S160/IP/1-4: LDO Mutambara Reserve (R. Sheppy), Monthly Report, March 1945.
fulfill predicted amounts for sale.35 Regular participation in maintenance activities
also became mandatory on the government projects. Violators would be subject to
fines. But at Mutambara, people were surprised when they were fined and said,
"how can we be fined when the irrigation is ours?"36 These additional requirements
emerged as a source of tension, particularly during drier years. Plotholders
evidently went on strike over increased water rates and halted work on an expansion
project in 1942. Drought conditions generated further resistance in 1947, as rates
(assessed per irrigated acre) were set to increase even as the furrow emitted only a
Indeed, the amount of water available to the project furrow had already
caused official concern years earlier, reflecting a wider tension between the mission
and reserve farmers over land use rights. As early as 1939, the Assistant Native
Commissioner (ANC) for Melsetter district had written Alvord, stating that the
intake for the turbine powering Mutambara mission adversely affected the reserve
farmers' water flow, as the mission only returned the water at a point below the
reserve system intake. Alvord seemed to doubt this conclusion, instead speculating
that sufficient flow still existed to irrigate several hundred additional reserve acres.38
But he went on to outline the possibilities for an additional furrow to return mission
water above the reserve intake. The issue of adequate water for the reserve
" NAZ file S160/100/1/50: Director of Native Agriculture to Marketing Officer for Native
Agriculture, 28 April 1950.
36 E. Sisimayi, personal interview, 25 February 1998.
" NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: Agriculturalist for Natives to CNC, 30 July 1942; LDO Mutambara
Reserve to Director of Native Agriculture, 27 December 1946.
38 NAZ file S 160/1P/1-4: Director of Native Agriculture (E.D. Alvord) to CNC. February 1939.
plotholders remained unresolved and in early 1941, Alvord did attempt to obtain
official permission from Rev. George Roberts for the necessary diversion furrow
across the mission farm. He emphasized the potential benefits for the mission,
including longterm possibilities for extended irrigation acreage and the control of
water flow through an erosion-prone area of the farm. State funds would pay for the
excavation and construction.3
In July of 1942, Alvord submitted a progress report on expanding the
Mutambara furrow which declared the situation stalled. Attempts to collect in
advance the recently increased water rentals met with plotholder counter-demands
that the government owed compensation to those who had built the original
irrigation furrow. The issue of the mission turbine intake was left unresolved.
Another rate hike in 1946, at a time when reserve farmers were complaining about
lack of water in their furrow, escalated the situation. Project plotholders claimed
their furrow contained insufficient water prior to the rains, and since they did not
receive the chief benefit of irrigation (access to water in the dry season), rents
certainly should not increase. As a result, the mission irrigation system would face
closer scrutiny from both neighboring farmers and government officials.
This attention naturally focused on the turbine intake, still extracting water
above the reserve intake and returning it below. In most seasons, the normal range
of rainfall totals seemingly produced flow rates sufficient to supply the reserve
plots, despite the placement of the mission extraction point. But in January 1947,
the early rains ceased and a severe drought hit. As any promise of their dryland
" NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: Agriculturalist for Natives (E.D. Alvord) to G. Roberts, 17 January
crops evaporated, plotholders placed their hopes on the irrigation system. The
reduced flow rate quickly emerged as source of discontent, especially since it
occurred amid debate over another proposed hike in water rents. In February, the
LDO Mutambara finally approached the mission to request a temporary shutdown
"in order that the flow of water into the project furrow might be sufficient to save
existing crops, which at that time were in very poor shape."40 This official concern
continued as the local water supply faced expanding demands.
In July, P.W. Coetzee applied for water rights to irrigate eighty acres on his
nearby Quaggershoek Farm. The NC Melsetter protested that further grants to
water from the Umvumvumvu river would jeopardize the Mutambara project. Once
again, he mentions the mission turbine in connection with this water shortage and
argues for the reserve project to take its full allotment prior to diversion for the
turbine. One month later, the Director of Native Agriculture also adopted this
position in a report to the Chief Native Commissioner. Mission water use had
curtailed dry season irrigation on the project plots. The mission's right to irrigate
200 acres did not come into question, only their regular operation of a turbine for
electrical power and milling. But it appears mission use alone prompted his
recommendation that "any further water rights on this furrow will seriously affect
the rights of plotholders on the Mutambara Reserve irrigation project."41 It is not
clear whether Coetzee obtained his water at that juncture, but the issue of mission
and reserve water rights would again remain unresolved. In September 1951,
40 NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: NC Melsetter to Director of Native Agriculture, 20 March 1947.
41 NAZ file S 160/IP/1-4: NC Melsetter to PNC Umtali, 3 July 1947; Director of Native Agriculture
to CNC, 14 August 1947.
officials measured the flow rate in the project furrow at one cubic foot per second.
This was less than half of their allotted 2.5 cubic feet per second.
At a 1952 plotholders meeting attended by the Provincial Native
Commissioner, the mission representative finally agreed to construct a flow control
gate, enabling the reserve furrow to extract its allotment prior to any tertiary uses
(such as a turbine).42 It had already been over twelve years since the issue first
appeared in official reports, and delays still stressed the multiple relations between
peasants, mission, and the state. Plotholders resented state demands of increased
water rents for an unreliable source. Reserve farmers blamed the mission intake
system for the situation, and government demonstrators agreed with their
assessment. Certainly, the reluctance of mission authorities to address the issue
firmly created problems for both plotholders and development officers. Since the
mission fell under the 'European' land classification, DNA officers faced a dilemma
in attempting to respond to community pressure towards an area outside their
immediate authority. Demonstrators felt the consequences of their superiors'
inability to resolve this issue, as their role in the community increasingly came into
Not surprisingly, Chief Mutambara's relations with mission and state
officials grew strained during this period. Part of this undoubtedly came in an effort
to maintain authority despite state interference in land use and allocation decisions.
In 1938, he apparently did not encourage plotholders to cooperate with their
42 NAZ file S2583/612/2: NRB Agenda, April 1952. See also NAZ file S160 AGR 4/6/51:
Provincial Agriculturalist Report, December 1951. D.A. Robinson comments, "this clears up matters
which have given a lot of difficulty for many years."
demonstrator, leaving many "very suspicious" of government efforts.43 Some
farmers rejected official attempts to demarcate their plots, resulting in fines for
ploughing beyond the marking beacons. By September of 1943, demonstrator
Sibiya again reported, "I want the authorities to know that there is a lot of dictating.
The most troubles [sic] thing with these people is of wanting to teach the
demonstrator, not wanting the demonstrator to teach them."44 Chiefly resistance to
encroaching state power mirrored the attitudes of those in the community who
resented extending government control over irrigation plots.
On occasion, this confrontation could also spill over into the realm of social
authority. Like their evangelical counterparts, the agricultural message of
government demonstrators came wrapped in a broader package of ideas. Modern
agricultural methods were the means to transform the entire rural outlook.
Demonstrators frequently lectured on dress, hygiene, and sanitation issues. It was
during one such situation in 1945 that one demonstrator overstepped his role and
came into direct conflict with Chief Mutambara. At a meeting attended by the
Director of Native Agriculture, the Chief suddenly had a tin of rubbish brought
forward. According to the testimony that followed, the demonstrator had visited the
kraal of Gumba and, after inspecting the premises, ordered the wife to clean the
outside yard. Upon her refusal, he filled the rubbish tin three times, allegedly
dumping its contents inside the wife's hut.45 While the Director attempted to
" NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: Agriculturalist for the Instruction of Natives to CNC, 21 December
1938. See also Ranger, Peasant Consciousness, 73.
44 NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: LDO Mutambara Reserve to DNA, March 1943.
4 NAZ file S 160/IP/1-4: Director of Native Agriculture to NC Melsetter, 21 September 1945.
deflect the Chiefs anger towards the district administration, he did feel compelled
to publicly reprimand the demonstrator in question. In creatively confronting senior
government officials with the actions of a subordinate, Chief Mutambara sought to
clarify the limits of demonstrator authority and uphold his own position as the main
arbiter of local social behavior. This led rather quickly to some area officials
characterizing him as an agitator.46
The projects also created quite a mixture of Christian denominations. State
regulations that had long governed the missionary presence in colonial Zimbabwe
granted virtual monopolies to various churches, preventing extensive overlap in
mission activities. Different denominations were prohibited from building mission
schools within a three-mile radius of one another. The AMEC administered the
schools on both Mutambara and Nyanyadzi projects. But the three-mile rule came
under attack on the irrigation projects as plotholders' different faiths caused friction
with the Methodist educational facility. By 1950, the situation had reached a point
where state officials also began to question the longstanding policy. They
considered the potential multiplicity of schools on the projects untenable and
viewed a non-denominational school as the only alternative. The Melsetter district
office became aware of disputes over education at both sites, noting "the certain
amount of re-action. .which is starting against mission schools."47 In creating
essentially new community structures, based on specific agricultural pursuits
46 NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: LDO Mutambara Reserve (G.M. Law), Monthly Report, January
47NAZ file S160/IP/5-104/1/50: ANC Melsetter to PNC Manicaland, 24 October 1950.
(irrigation), state policy seemingly threatened the existing delineation of mission
education and influence in the reserves.
Meanwhile, the Department of Native Agriculture eventually began to lose
faith in its' potential to effect significant change in the reserves through programs
based on persuasion or example. While officials recognized that "the ultimate forces
of agricultural advance are immaterial," it seemed agricultural education alone
could not change public attitudes. By 1949, a report commissioned by the Minister
of Agriculture advised "it is now generally accepted that the better agricultural use
of land by natives in the reserves cannot be hoped for unless there are certain firm
requirements to ensure good practices and to preclude what is harmful."48 Africans
farming in European areas also created concern amongst policymakers. Widespread
farm tenancy, under arrangements disparagingly termed kaffir farming, continued to
frustrate state-sponsored conservation efforts.
Growing concerns over agriculture and soil conservation had initially led to
the appointment of a Natural Resources Commission in 1938. The subsequent
Commission report chastises European landholders for their concentration on
receiving rent while remaining indifferent to increasing land degradation. Many
landlords remained reluctant to enforce conservation measures, apparently fearing
the loss of rental income and/or their labor force. Similarly, the report mentions
difficulties with missionaries who failed to protect the soil and took "no steps to
48 Southern Rhodesia, Report to the Minister of Agriculture and Lands on Agricultural Teaching,
Research, and Advisory Work (Salisbury: Government Printer, 1949) 6-27.
arrest the all too obvious destruction arising from the agricultural and pastoral
methods practised by the Natives."49
The resultant Natural Resources Act of 1941 introduced an approach that
tried to improve European and African conservation practices by compulsory
measures. Even Alvord, the long-time promoter of extension through
demonstration, had apparently abandoned his original hopes for the African farmer.
In 1943, he stated to the Secretary of Native Affairs,
we have wasted our time for seventeen years in conducting
agricultural demonstration work in the native reserves.
Demonstration plot work has been most successful. Average yields
on plots have been ten times the yields on ordinary native lands. The
lessons to be learned have been preached to the people at "before
harvest" meetings every year for the past sixteen years. Yet the vast
majority of those who have attended these meetings year after year
have made no change in their slipshod tillage methods. It is now
quite evident that they will never change without compulsion and
Additional concern in the newly-configured Department of Native Agriculture
(DNA) over the relationship between cattle, erosion, and pasture degradation soon
led to an assessment of livestock carrying capacities on the reserves. Between
1946-1948, more than one million head of cattle left the reserves under government
supervised sales programs. Just as centralization sought to control access to arable
9 Southern Rhodesia, Report of the Commission to enquire into the Preservation etc. of the Natural
Resources of the Colony (Salisbury: Government Printer, 1939) 13.
so NAZ file S515: Secretary for Native Affairs, Plan for the Development and Regeneration of the
Colony's Native Reserves and Areas, and for the Administration, Control and Supervision of the
Land Occupied by Natives (Salisbury: Government Printer, 1943) Annexure 4.
lands through demarcating standardized areas, mandatory destocking attempted to
control utilization of grazing areas by limiting stockholding rights. 51
Interventionist government programs would influence internal mission
policy, especially on the tenant farms at Nyakatsapa and Arnoldine. Shared
assumptions about the state of African agricultural practices tended to ensure
mission support of government 'improvement' efforts and sublimate any concerns
about their suitability for specific local conditions. In 1947, Rev. M.E. Culver
enthusiastically described Nyakatsapa as "an old community being exposed to a
new idea. The farm is one half mapped with a view to centralization of the living
and farming areas."52 Missionaries began to insist that teachers at reserve schools
follow the recommendations of the local agricultural demonstrator. At Mutambara
mission, the reserve demonstrator frequently visited teachers' plots at the behest of
the principal. Some teachers held lands within the mission and the adjacent reserve.
By the mid-1940s, they faced fairly consistent missionary pressure to "become,
willingly or otherwise, 'cooperators' with the reserve's land programme and attend
the demonstrator's lectures."53 Increasing missionary emphasis upon the
construction of erosion-preventing contour ridges closely echoed state propaganda
efforts. But as Ezekiel Makunike remembered, "that was mainly in the villages, in
the reserves. [At Nyakatsapa] that thing was not enforced because it came from the
demonstrators and they didn't have any power. It was only [for] those people who
51 Phimister, "Discourse and the Discipline of Historical Context," 273.
52 OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1947) 380.
" OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1947) 381.
had seen the value, but there was no law. It was voluntary."54 Although these
recommendations were not enforced for many years, tenant leases eventually would
include clauses on acceptable farming methods.
In other instances, government policy influenced decisions made by mission
authorities that would have more immediate impact. Even as Rev. Culver was
encouraging centralization for Nyakatsapa, he admitted one of the problems facing
the tenant community lay in "finding a method to get along successfully with only
four cattle per family while guaranteeing milk, transport, and ploughing animals."55
The mission had instituted it own destocking policy, to the dismay of most
residents. In the years prior to this, as many as one-third of the tenants owned no
cattle whatsoever. Of the sixty tenant households that owned cattle in 1942, eleven
had more than ten each. Three families owned more than twenty-five head.
Following government standards, the livestock ceiling for a household farming the
common six-acre allocation became four head of cattle. But only seven of these
sixty households held four or fewer cattle.56 Thus, the overwhelming majority of
tenant stockholders experienced a reduction in their herd size, and certainly for
some it amounted to an economic disaster (see Chapter 6).
Mission agricultural practices also drew criticism from other agencies
following passage of the Natural Resources Act in 1941. The new Natural
Resources Board appreciated that some missions insisted upon approved methods of
54 E.C. Makunike, personal interview, 17 March 1998.
" OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1947) 380.
56 OMA file Agriculture (Miscellaneous): M.J. Murphree to Cattle Inspector (Umtali), 20 April 1942.
agriculture and soil conservation, but pointed to the neglect of any such measures at
other stations.57 By 1948 the conservation situation on some stations in European
areas appeared serious enough to warrant increased subsidies if the mission could
not finance the necessary works. Such a request came in 1949 concerning St. Faith's
mission (Anglican), which had failed to secure the funds to reclaim damaged lands.
While some politicians feared such a policy might create a precedent in regards to
conservation on mission lands, the NRB instead decried the loss of the mission's
value for practical demonstration and propaganda amongst surrounding African
communities.58 During the following year, the NRB received a request from the
Marandellas Intensive Conservation Area committee to help with the conservation
situation on St. Bernard's (Catholic) mission. The NRB recommended that the
mission retain land sufficient only for the efficient administration of the station as it
currently held too much land to properly control. Mission authorities agreed to
utilize any proceeds from the sale of surplus land for reclamation of the areas
Such actions created substantial concern among AMEC missionaries who
feared potential reductions in Church holdings, particularly following the Second
World War as the state sought to allocate land for a new influx of settlers. In 1948,
Rev. Roberts outlined the seriousness of the situation at Nyadiri. In requesting more
" NAZ file S482/291/39: Natural Resources Board, Memorandum on the Conservation of Natural
Resources on the Land Occupied by Natives, 14 January 1943.
8 GPSR: Natural Resources Board, Annual Report (Salisbury: Government Printer, 1949) 17.
5 GPSR: Natural Resources Board, Annual Report (Salisbury: Government Printer, 1950) 20-21.
funds to develop farming operations there, he worried that "the government, seeing
we are not using the land, may and can force us to relinquish some of our holdings.
The tobacco business is such a goldmine, so attractive to every farmer. We are
surrounded by them."60 That same year, the farm at Nyakatsapa had received
"some strong and unpleasant supervision" to keep operations in line with the
recommendations of the NRB. The school superintendent subsequently reported
that farm tenants had responded "fairly well."61
The trend towards coercion in government agricultural programs would
eventually culminate in the passage of the Native Land Husbandry Act of 1951.
This act sought to transfer conservation duties to individuals essentially held
accountable through the allocation of fixed arable and grazing rights. This
transformation away from 'communal tenure' would allow for the enforcement of
"proper' husbandry practices under the threat of dispossession. Yet the focus upon
long-term conservation through physical improvements failed to generate direct
increases in production except in the most ecologically favored areas. This absence
of economic incentives, when combined with certain compulsory agricultural
practices, provoked widespread resistance that eventually halted full-scale
implementation of the NLHA in 1962.62
Already in 1952, both Nyakatsapa and Glenada farms had found themselves
under the scrutiny of government soil conservation officers. Mission authorities
60 UMCA file 1045-5-2:14: G. Roberts to R.A. Archer, June 1948.
61 OMA: The Methodist Church, Official Journal of the Rhodesia Annual Conference (Old Umtali:
Rhodesia Mission Press, 1948) 55.
62 Phimister, "Discourse and the Discipline of Historical Context," 274.
were warned of dangerous erosion on both farms and advised of the legal penalties
regarding lack of adequate soil conservation practices. The local soil conservation
officer followed up the next year with a written estimate of the costs involved to
complete the necessary works. The Conference Field Committee rejected these
numbers on the grounds that the situation did not constitute an emergency.
However, state pressure increased in 1954 when the Minister of Agriculture
requested reports on Glenada because of its obvious erosion. The subsequent
Conference Agricultural Survey admitted that the government's recommendations
had received only a "token response" and concluded that "if the present state of the
farm is allowed to continue, our already damaged conservation reputation will be
further damaged." Mission authorities still viewed the problem as essentially one
of adequate funding to support additional trained agriculturalists for closer
supervision of tenant farmers. They eventually decided to begin an on-farm training
program which could complement the government's Master Farmer program.
The NRB continued to express the general opinion that too many missions
appeared interested only in conversion and not conservation, stressing that if such
conditions continued missions would very shortly find themselves without any
natural resources to support their spiritual efforts. However, NRB members
recognized that despite a steadily increasing awareness of the problem amongst
mission authorities, many stations continued to have difficulty in securing funds for
soil reclamation projects. They suggested that more missions could begin
addressing the situation through sponsorship of good farming certificates among
63 OMA file A24: Conference Agricultural Survey for Field Committee (August 1954) 5.
their tenants. Thus, the NRB came to view soil conservation as an integral part of
missionary endeavor and questioned "whether missions which show complete
disregard for soil and things of the soil can ever save souls."64
In 1961, the NRB proposed an alternative solution for those missions unable
to adequately control the farming activities of those living on their land. The Board
recommended that the Land Apportionment Act be amended with a provision
allowing missions to voluntarily transfer land under their control to the
classification of "Native Area." While mission authorities would retain their
religious and educational rights, control over the use of natural resources
(particularly arable and grazing areas) would then fall under the provisions of the
NLHA. NRB members had hoped the acceptance of such an amendment would
allow trained and experienced government staff to apply the NLHA in problem
areas, leaving missionaries free to pursue their spiritual work.65 However, these
recommendations were not accepted. In any case, it seems doubtful such a scheme
could have been effected, given the widespread staff shortages encountered when
attempting to implement the NLHA in the reserves. The NRB recognized its own
limitations, lamenting the lack of control it could exert over cultivation and grazing
on mission farms. By 1962, the NRB found itself "unable to take any positive steps
to prevent such abuse due to the general problem of land shortage in tribal areas and
the inability of mission authorities to deal with the situation."66
" GPSR: Natural Resources Board, Annual Report (Salisbury: Government Printer, 1958) 21.
6' GPSR: Natural Resources Board, Annual Report (Salisbury: Governmeni Printer, 1961) 21.
6 GPSR: Natural Resources Board, Annual Report (Salisbury: Government Printer, 1962) 19.