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Lieux de l'immigration : perspectives mémorielles et identitaires

Familly farms, graves, and belonging: migrations and the politics of belonging among Basotho in colonial Zimbabwe

Fermes familiales, tombes et sentiment d’appartenance :   les migrations et les politiques d’appartenance des Basotho du Zimbabwe colonial
Joseph Mujere


Cet article explore les manières dont les Basotho, un groupe d’immigrants qui est arrivé dans la région du Gutu, ont élaboré des stratégies d’appartenances et se sont eux-mêmes intégrés aux populations Karanga dominantes du sud-est du Zimbabwe. Les Basotho ont migré dans le Zimbabwe actuel à la fin du XIXe siècle et, depuis, ils ont traversé de nombreuses phases de construction d’appartenance. Ils se sont taillé une enclave dans une zone dominée par un groupe linguistique et culturel autochtone différent. Cet article examine la façon dont le peuple Basotho a acheté des fermes familiales et a établi des cimetières, deux éléments qui ont contribué à développer un sentiment d’attachement à la terre et leur ont permis de s’ancrer dans celle-ci. L’article cherche à analyser les défis de l’intégration rencontrés par les migrants des communautés africaines coloniales du Zimbabwe, et la manière dont ils ont réussi à créer leur propre sentiment d’appartenance, un sentiment souvent contesté par ceux-là mêmes qui se considèrent comme les autochtones du pays. Les Basotho ont également été confrontés, dans les années 1930, à des déplacements, alors qu’ils ont du laisser ces fermes qu’ils ont, pendant plus de deux décennies, considérés comme leur propre demeure. Conséquence de ces déplacements, ils ont eu à trouver un nouveau lieu où résider. Les souvenirs des Basotho de ces migrations et de ces déplacements sont, sans l’ombre d’un doute, gravés dans le paysage, sur les tombes et dans les fermes familiales de ce peuple. Dans cet esprit, le présent article analyse l’importance des fermes et des tombes dans la mémorisalisation des Basotho de leurs propres migrations et déplacements ainsi que dans leur quête d’appartenance.

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1The Basotho community which is living in the Dewure Purchase Areas in Gutu in the southern part of Zimbabwe has a complex migration history. Most of them came in the late 19th century accompanying missionaries who were carrying evangelization work among the southern Shona. Others however came with the pioneer column which colonized Zimbabwe. The history of this colourful community has thus been greatly linked to the evangelization of the area. Since Basotho firstly purchased two farms in the Victoria area, Niekerk’s Rust and Erichsthal, where they were later evicted in the 1930s following the enactment of the Land Apportionment Act and later bought farms in the Dewure Purchase areas their history has also been associated with land ownership and struggles over belonging. This paper thus seeks to trace the history of the migrations of Basotho, their relationships with missionaries of the DRC, PEMS and BMS as well as how they have used their farms to negotiate their belonging. The paper argues that farms and graves have been central features in Basotho’s construction of belonging both in the Fort Victoria area and in the Dewure Purchase Areas. As a result, they also feature prominently in Basotho memorialization of their migration, displacement and settlement in their present farms.

Background : Missionaries, the Pioneer Column and Basotho

2The history of Basotho who are in the Dewure Purchase Areas in Gutu is arguably inextricably linked to the history of evangelization of the Shona people in southern Zimbabwe. Basotho in Lesotho were some of the earliest Christian converts in the region. In 1842 the Paris Evangelical Mission Society (PEMS) mission at Morija had 28 converts and by 1848 they were 251 (Couzens, 2003, 91). The threats of the Zulu and the Ndebele raids also contributed to the conversion of Basotho to Christianity as they saw it as a way of ensuring their security. King Moshoeshoe also encouraged this development, ‘not only because he genuinely had no real objections to the message, but also because it happened to suit his political purposes and reinforce his security’ (Couzens, 2003, 91). Thus Moshoeshoe encouraged missionaries to set up mission stations in his kingdom to create buffer zones against his potential enemies. Though it was not very successful in converting Moshoeshoe and his court, ‘the PEMS managed to style itself as the “church of Moshoeshoe” (Maloka, 2004, 158). The PEMS carried evangelization work among Basotho in Lesotho and also the mine compounds in South Africa. It was against this background that in time quite a number of Basotho converts became trusted evangelists for a number of protestant churches among them the PEMS, Berlin Missionary Society (BMS) and the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). In the end, most missionaries who set off to carry out evangelization work among the Southern Shona from South Africa and Lesotho took with them some Basotho converts who became quite indispensable as guides, porters and most importantly evangelists. It is against this background that Basotho emphasize their links with these missionary groups when narrating their migration histories. Hence in tracing the history of Basotho who are in the Dewure Purchase Areas in Gutu it is imperative to place it at the centre of the general history of the establishment and development of mission stations among the Shona in the southern parts of Zimbabwe from the late nineteenth century.

3Furthermore, because of their knowledge of the area to the north of South Africa beyond the Limpopo River some Basotho people accompanied the Pioneer Column which occupied what became Rhodesia in 1890 and served as porters and guides. Thus it should be stressed that though most of Basotho who came to what is now Zimbabwe came with missionaries of various protestant groups, some however came with the early settlers in the Pioneer Column. Beach divided the development of mission stations among the southern Shona into two broad phases. The first phase began in the 1870s and ended in 1883. This phase saw the DRC, the PEMS and the Swiss Mission Vaudoise making some first steps towards establishing mission stations among the southern Shona especially in Chivi and Zimuto areas (Beach, 1973, 23). Though the missionaries did not make much success in this period they closely worked together and shared experiences and information about the area. The period from 1883 to 1894 saw the BMS and the DRC sending expeditions among the Southern Shona people which culminated in the establishment of Morgenster and Chibi missions by the DRC and BMS respectively (Beach, 1973, 27). In essence the second phase of missionary penetration saw a greater inflow of missionaries into the country and the establishment of more permanent mission stations across the Limpopo River.

4The surge in interest on the evangelization of the Shona people owed much to the work of Reverend Stephanus Hofmeyr of the DRC who established a DRC mission at Goedgedacht in February 1865 (Van der Merwe, 1981, 37). It did not take much time before Goedgedacht became a very important conduit for the passage of missionaries beyond the Limpopo into the areas occupied by the Shona people. Goedgedacht became in essence a springboard from which the evangelization of the southern Shona was launched. As Mazarire argues, the establishment of the DRC mission at Goedgedacht in the Zoutpansberg constituted the major first step towards the evangelization of the southern Shona (Mazarire, June 1999, 19). Soon after the establishment of the Goedgedacht mission, Hofmeyr began to make enquiries about the possibility of evangelizing the Shona people to north of the Limpopo River after hearing about them from the Buys brothers who had ventured there a couple of times (Beach, 1973, 28).

5The late 1860s and early 1870s thus saw a greater number of missionaries crossing the Limpopo and making contacts with some southern Shona chiefs, thereby laying the ground for future and more serious evangelization missions. According to Beach, in 1872 Gabriel Buys crossed the Limpopo and began to evangelize the southern Shona people until 1876 when he went back to Goedgedacht (Beach, 1973, 28). Gabriel Buys was a coloured member of the DRC congregation who periodically traveled to Zimbabwe on hunting expeditions during which he would take some time to preach to the Shona people (Van der Merwe, 1981, 37). Gabriel Buys’ expedition was followed by that of his brother Simon who was accompanied by Asser Sehahabane, a Sotho evangelist. Asser Sehahabane together with Jonathan a Pedi and Simon Buys left Goedgedacht in 1874 and crossed the Limpopo River to carry out some evangelization works in the north. They reached as far north as chief Zimuto’s area (Van der Merwe, 1981, 37). Meanwhile missionaries of the PEMS resolved to send missionaries and evangelists on an evangelization mission among the Karanga people. This was after Hofmeyr had failed to mobilize human and material resources to launch mission activities beyond the Limpopo (Beach, 1973, 28). According to von Sicard the PEMS agreed in their 1875 conference to contribute towards the evangelization of Mashonaland and a team led by Rev Dieterlen and Asser Sehahabane was sent but was unfortunately refused passage by the Boer Transvaal government and were arrested (Sicard, 1972, 20). In spite of this set back the missionaries did not lose heart but continued to make concerted efforts to establish missions in Mashonaland. Consequently, in 1877, Francois Coillard left for Mashonaland with some Basotho evangelists who included Asser Sehahabane and Aaron who were to carryout evangelization work in Chivi and Azael and Andreas who were to work among the people in Chief Zimuto’s territory (Beach, 1973, 29). In 1888 the BMS led by Superintendent Knothe and Schwellenus also launched their own evangelization mission among the Chivi people, which culminated in the establishment of Chibi Mission in 1894 (Mss BE2/1/1 Diary of Knothe, Entry of 19 May 1888). The BMS, PEMS and the DRC missionaries all seem to have favoured to take with them some Basotho converts and evangelists in their expeditions across the Limpopo. The above situation occurred in spite of the fact that the Venda people were the dominant group in areas surrounding Goedgedacht which had grown to become the launching pad of missionary work into Mashonaland. The explanation for the missionaries’ preference for Basotho can be argued to have been the fact that Basotho were some of the earliest converts to Christianity and also that they showed great interest in evangelization work. According to W. J. van der Merwe, Basotho evangelists among them Lucas Mokoele, Joshua Masoha and Micha Makgatho were some of the greatest African evangelists during the early period of evangelization in Transvaal and Mashonaland, rivalled only by Isaac Khumalo and Gabriel Buys (Van der Merwe, 1953, 13). This, in essence, shows the role played by Basotho in the evangelization of the Southern Shona people and the long history of their relationship with missionary groups especially the DRC.

6African Evangelists among them Basotho were quite indispensable in the spread of Christianity among the southern Shona. In fact more often than not it was the African evangelists who were the first to preach to the Shona people and to convert them to Christianity. As Beach puts it, though the missionaries assumed that a mission began with the permanent settlement of European missionaries : ‘for the Shona their experience of Christianity at first hand often began when an African evangelist arrived to preach and lay the foundation for a later mission’ (Van der Merwe, 1953, 29). It can thus be argued that Basotho converts and evangelists were to a greater extent the ones who laid the ground for the establishment of mission stations among the Shona people. This is largely due to the fact that some Basotho men had gone into Mashonaland well before the missionaries had made efforts to enter this area. In this regard, some Basotho men had a better understanding of the geography of Mashonaland and also the language spoken in this area. According to Beach, in 1887 five Basotho men who included Micha Makgatho, Joshua Masoha, Zacharia Ramushu, Simon Nyt and Michia Choene crossed the Limpopo River and reached Nyajena where they were well received by the chief who showed some interest in Christianity (Van der Merwe, 1953, 32). This party reported favourably about the possibility of the Shona people receiving the gospel. This expedition was followed by yet another expedition in 1889 led by Makgatho, Masoha and Lucas Mokoele who visited Murove, Madzivire and Nyajena areas and also paid a courtesy call to Chief Mugabe (Beach, 1973, 32). These three Basotho men were to visit Chief Mugabe again in 1890 when they guided Reverend S. P. Helm, who when he talked to Chief Mugabe realized that the latter was keen to have a mission station established in his area (Beach, 1973, 33). Rev. Helm had set the stage for the establishment of the DRC mission station in Chief Mugabe’s area.

7When the 1890 expedition led by Rev. S. P. Helm returned to Goedgedacht they made a very impressive report to Rev. Hofmeyr who began to make enquiries on who could be sent to establish a mission station among the Shona people. As a result of this A. A. Louw set out from Goedgedacht on 8 April 1891 to Chief Mugabe’s area (Van der Merwe, 1953, 13). According to Van der Merwe, A. A. Louw left Kranspoort (Goedgedacht) with some seven Basotho volunteers who included Micha Makgato, Joshua Masoha, Jeremiah Murudu, Petros Murudu and Lucas Mokoele (Van der Merwe, 1987, 22). These Basotho volunteers worked as evangelists, guides and interpreters since some of them had knowledge of the area as they had been to these areas before. On the 9th of September 1891 A. A. Louw and his Basotho evangelists arrived in Chief Mugabe’s area and established a mission station at Mugabe hill which became the first DRC mission in Zimbabwe and the centre of DRC missionary work among the southern Shona people (Mutumburanzou, 1989, 4). In as much as the establishment of Morgenster Mission marked an increased role of Basotho evangelists and converts in the DRC, it also marked the permanent presence of Basotho among the southern Shona people. Upon their arrival among the southern Shona these Basotho evangelists were stationed in different areas where they had to carry out evangelization work. Jeremiah Murudu and his brother Petros Murudu were posted at Matibi and Neshuro respectively, Isaac Khumalo went to Vurumela amongst the Hlengwe, Lucas Mokoele went to Madzivire, Joshua Masoha to Ruvanga and Micha Makgatho to Nyajena. David Molea was the one who stayed at Morgenster with A. A. Louw because he had to act as his interpreter since he understood Chishona the language spoken by the local Shona people (Van der Merwe, 1981, 52).

“Ndafunga KuChinhango” : Basotho in the Fort Victoria Area

8When asked about where they first settled when they came to Zimbabwe, most Basotho people in Gutu would give the terse response ‘KuChinhango’ or ‘KuHarawe’ meaning in Chinhango or in the Harawe area (F. Komo Personal Interview 15 January 2006). When reminiscing about their days in Chinhango Basotho who came from this area would say ndafunga Chinhango (I miss chinhango) (C. Mphisa Personal Interview 17 August 2009). These two areas are so conspicuous in Basotho narratives that they have become more or less staging points of Basotho traditions in Zimbabwe. Harawe is the name of the mountain close to the area where Niekerk’s Rust Farm was, and Chinhango is the area where Erichsthal Farm was located and now partly covered by Lake Mutirikwi and the Mutirikwi Recreational Park (N. Mawushe Personal Interview 4 February 2006). These two farms were owned by Basotho in undivided shares which meant that they stayed there as a community rather than as private land owners.

9Before the 1925 Morris Carter Land Commission whose findings and recommendations led to the enactment of the Land Apportionment Act 1930 only fourteen farms totaling 46.966 acres in the whole country were owned by Africans. This was a result of systematic segregation of Africans by White Rhodesians in purchase of land. According to Palmer a law enacted 1894 stated that, ‘a native may acquire, hold, encumber and dispose of land on the same conditions as a( ?) person who is not a native’ (Palmer, 1977, 135). Yet the government prevented this law from benefitting the African by simply refusing to sell land to non-whites and encouraging the White farmers to do the same (Palmer, 1977, 135). This made it quite difficult for African peasant entrepreneurs who desired to purchase land to do so. In the end only Africans were able to purchase land from a handful of poor White farmers, usually at very inflated prices.


Fig.1 Map Showing Erichsthal Farm before the construction of Lake Mutirikwi

Fig.1 Map Showing Erichsthal Farm before the construction of Lake Mutirikwi

11Hence though theoretically Africans where free to purchase land anywhere in the country, due to the government’s reluctance to sell land to Africans and also the prohibitive price of the land very few Africans were able to purchase land. The majority of the Africans who owned land in the pre 1925 period were however of foreign origin mostly Zulu, Xhosa and Basotho from South Africa and Lesotho.

12In 1907 Jacob Molebaleng and two other Sotho and a Shangani purchased Erichsthal Farm in the Victoria District which measured 14.202 acres for £ 1000 (Palmer, 1977, 280). Erichsthal Farm was located between the Shagashe and the Mutirikwi Rivers an area which is now partly covered by Mutirikwi Recreational Park and partly buried under Lake Mutirikwi. It was owned in four equal but undivided shares which meant that they lived in the farm as a community rather than as individual private owners. The four owners of the farm were Jacob Molebaleng, Ernest Komo, Matthew Komo and Jona Mukula (S1042 Superintendent of Natives Fort Victoria to Chief Native Commissioner 1927). The other group of Basotho in the same area lived in Niekerk’s Rust Farm. Niekerk’s Rust was located close to Harawe Hill and it originally belonged to Mr. H. C. van Niekerk who sold it to W. B. Richards (S1542 Superintendent of Natives Fort Victoria to Chief Native Commissioner 2 August 1933). Richards later sold the farm to Basotho immigrants who stayed on this farm until the early 1930s when they were evicted following the enactment of the Land Apportionment Act in 1930 (S1542 Superintendent of Natives Fort Victoria to Chief Native Commissioner 2 August 1933). The farm was purchased in 1909 by Ephraim Morudu together with nine other Sotho people for £ 900 and it measured 3.249 acres (Palmer, 1977, 280). Like Erichsthal, Niekerk’s Rust was owned in undivided shares so it was run more or less like a small village though the part owners had title deeds to the farm.

13Most of the activities in the two farms were coordinated by Jacob Molebaleng who had been appointed the leader of the community. In fact in many government correspondences he was addressed as the chief or headman of the Basotho a position which he assumed with the blessings of the majority of the Basotho in the two farms (S924/G33/App. 2 Superintendent of Natives (Fort Victoria) to CNC, 14 October 1927). However, his appointment as Headman/Chief was not made until the government passed an executive order to that effect in 1935. Hence, though they purchased their two farms Basotho had had some form of customary authority in Jacob Molebaleng.

14Though it would appear that the Basotho in the two farms were a united and quite a peaceful community behind this veil of unity was internal struggles which resulted from petty jealousies, misunderstandings and greed. For example the Komo brothers, Matthew and Ernest, influenced by Mr. Winterton a white lawyer, took a defiant stance against Chief Jacob Molebaleng and disrespected his authority. They argued that they did not recognize Jacob Molebaleng’s authority because, ‘they did not wish to live under tribal control’ (S924/G33/App. 2 Superintendent of Natives (Fort Victoria) to CNC, 14 October 1927). This was in spite of the fact that they had not raised such concerns when Molebaleng was appointed. What was clear however was that Mr. Winterton was influencing the Komos to disregard the authority of Jacob Molebaleng because he benefitted financially from representing them in the courts in Fort Victoria. Writing to the CNC in 1927, the Superintendent of Natives for Fort Victoria stated thus :

I explained to them [the Komos] that in this country every native who is domiciled must live under tribal control and that the only alternative was to take out the blue registration certificate and be treated as a non-indigenous native. They did not take advantage of this, but have taken every opportunity to make the headman’s position difficult and flout his authority and in order to more effectively do this they employ the local solicitor Mr. Winterton, who is, in my opinion exploiting the unfortunate position and fermenting more trouble out of which he of course reaps certain pecuniary advantages (S924/G33/App. 2 Superintendent of Natives to CNC 14 October 1927).

15Moreover, apart from their disregard of Jacob Molebaleng’s authority as the headman/chief of the Basotho community the Komos also failed to respect the fact the farm was owned in four equal shares which meant that they had to have the consent of the other part owners before proceeding with any deal or transaction involving the farm. In a show of great disregard for the rights of Jacob Molebaleng and Jona Mukula the other part owners of the farm the Komo brothers entered into a partnership to build a General Dealer Business on the farm with a coloured man named van Blerk. This did not go down well with Jacob Molebaleng seeing that the Komo brothers did not inform him or Jona Mukula and most importantly because van Blerk was neither a member of the Basotho community nor a part owner of the farm. Predicatively, Mr. Winterton was at the centre of this business arrangement and he assisted the Komo brothers and their partner van Blerk in obtaining a business license for the shop. This prompted Molebaleng to seek legal advice as he argued that either the Komos had to pay rentals since their partner van Blerk did not own any share in the farm or they could contribute money towards the costs of the sub-division of the farm to avoid such problems arising again (S924/G33/App. 2 Superintendent of Natives to CNC 14 October 1927). Jacob Molebaleng was saved from going through the costly process of surveying and subdivision of the farm by the superintendent’s advice that this was rather unnecessary since the 1925 Land commission had placed this farm in the European area meaning that the Basotho were soon going to be moved to the Native Purchase Areas. However, Mr. Winterton had earned so much money from Basotho through taking to court matters which could have easily been solved without going to court (S1042 1924-1937 Superintendent of Natives (Fort Victoria) to CNC, 20 December 1927).

Basotho as progressive Africans : Social constructions of Basotho identity

16Hardly a year passed without the Native Commissioner of Victoria District reporting about the activities of the Basotho in Niekerk’s Rust and Erichsthal Farms. The reports reveal a great deal of information about the colonial officials’ perceptions of Basotho as compared to the local Shona people. They also reveal Basotho’s own perceptions of themselves and how these perceptions impacted on their relationships with other colonial subjects. The colonial officials’ perceptions of Basotho as progressive and better natives as compared to the indigenous Shona people owed much to Basotho’s relationships with DRC missionaries, their conversion to Christianity and attainment of a certain level of education. The majority of the local people lacked much of these traits and were largely viewed as steeped in ignorance and heathenism. Education was one of the central pieces in the work of missionaries as it helped in their conversion of the locals. Consequently, from the early years of the establishment of the Dutch Reformed Church Missions in Mashonaland much emphasis was placed on the establishment of schools. As early as 1892 the Dutch Reformed Church had established a school to cater for children of Basotho evangelists and other workers (Van der Merwe, 1953, 19). In his report for the year ending 31st December 1909 the NC for Victoria District noted that :

At Morgenster mission, under the DRC, natives are learning rough carpentry. The Basuto children are being taught by a Basuto who was sent to Basutoland for education. This school was formerly under the supervision of the DRC but is now, I understand, independent. It is situated on a farm owned by the Basutos (N9/1/12 Victoria District, Report for the Year Ended 31st December 1909, 8 January 1910).

17The Basotho communities in the two farms managed to establish two schools in their two co-owned farms, Erichsthal and Niekerk’s Rust with the help of the DRC missionaries. Their links with the DRC missionaries made them appreciate the need for education better than the local communities. The NC for Victoria District reported that, ‘the natives are somewhat apathetic on the question of education. The older people are usually opposed to it. At the Basuto [Basotho] farm Erichsthal the Basuto children are taught by a Basuto girl. Some of the Basuto boys have been sent to the Southern Colonies for education. Practically all the Basuto are members of the DRC’ N9/1/14 Victoria District : Report for the Year ended 31st December 1911).

18The colonial administration’s perceptions of Basotho as ‘better and progressive natives’ was also enhanced by the fact that Basotho were quite enterprising on their farms producing grain, butter, cream among other farm produce. The NC of Victoria District estimated that more than half of the butter that was sold in the Victoria market was produced by Basotho farmers. He further reported that some Basotho were also involved in ‘transport riding’ which at the time was largely a preserve of white Rhodesians (N9/1/14 Victoria District : Report for the Year ended 31st December 1911). Basotho farmers were only rivalled by the vaKaranga (a shona sub-group) of Rugby Farm who were also producing milk, butter and cream which they sold in Victoria and Gwelo towns. Rugby Farm was owned by twenty one indigenous vaKaranga people who had purchased the farm at the price of a hundred head of cattle (N9/1/14 Victoria District : Report for the Year ended 31st December 1911). One of the vaKaranga in Rugby managed to purchase a cream separator and became a regular supplier of cream to the Gwelo Creamery (N9/1/17 Victoria District : Report for the Year ended 31st December 1924). Together with the vaKaranga of Rugby Farm Basotho were often referred to as ‘progressive’ and ‘intelligent’ natives by colonial administrators in Victoria District because of their level of education and their entrepreneurial skills. These farmers were said to be producing a lot of farm produce when the ordinary local people were struggling to ends meet.

19When the local Shona people formed the local branch of the Southern Rhodesia Native Association in 1926 Basotho also formed themselves into an association for the advancements of their interests (N9/1/17 Victoria District : Report of the Native Commissioner for the year ended 31st December 1926). The association was a brain child of Johannes Mokwile who strongly believed in the idea of hard work and progress. In 1924 Johannes Mokwile wrote an article treatise which appeared in the Native Affairs Department Annual (NADA) in which he argued that Basotho needed to imitate Indians’ work ethic and entrepreneurial skills (Mokwile, 1924, 95). Mokwile received his education at Tiger Kloof Institution, London Missionary Society in South Africa. Upon completion of his studies he returned to Rhodesia and began to work for the government as a masonry instructor. His father was a part owner of the Niekerk’s Rust Farm. His article was based on the conversation he had with a certain Indian in a train from Gwelo to Fort Victoria. The Indian had challenged Basotho to be more productive on their farms. ‘Why did your father buy a farm, yet you do not know how to make money out of the farm ?’ the Indian chided Johannes Mokwile (Mokwile, 1924, 95). Johannes Mokwile felt challenged by the Indian and began to preach the ideals of hard work among Basotho. He argued that :

It is so far clear that the way these Indians have worked or used the soil, even if it is only rented, has overloaded them with profits. These profits derived from the soil came from the character of the Indians themselves, and not from any special privileges given them which natives do not enjoy….Now then, unless we who live side by side with these white men resolve to depart from primitive conditions, progress is impossible. Natives then must move with times, use their opportunity, talk less, [and] work more. Today I cannot go in where an Indian goes, just because he is a worker and I am a talker (Mokwile, 1924, 95).

20The ideals of hard work and discipline were thus perceived to be at the centre of what Mokwile considered to be the Indian psyche which Basotho had to imitate. Such thinking greatly informed Mokwile’s ideals of progress which he was keen to inculcate in other Basotho land owners.

Colonial Displacements and the Search for a new home

21In January 1925 the government appointed the Morris Carter Commission to investigate the problems of land and suggest how these problems could be solved. The commission recommended the segregation of land with ‘an estimated 6 851 876 acres of the un-alienated land be assigned to Africans as Native Purchase Areas, that 17 423 815 acres be reserved for future purchase by Europeans’ (Mokwile, 1924, 160). Most of the commission’s recommendations were incorporated into the Land Apportionment Act (LAA) in 1930. The Land Apportionment Act therefore legitimated racial segregation on land and the creation of the Native Purchase Areas became a quid pro quo for the Africans’ loss of rights to purchase land elsewhere in the country (Shutt, 1995, 558 ; Shutt, 1997). Like many other Africans Basotho in both Erichsthal and Niekerk’s Rust farms were displaced from their farms as the farms fell in the ‘European Area’ and they had to find new farms in the Purchase Areas.

22As a result of the promulgation of the LAA and the subsequent creation of Purchase Areas, Africans in areas designated for Europeans were ordered to vacate these areas. Those with money were advised to purchase land in the Purchase Areas whilst the rest went to settle in the native reserves (Tribal Trust Lands) or remained in the areas as squatters. In the case of Basotho, both Niekerk’s Rust and Erichsthal were declared to be in the ‘European Area’ which meant that they had to leave the farms and settle either in the newly created Purchase Areas or go to the reserves. However, being non-indigenous Africans it was bound to be very difficult for Basotho to settle in the reserves so most of them chose to go to the Purchase Areas. Settlement in the Purchase Areas was a gradual process owing to the government’s deliberate policy of not hastening the settlement process and also the shortage of manpower to survey the farms. Niekerk’s Rust was officially alienated in 1932 and the Basotho owners of the farm were given 5 228 acres in the Dewure Purchase Areas in Gutu District in exchange of the farm and were also paid £ 374 in compensation for the improvements they had done on the farm (Palmer, 1977, 280). Erichsthal Farm was alienated the following year with Basotho being given until the 31st July of July 1934 to vacate the farm (S1044/10 The Superintendent of Natives, Fort Victoria to the Assistant Director of Native Lands, 23 June 1934). The owners of Erichsthal Farm were offered 11 656 acres in Mungezi Purchase Areas in Bikita District in exchange of the Erichsthal and paid £ 2.118 as compensation (Palmer, 1977, 280). Mungezi and Dewure Purchase Areas are divided by the Mungezi River which also happens to be the boundary between Gutu and Bikita Districts. However, most Basotho and their families chose to take up farms in Dewure Purchase Areas.

23It needs to be highlighted that the Purchase area scheme was never designed to create homes for people without rights to any communal area or for those living in towns who wished to retire in the farms. The government desired to create a class of yeoman farmers who were to be economically productive. However, as Mazarire has observed, in Mshagashe PAs in Zimuto a number of families whose lands had been designated for Purchase Areas apportioned land among themselves such that they bought their ancestral lands (“The historical geography of Chishanga”). In Chishanga in Victoria Province, Mr Craig who was the government surveyor allowed local people who wanted to purchase farmers to ‘point their homes’ and he would peg the farm there to avoid ancestral lands being bought by non-locals (Mazarire, 2010, 57). It therefore meant that most people in this area continued to live in the same areas they were living before, their homes. The government was however against syndicate purchases and the idea of making Purchase Areas ‘homes’, as this had a potential of making farms uneconomic retirement areas. Be that as it may, there seem to have some exceptions to this rule when it came to non-indigenous Africans such as Basotho. As already highlighted Basotho were offered land in both Mungezi and Dewure Purchase Areas in which they were allowed settle as a community. It was against this background that Mr. Craig advised all Basotho to go to Dewure Purchase Areas which had been ‘reserved for them’ (S138/81 Superintendent of Native Fort Victoria to CNC Salisbury, 10th October 1932). Farm holdings 16 to 38 in the Dewure Purchase Areas were actually provisionally surveyed and set aside for the Niekerk’s Rust Basotho. Dewure Purchase Areas thus became Basotho’s new home as they did not have any other area they could call home in the country. As Shutt argues, Purchase Area farms became ‘homes’ for applicants who had no real home in rural areas though quite a large number of applicants were indigenous Africans who saw PAs as providing security of tenure (Shutt, 1997, 564). She further argues that in the early years of PAs, many applicants, ‘were from towns others were alienated from reserve life-those cut off from traditional avenues of wealth accumulation and prestige, such as black South African immigrants [such as Basotho and Xhosa], mission based farmers and ordinary clergy’(Shutt, 1997, 562).

24Having been alienated in the 1930s and placed under the ‘European Area’ Erichsthal Farm was further alienated in the 1960s when Lake Mutirikwi was constructed on the confluence of Mutirikwi and Shagashe rivers and part of the farm was submerged and the other became part of the Mutirikwi Game Reserve. The displacement of Basotho from Harawe and Chinhango however did not lead to a displacement of memories of they stay in the area. Basotho graves and old homes in both Harawe and Chinhango have been constant reminders of their attachment with the area. Graves have therefore played an important role in determining who belongs where and in people’s return to the old homes in the land reform programme. Similarly, though Basotho were not part of the people who were using ancestral graves to reclaim land around Lake Mutirikwi during the Fast Track Land Reform Programme their attachments to the landscape have continued to be recognized by the locals, most importantly because of the graves of their fore fathers which are still an important part of the landscape. Owing to the presence of Basotho graves and old homes one of the bays in the lake was named Basotho Bay. With this naming and memorialization Basotho have claimed attachment to the landscape around the lake hence Basotho attachment to the area have survived both the 1930s land alienations and partial alienation of their former homes by the lake.

Bethel farm : land, graves and belonging

25Upon their settlement in the Dewure Purchase Areas in Gutu the Basotho began to mobilize funds to purchase a farm that they would communally own. This community Farm was to be used for religious activities, for establishing a school, for a Dip tank site, cemetery site and also for a clinic site among others functions. Jacob Molebaleng as the representative of the Basotho community made several applications to the Native Land Board (NLB) to have the Basotho granted the farm. This community farm was in many ways going to become the rallying point for all the Basotho in Gutu. It was to symbolize the ‘Basotho people’s Home’ because that is where they intended to build their church, clinic and dip tank. Moreover, it was going to be site of the Basotho community cemetery where the almost all the Basotho in the area were to be buried.

Plate 1. Bethel cemetery

Plate 1. Bethel cemetery

Joseph Mujere

26Having considered Jacob Molebaleng’s application for a community farm, the NLB agreed to grant the Basotho a farm in the Dewure Purchase Areas, which was to be communally owned. The conditions for the grant were that, the farm would be, ‘for the use and benefit of the Basotho community for religious, educational and recreational purposes and also as sites for a dipping tank and burial ground and clinic’ (S1044/9 Superintendent of Natives-Fort Victoria to Chief Jacob Molebaleng, Erichsthal, 23 February 1934). The deed also stated that Jacob Molebaleng would be the one in whose name the rights for the community farm would be vested in his capacity as the ‘chief’ of the Basotho community. The agreed purchase price for the farm was pegged at £ 75, which included the cost of pegging. The size of the farm was 151.70 morgen (S1044/9 Superintendent of Natives-Fort Victoria to Chief Jacob Molebaleng, Erichsthal, 23 February 1934). The NLB thus granted Basotho Farm number 24, which the Basotho named Bethel Farm.

27After having been granted Dewure Farm holding number 24, the Basotho had to grapple with the modalities of raising the purchase price of the farm. A number of Basotho farm owners contributed towards the purchase of the farm. Some of the Basotho men who contributed towards the purchase of the community farm include Matthew Komo, Paul Mphisa, Jacob Molebaleng, Silas Molebaleng, Lucas Mokwile, Shadreck Leboho, and Fredrick Komo Snr among others (C. Mphisa Personal Interview 17 August 2009). The fact that some members of the Basotho community did not contribute towards the purchase of the community farm stirred controversy among the Basothos as murmurings and disgruntlements arose among the Basotho people. Jacob Molebaleng initially asked members of the Basotho community in Dewure Purchase Areas to contribute £ 2 each towards the purchase of the community farm (S1859 Summary of Minutes of a Meeting held at Bethel School on 8th October 1938). The figure was raised when Jacob Molebaleng realized that many people were not forthcoming. Only nine members managed to pay their £ 2 contributions and as a result a further £ 2.10.0 had to be paid by those members who were willing to contribute and Jacob Molebaleng paid £ 13 (S1859 Summary of Minutes of a Meeting held at Bethel School on 8th October 1938). What is noteworthy is that the Basotho people managed to purchase their community farm without the help of any non-Sotho person or organization including the DRC missionaries who for quite a long time were close allies of the Basotho people. Furthermore, after completing the purchase of the farm the Basotho agreed to have a caretaker stationed in the farm, to guard against poachers and squatters. The caretaker was also to act as the curator of the community cemetery in the farm (J. Phosa Personal Interview 8 March 2006).

28One unique feature of the community farm that would not escape the eye of a keen observer is the cemetery, which is in the centre of the farm. It is at this cemetery that more than three quarters of Basotho people originating from farms in the Dewure Purchase Areas inGutu are buried (S. Musindo Personal Interview 1 February 2006). Fredrick Komo also stressed that most Basotho people bury their dead at the community cemetery on Bethel Farm serve for those who live very far away from the farm (F. Komo Personal Interview 15 January 2006). Some of the notable Basotho people buried at this farm include Jacob Makwetie Molebaleng who was born on 12 December 1881 in South Africa and died in 1949 in Southern Rhodesia, Silas Phogole Molebaleng who was born in 1895 and died in 1982 and many others from the Phosa, Nyathi, Mulota, Mokoele and other Basotho families (S. Musindo Personal Interview 1 February 2006). Musindo is the present care taker of Bethel Farm and the curator of the community cemetery. His work is to ensure that people do not poach resources in the farm, to be the curator of the cemetery and also to ensure that the yearly council rates for the farms are paid. He reiterated that up to the present day most of the Basotho who live in Gutu or originate from the farms in the Dewure Purchase Areas observe this cemetery as the sanctified burial site for the Basothos, that some Basotho people who died in far-away places such as Harare, Gweru, Bulawayo, Chiredzi and Mutare among others places were brought back to be buried on this cemetery (S. Musindo Personal Interview 1 February 2006). This cemetery has thus become a symbol of Basotho identity and a rallying point for their belonging in an area dominated by the local autochthons.

29In essence, being buried at the Bethel cemetery is a major aspect of the identity of the Basotho in Gutu. Thus the Bethel Farm and also the cemetery on the farm have grown to be important focal points for the Basotho as they are seen culturally significant landscapes in their idea of ‘home’. Hence to them, ‘home’ does not only constitute the farm in which one lives, but also includes the community farm and the cemetery where one will be buried when they die. Bethel farm is thus indeed an integral part of Basotho’s idea of home in the Dewure Purchase Areas. Be that as it may, in some instances some Basotho people were buried in their farms and other places due to forbidding distances and lack of resources to bury them at the community cemetery in Bethel farm. Samuel Mphisa is one such person who for unclear reasons was buried at his farm. (R. Mphisa Personal Interview 1 February 2006). Furthermore, the Meti family and the Mulaamo family also do not use the community cemetery (J. Phosa Personal Interview 8 March 2006). Some however, cite the problem of distance from their farms to Bethel farm as the as the reason why they prefer to use family cemeteries rather than Bethel cemetery. In spite of this however, the Basotho community cemetery on Bethel farm has remained a fundamental aspect of Basotho identity that being buried there arguably completes the cultural package of being a member of the Basotho community in Gutu. Bethel Farm and the cemetery on it can be argued to have been the focal point for the Basotho in Gutu’s identity.

30The Basotho also built a school at Bethel Farm, which was to cater for Basotho children. The school was established in 1937 under the supervision of Rev. W. F. van der Merwe (S 1859 Rev. W. F. van der Merwe (Alheight Mission) to the N. C. Gutu, 22 September 1942). Since this school was largely meant for Basotho children the only languages taught at the school were English and Sesotho. The school was also run by a school committee, which was composed of Basotho farm owners under the supervision of Rev. van der Merwe (R. Mphisa Personal Interview 1 February 20006). In spite of this however, some Shona children enrolled at this school though Chishona their mother language was not taught.


31This paper has explored the migration history of Basotho who have now formed an enclave in the Dewure Purchase areas in Zimbabwe. It has also sought to analyse the links between Basotho migrations and the evangelization of the area to the north of the Limpopo. Basotho migrations and history is thus greatly related to the development of mission stations such as Morgenster Mission. Basotho first settled in two farms in the Fort Victoria Area and made it their home until they were displaced in the 1930s and settled in the Dewure Purchase Areas. It is quite evident that Basotho people’s attachment to their new home in the Dewure Purchase Areas was strengthened by their ownership of farms. This article has tried to show the salience of farms and graves in Basotho memorialization of their migration as well as their negotiation of belonging in the Dewure Purchase Areas. Basotho ownership of farms went a long way in helping them establish an enclave for themselves in an area dominated by the local Shona autochthons. In many ways, Bethel farm became a central feature in Basotho idea of home.

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F. Komo Personal Interview (15 January 2006)

S. Musindo Personal Interview (1 February 2006)

R. Mphisa Personal Interview (1 February 2006)

N. Mawushe Personal Interview (4 February 2006)

N.E. Mawushe, Personal Interview, (4 February 2006)

J. Phosa, Personal Interview (8 March 2006)

C. Mphisa Personal Interview (17 August 2009)

Archival Files (National Archives of Zimbabwe, Harare)

Hist. Mss BE2/1/1 Diary of Knothe, Entry of 19 May 1888.

N9/1/12 Victoria District, Report for the Year Ended 31st December 1909, 8 January 1910

N9/1/14 Victoria District : Report for the Year ended 31st December 1911

N9/1/15 Victoria District, Report for the Year ended 31st December 1912.

N9/1/17 Victoria District : Report for the Year ended 31st December 1924

N9/1/17 Victoria District : Report of the Native Commissioner for the year ended 31st December 1926

S1042 1924-1937 Superintendent of Natives (Fort Victoria) to CNC, 20 December 1927

S1044/10 The Superintendent of Natives, Fort Victoria to the Assistant Director of Native Lands, 23 June 1934.

S1044/9 A. C. Jennings Assistant Director of Native of Native Lands to the Superintendent of Natives, Fort Victoria, 14 February 1933

S1044/9 Superintendent of Natives-Fort Victoria to Chief Jacob Molebaleng, Erichsthal, 23 February 1934.

S138/81 Superintendent of Native Fort Victoria to CNC Salisbury, 10th October 1932

S1542/F2/1 Assistant Director of Native Lands to Chief Native Commissioner, 9th December 1932

S1542/F2/1 Superintended of Natives (Fort Victoria) to C. Bullock Assistant Chief Native Commissioner Salisbury, 2 August 1933

S1859 NC Gutu to CNC 18th January 1938

S1859 Rev. W. F. van der Merwe (Alheight Mission) to the N. C. Gutu, 22 September 1942.

S1859 Rev. W. van der Merwe (Alheight Mission) to the C. N. C. Gutu, 6 November 1935.

S1859 Summary of Minutes of a Meeting held at Bethel School on 8th October 1938.

S924/G33/App. 2 Superintendent of Natives (Fort Victoria) to CNC, 14 October 1927

S924/G33/App. 2 Superintendent of Natives to CNC 14 October 1927

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig.1 Map Showing Erichsthal Farm before the construction of Lake Mutirikwi
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Titre Plate 1. Bethel cemetery
Crédits Joseph Mujere
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Joseph Mujere, « Familly farms, graves, and belonging: migrations and the politics of belonging among Basotho in colonial Zimbabwe », Conserveries mémorielles [En ligne], #13 | 2013, mis en ligne le 10 mars 2013, consulté le 22 septembre 2020. URL :

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Joseph Mujere

possède un doctorat en histoire de l’Université d’Édimbourg. Il est présentement chercheur associé au sein du Society, Work, and Development Institute (SWOP) de l’Université du Witwatersrand, à Johannesburg. Il enseigne par ailleurs l’histoire à l’Université du Zimbabwe. En matière de recherche, il s’intéresse au phénomène migratoire, à la citoyenneté et aux politiques d’appartenance.

Joseph Mujere holds a PhD (History) from the University of Edinburgh. He is currently a Research Associate in the Society, Work, and Development Institute (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He also teaches history at the University of Zimbabwe. His research interests are in migration, citizenship and politics of belonging.

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