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Councils, Councillors and Profiteers: Urban Land Speculation and Contestations in Southern Rhodesia in the 1940s,


Year published: 2020
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Author / Authors:

  • Lotti Nkomo


Journal of Southern African Studies, 46:6, 1163-1181, DOI: 10.1080/03057070.2020.1834239


Studies of the land question in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) have demonstrated that land was an object of intense speculation. However, they have predominantly considered speculation on rural and agrarian land to the exclusion of urban areas. This article contributes to and expands on this scholarship by considering the largely missing urban dimension. It examines conflict between speculators and municipalities over urban land in Southern Rhodesia in the 1940s. While making reference to the situation across the colony, it relies on the specific case of the town of Que Que (now Kwekwe) to argue that excesses of land speculation hamstrung the expansion and development of towns by distorting land prices. When the privately owned Naseby Estate was put on the market in September 1947, speculators, working with some councillors, exploited legislative, administrative and bureaucratic loopholes to steal a march on Que Que municipality, which wanted to purchase the land directly. They subsequently offered the land back to the municipality at a substantially raised price. Largely employing primary data, the article demonstrates that, once government bodies indicated interest in a piece of land, landowners would increase the price sharply, or speculators would buy the land specifically for resale to public institutions. The article also considers the questions raised and strategies imagined by concerned councillors and other interest groups in the wake of Que Que municipality’s loss. It not only contributes to scholarship on colonial land and urban development but also reveals less discussed tensions and contradictions within the settler society.

Keywords: Southern Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, urban, councils, municipalities, land, speculation, settlers


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