The soil of salvation

Material Information

The soil of salvation African agriculture and American methodism in colonial Zimbabwe, 1939-1962
Leedy, Todd Holzgrefe ( Dissertant )
Davis, R. Hunt ( Thesis advisor )
Place of Publication:
Gainesville, Fla.
University of Florida
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
Physical Description:
x, 238 leaves ; 29 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Agricultural land ( jstor )
Agriculture ( jstor )
Christianity ( jstor )
Crops ( jstor )
Farmers ( jstor )
Farms ( jstor )
Methodism ( jstor )
Plows ( jstor )
Schools ( jstor )
Tenants ( jstor )
Agriculture -- History -- Zimbabwe ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- History -- UF ( lcsh )
History thesis, Ph. D ( lcsh )
Methodist Church -- Missions -- History -- Zimbabwe ( lcsh )
United Methodist Church ( local )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


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.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 2000.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 228-237).
General Note:
General Note:
Statement of Responsibility:
by Todd Holzgrefe Leedy.

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University of Florida
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Copyright 2000


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



ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................. ............... iii

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS ............................................................... vii

NOTE ON TERMINOLOGY ....................... .. ............. viii

ABSTRACT ....... ........................ ............. .... ......... ix


EVANGELISM IN COLONIAL ZIMBABWE ................................ 1

COLONIAL ZIMBABWE ........................................ ............... 28


ECONOMY OF MISSION COMMUNITIES .................................. 95

LABOR IN MISSION EDUCATION .................... ................. 131

AND FARM-BASED ENTREPRENEURS .................................... 166


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
Church (A.M.E.C.).

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

Pre-1980 Post-1980

Chipinga Chipinge
Inyanga Nyanga
Inyazura Nyazura
Marandellas Marondera
Melsetter Chimanimani
Mrewa Murehwa
Msengezi Musengezi
Mtoko Mutoko
Nyadiri Nyadire
Rusapi Rusape
Salisbury Harare
Umtali Mutare

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



Todd Holzgrefe Leedy

December, 2000

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.


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.

"Mpofu 5.


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

demonstration programs:

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
export market.12

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

peasant entrepreneurs.

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.

6Feierman 161.

SFeierman 167-68.


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

farming methods.

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

mission officials.

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

Methodist adherents.

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.


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

religious systems?

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
History," 223.

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.

3'Schmidt 44.
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

male authority.36

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,
1996) 52-53.

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,"
nd., 1.

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,

" Sellsl3-14.

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
no rain."59

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

community participation.

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

natural self-discipline.


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

SDrinkwater 288.

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
native reserves."

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

European-designated areas.

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
(1934) 18.

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.