Ordered Estates - Speech given by Dr Ushehwedu Kufakurinani

Ordered Estates: Welfare Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (once white) Highveld

By Andrew M. C. Hartnack

Speech given by Dr Ushehwedu Kufakurinani

At the Book Launch on 2nd September, 2016


I am honoured to speak about this fascinating study by Andrew Hartnack: Ordered Estates: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (once white) Highveld as I have known Andrew for some four years when we met as doctoral students with not dissimilar areas of study.

Let me begin by commenting on the cover: the crooked, rusty signpost with names of once white farms speaks to the decay on the once ‘ordered estates’ and the classification or hierarchical nature of the colonial state, where the micro (the farm) reflected the macro (the State).

Ordered Estates should be read by scholars in a variety of fields: colonial and post-colonial historians, anthropologists, sociologists, historians of gender and empire as well as imperial historians. Development practitioners, civil society and policy makers will also stand to benefit from Hartnack’s research, which considers the effects of welfarist movements and civic organisations on the lives of former farm workers. The author seeks to understand the ways in which aspects of the past and emerging orders – black farm workers/farm dwellers, white (and black) farmers and “farmers wives”, and black and white NGO workers: subalterns and elites –are entangled and how this influences the lives of (former) farmworkers over the period 1900 to 2015, through the interplay of protagonists whose common point is/was the commercial farm.

One of the greatest strengths of the book lies in its methodology which combines anthropology, ethnography, life histories, participatory observation, archival material, household and other surveys. Another important strength lies in the way in which a study of the inter-relations between farm workers and farm owners and their wives offers a lense through which we can examine the unfolding social, economic and political dynamics of the country in the colonial and post-colonial periods; and before and after the land reform programme, hondo yeminda. Hartnack explores various theories of power and power relations and transposes them on to the relations on the commercial farms before and after independence. He breaks away from the androcentric representation of the commercial farmers, demonstrating, instead, the interplay of gender, welfare and race in shaping history though wide-ranging initiatives in health and education. Finally, the author demonstrates how former farm workers draw on their shared history and networks in their endeavours to survive the severe socio-economic challenges, which resulted from the disruptions of the Fast Track Land Resettlement.

Ordered Estates offers a truly gendered and racially balanced narrative. Such an objective analysis demonstrates that unlike the reductionist stereotype of a polarised society, colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe found points of interaction in complex ways that crossed narrow racial and gender divides. Personally, I found this layered and subtle analysis a refreshing addition to the existing historiography that is dominated by either ‘recuperative’ histories about women, crisis or nationalist historiography.

Recuperative histories, argues Jane Haggis, write women’s history as though it were about ‘people of gender’, enclosed within a ‘separate sphere’ created by patriarchy. Such recuperative history tends to create disjointed narrations of colonial events where the women were presented as existing in isolation of the rest of the colonial players. Ordered Estates discusses women as integral to historical processes: indeed, it is the complexity of interaction across race, gender, class, age, education, culture, language, which has contributed to the construction of the Zimbabwe we know.

Ordered Estates is also a refreshing voice on the welfarist discourse on the farms through the Homecraft movement, the introduction of farm clinics and schools, which the State attempted to co-opt under the mantra of community development. However, far from sanitising and romanticising the role played by famers and their wives, the colonial and post-colonial states and the civic groups, Hartnack makes a critical intervention in which he acknowledges the matronising/ patronising roles and the limitations imposed by the changing welfarist approaches.

If, however, my review of this title is largely very positive, I do have some quibbles. First, I would have liked to see the time period studied clearly captured clearly in the title of the book; indeed I found little mention of distinctive periods throughout the text. Dateless engagements are a fashion in other fields but as an historian, I missed them.

I would have also liked a more profound discussion on the distinction/relationship between the Homecraft clubs and the Women Institutes, and the relative significance of both, and the subtle but constant differences in their ideological approaches.

Nonetheless, in my view, the author, a young urbanite white male researching a spectrum experienced by older generations, women, and rural black farm workers, generally rises above the limitations imposed by positionality through meticulous methodology and analysis. I share Amanda Hammar’s view that Ordered Estates offers a sophisticated and nuanced portrait of Zimbabwe’s contemporary agrarian landscapes, providing a valuable contribution to the growing body of work about changes in different social, political, structural and cultural spheres generated in the post-200 “fast-track” era.