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  • Becoming PostcolonialAfrican Women Changing the Meaning of Citizenship
  • Patricia McFadden (bio)

In the early 1980s Zimbabwe was touted as a nation that held the promise of a resolution to the seemingly intractable problems of de-colonization and stability in southern Africa. As is true throughout the southern Africa region specifically, and the continent in general, the notion of stability was defined in direct relation to the maintenance of classed and/or raced interests within Africa.

In Zimbabwe, a country where 1 percent of the population owned more than 70 percent of the land at independence, the most difficult problem was that of land—the most critical resource of the postcolonial Zimbabwean society. To resolve it, a deal called the Lancaster House Agreement (see appendix page 19) was reached in 1979 between the new ruling class of Zimbabwe, which included Robert Mugabe, the independent country's first prime minister, and the British government. The agreement made provisions to establish a land fund, financed by the British and United States governments, which would compensate willing white farmers who sold their land to be redistributed among blacks. However, resistance from the white settler community eventually resulted in the state appropriating many of the farms, but fewer than 70,000 peasants were resettled on them, and the great majority of the land fell into the hands of government officials and wealthy elite black businessmen. Accusing President Robert Mugabe of corruption, the British withdrew aid [End Page 1] from the land grant program; sanctions were imposed on the country; and Zimbabwe became embroiled in internal political opposition and a land and economic crisis in which the majority of blacks remain desperately impoverished and disenfranchised. Masquerading as a constitution, the Lancaster Agreement was in reality a means to retain the privileges of the white settler elite and the ruling, if impoverished, black elite ruling class at the expense and exclusion of the majority of Zimbabweans.

In the twenty-first century, we are confronted with the reality of both the collapse of neocolonialism and the need to craft new social and political systems that will fulfill the needs of millions of African people, including African women, who, by and large, were excluded from the benefits of independence. Zimbabwe provides an excellent example of how the transition to a postcolonial society has given rise to new sociopolitical challenges, and how, in particular, the twenty-first-century women's struggles can lead us to a new framework in meeting them. I position women's resistance agency for rights and entitlements, and their engagements with the state, at the center of this notion, because they are at the cutting edge for the emergence of a different politics on the continent, which can lead to all citizens living the wholesome lives promised by the extraordinary moment of change that independence provided.

While the neocolonial dispensation that followed the Lancaster Agreement afforded many Zimbabweans with some, limited, social, educational, and economic benefits, it fell short of the transformative changes needed to shift the society from one embedded in exclusionary state and legal practices to one that provides all citizens access to the most fundamental resource in the society—arable land. The fact that these changes have not taken place is evidenced, in part, by the fact that the lifestyle of the white commercial farmer has remained largely untouched by the continued marginality of millions of poor Zimbabweans who exist on the edges of his numerous farms (sometimes running into hundreds of thousands of acres). The assumption of the white farmer that he could continue to live as though black Zimbabweans had readily given up the memory of resistance against brutal racist repression and murder and the indignities of having had to live under white dominion was in and of itself a stupid self-delusion. But this is what most white settlers wanted and thought they got through British intervention. Consequently they continued to exploit the labor of hundreds of thousands of black farm workers, most of whom the [End Page 2] Zimbabwean state considered outsiders and who were not protected by any labor legislation, nor were they allowed to register as citizens of the new state. Among these hundreds of thousands...