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11 - The Impact of National Policy on Rural Settlement Patterns in Zimbabwe

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

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Summary

Two broad sets of factors have influenced the evolution of rural settlement patterns in Zimbabwe during the past century (Zinyama 1988). The first lies in the political history of the country from the late nineteenth century when it was colonised from South Africa by European settlers led by the British South Africa Company. Land was subsequently divided between the majority black population and the minority white settlers. The blacks were assigned to the agriculturally more marginal areas with lower rainfall and light infertile sandy soils. The higher altitude land along the central watershed of the country, enjoying cooler temperatures, more fertile soils and higher rainfall, was alienated for white settlement. The zone of white settlement subsequently evolved into the economic heartland of the country, with all the main urban centres and more developed economic infrastructure and services, while the black areas became an exploited labour reserve for the modem sector. Unlike the black reserves, now called the communal lands, the white areas were, and are, sparsely populated. Since attaining political independence in 1980, the black-majority government has sought to redress some of these inherited colonial imbalances in the distribution of land through the resettlement of black peasant farmers on former white-owned farmlands. Thus, both colonial and post-colonial government policies and legislation regulating land have influenced the evolution of settlement patterns in the rural areas of Zimbabwe.

The second, and related, factor that has influenced settlement patterns in rural Zimbabwe is the rapid growth of population during the past few decades, with a growth rate of over 3 per cent per year. But some areas of the country, especially the communal lands and, more recently following the removal of colonial influx-control measures, the urban areas, have carried much of the burden arising from rapid population increase more than the commercial farming areas. This uneven growth and distribution of population has resulted in considerable pressures on resources and environmental degradation in the affected rural areas, adding to the pressure on government for land redistribution and population resettlement on the one hand and fuelling rural-to-urban migration on the other. Growing population pressure and land shortages have also led to the expansion of settlement and cultivation into areas that were previously designated for grazing within the communal areas.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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