To understand why commercial farm workers in Zimbabwe are on the margins of state development plans, this article presents an argument that suggests it is crucial to understand the historical roots of both rural administrative relations, and political identities, in the power relations that crystallized around the emerging field of 'development' in Southern Rhodesia in the 1940s. During this period, different procedures of controlling conduct became defined along three distinct spatial and sociological identities: administrative development of 'rural African peasants'; administrative politics of 'European farmers'; and domestic government of 'African farm workers ' on European farms. This paper situates the privileging of 'domestic' (paternalistic), as opposed to 'public', procedures of dispute settlement and resource allocation on European farms in the wider policy changes of the 1940s and illustrates some of the common practices of this 'domestic government' through examples from white farms in Urungwe District, the site of the largest government resettlement scheme for returning European soldiers from World War Two.