Wellington Mvundura is a Zimbabwean and in the final year of his PhD in Sociology at Wits University (Wits). His doctorate spotlights the everyday forms and practices of resistance by rural plantation labour. He holds a Master’s in Migration cum laude, and an Honours in Sociology from Wits, and a Bachelor of Social Science, cum laude, from Great Zimbabwe University (GZU). Since 2012, he has taught and tutored Sociology and Political Studies at Wits. His research interests are in critical rural agrarian change and political violence. Currently, he is working on completing his PhD and drafting publication articles.
‘Farmzenship’: Navigating the Plantation Labour Process from Below
This paper explores the everyday forms and practices of resistance articulated by rural wage labour to subvert domination in Africa’s agro-forestry plantation sector. Often, to confront agrarian labour domination, conventional wisdom privileges the militant and episodic practices like strikes and demonstrations as archetypical of agrarian resistance. Yet, given the increasingly despotic, ‘total institution’ governance of capitalist plantation farms in Africa, chances for militancy can be few and far between. Also, trade unions often get co-opted by the political elite. This results in a bipolar plane of either militant resistance or quiescence. What potentially happens in between these two polar ends escapes scholarship. Thus, I make an empirical exploration of an ensemble of the subtle, informal, mundane micro-political forms and practices of subversion which I coin ‘farmzenship’ which rural wage labour on a state-owned, commercially run forestry estate in Zimbabwe articulate as it aims for socio-economic reproduction. While the paper acknowledges James Scott’s (1984) seminal scholarship on everyday peasant resistance, it interrogates and pushes past its biases towards practices predicated on purely class-based power relations. Thus, theoretically, the paper transcends a largely class-based analysis of everyday agrarian subversion to include its eclectic nature, fluidity and indeterminacy as underpinned by the historical cultural politics of what I call ‘invited citizenship’. Relatedly, the paper interrogates and edifies the Scottian (1984) intention-oriented approach to mundane resistance by making a complementary methodological shift that invokes a practice-oriented approach. Based on ethnography on a vast, privately-owned Zimbabwean pine plantation estate, I argue that under neo-colonial, despotic agrarian capitalism, everyday farm worker resistance embodies more of uneasy, erratic, contradictory and shifting forms, practices and socialities imbricated with the material-cum-ideological logic of ‘invited citizenship’ than express the interests of a unitary class subject. I further propose that such mundane resistance does not necessarily challenge the material power base of the plantation capitalist labour process. Instead, it subtly subverts imposed claims, and subtly enacts and pursues own piecemeal claims vis-à-vis agrarian capital and the state.
Affiliation: University of Witswatersrand