The Kalomo Land Saga – Zambian Anarchists, 1998

The Kalomo land saga is a good example of what peasants can achieve when they decide to work together. Without use of arms, the peasants of Kalomo, a small town in the southern province of Zambia  took over the two  huge state ranches which almost circle the small town.

Kalomo is famous in Zambia because it is the first capital of Zambia in 1908. Being the first capital helped it to be  among the first Zambian urban settlements which attracted the European settlers and British  administrators. Kalomo had also another attraction, the railway line passes through the town. This  enabled the area to be accessible to the copper mines on the north and the ever growing tourist town of Livingston. As a result the outlaying area round Kalomo town was quickly taken up by farmers and ranchers. Today, Kalomo still remains among the Zambian town that continues to have the largest commercial farming community.

But this had its negative consequences. The villages which surrounded the town were demolished by the administration to give way to European  land settlers. This pushed the villagers to the hinterland where the soils were poor and the land infested by tsetse flies. Because the bulk of the land was taken by the government and converted into state land villagers found themselves more and more crowded and could not expand their holdings. This created congestion in the area as the population kept on growing without possible expansion areas.

The most affected area in this land grabbing was Chief Sipatunyana’s area. It is claimed that three quarters of chief Sipatunyana’s fertile land went to the European settlers who had found the area to be lucrative for Maize and Tobacco growing and Ranching.  Inevitably because of the land shortage and the poll tax which the administration imposed on the villagers, the villagers were forced to seek work on these farms which were once their land.

After independence and the collapse of the Tobacco industry,  most expatriate farmers left the area and government took over the land since most of it was gazetted ‘state land’. The Kaunda government which took over in 1964 distributed some of the land in form of resettlements to its political supporters as ‘ payment ‘ for fighting for independence. The other large portion of the land became part of the government ranching conglomerate.

In 1991, the MMD government came to power. At inception they made it clear that they were not going to be involved in the business of agriculture and would not subsidise any agricultural enterprise. This made the Kalomo ranches (Chikoli and Mutala) to go under and by 1993 they were empty shells of what they were in 1991.Worker would go unpaid for months. This bred theft on the farm and workers started stealing and selling cattle and other farm property.

The government at this time ( 1993) started campaigning for a new land act which would later give government  title to most of the land and power to get land from traditional rulers. This proposed bill was vehemently opposed and rejected by people of Southern province of Zambia on the premise that government had already taken most of the land and the rest was owned by the commercial farmers. They people insisted that the Government had to give back most of the land to the original owners before it went ahead and passed the act. The government was however adamant and went ahead to pass the bill despite various demonstrations and show of resentment towards the proposed law.

This prompted the late Chief Sipatunyana ( he died in September 1997) to organise his people to  each  grab and stake claim to as much of what was the state land as one would manage to. He did not just push the young men to fight for this land but he also shifted his palace to the heart of the disputed land. This state land changed its name  from Mutala/ Chikoli to Makala Nguzu ( literary meaning we are going to settle by force). These movements were in late 1995. This was a period when elections were a year in the offing and the government was busy trying to change the constitution and did not want to be seen to antagonise the masses. They allowed the villager and some townspeople who did not have land to settle on it (temporarily). They were just bidding for time and early this year Kalomo District Council (as a government agent )  issued a warning that by 31st July 1998, the squatters were to leave the land.

Unfortunately, Chief Sipatunyana passed away in 1997 but he had realised his vision. The government is now moving to remove the people from the land though it has no settlement alternatives. The people have however vowed not to move an inch out of land. They insist government will just have to kill them because they have nowhere else to go.