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HARARE, 06 DECEMBER 2022. The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), in collaboration with the Platform for Youth and Community Development (PYCD), held a policy dialogue in Zimbabwe on 2nd December 2022 to disseminate research findings from the project, ‘The privatisation of customary land and its implications for women’s tenure security and livelihoods,’ which was launched in December 2020 and is being led by Dr Phillan Zamchiya, a Senior Researcher at PLAAS.

The policy dialogue was attended by 16 policymakers, including Mrs Ropafadzo Pazvakavamba, the Deputy Director of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, who gave the keynote address. Other participants were Mr Blessing Mamvosha, Chief Executive Officer for Chipinge Rural District Council, Chief Zvironzo Kondo from Chipinge, Hon. Temba Mliswa, independent MP for Norton, and Hon Joannah Mamombe, representing the Parliamentary Committee on land, as well as civil society actors from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Land and Agrarian Network, and Mr Freedom Mazwi from the Sam Moyo African Institute of Agrarian Studies (SMIAS).

Mrs. Ropafadzo Pazvakavamba, the Deputy Director of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, gives the keynote address at the National Policy Dialogue on Women’s Land Rights.

Presenting the research findings, Dr Zamchiya highlighted the extent to which customary land is being formalised in Africa. He stated that between 1990 and 2018, 33 new land laws were enacted in sub-Saharan Africa, most focused on customary land rights. The argument for formalisation is
that it improves tenure security and women’s access to land.

However, the results from the research carried out in Chipinge District, where the state is acquiring customary land for urban development, showed that women are left worse off in the face of formalisations than when they live on customary land. The research was conducted in Munyokowere, Mahachi and Kondo villages as well as Checheche Growth Point, located in the Lowveld of Chipinge District. Researchers reached 117 women and 39 men through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs). The researchers also administered 100 questionnaires for quantitative data. The key finding is that the privatisation of customary land in Zimbabwe increases poverty by leaving people homeless, affecting women and children the most. Dr Zamchiya shared the following results:

Colonial-era master plans used to dispossess Zimbabweans

  • In Munyokowere, the local state had continued to rely on the colonial-era developmental master plans of the 1950s to evict families. The authorities also made socially legitimate claims over land spanning from their dispossession by the brutal Rhodesian colonial state.
  • In Mahachi, the local state uses urban development plans anchored on the 1982 National Transitional Development Plan (NTD). Checheche was Gazetted by the Government in 1982, with an initial total of 1 055 hectares. However, the plan has not been implemented since then, and the current land occupants have been tenured “in good faith.”
  • The old plan has now been updated to make Checheche a ‘new city’ covering about 2 203 hectares.
  • The vision of a new city was shared by the local MDC and ZANU PF councillors.
  • They complained that the central government was taking up to nine years to respond to applications to authorise the development of rural service centres, which at times entailed the conversion of communal land to state-owned land.

Dispossessed families not being compensated or resettled

  • The state was relentless in its bid to evict the poor and vulnerable without paying adequate attention to their resettlement.
  • Families in Munyokowerereceived a letter from the Chipinge Rural District Council (CRDC) dated 1 September 2020. It stated that:
    • “The land you have been occupying for some time now is within the Chipangayi Rural Service Centre under the administration of Chipinge Rural District Council… Consequently, you are advised to remove the illegal structure and vacate at your own cost within 90 days but in any event not later than the 13th of December 2020”
  • The CRDC encouraged Munyokowere villagers to apply for a stand but were reminded the decision was at the Council’s ‘sole discretion.’
  • As a result of these evictions, community members’ lives were worse, and some have lost their lives. Customary land has been commodified as a result of these actions by the government.

The government’s view
In her keynote speech and in response to these research findings, Mrs Pazvakavamba described the Zimbabwean agrarian structure as comprising small, medium and large farms, all under different forms of land ownership. The government was, therefore, developing a national land policy that would ensure that all tenure systems supported women’s land rights through joint land ownership.

What other stakeholders had to say
The Hon. Mliswa said that women living on communal land are supposed to be protected by various land laws and the constitution, but there is not enough enforcement. He added that Section 8 of the constitution states that people occupy and use communal land with the consent of the local rural district council. In giving such consent, the local authority must have regard to customary law and must consult and cooperate with the chief for the area. Modern laws must respect Zimbabwe’s traditional customs, and the privatisation of customary land should be done under the purview of traditions and customs.

In addition, Mr Mazwi from SMAIAS said over 100,000 landholders have either been threatened with eviction or have been evicted from their customary lands. He said efforts by the government to lure foreign investment pose serious challenges to communities. According to Hon. Joanah Mamombe, MP for Harare West, women are the most affected by gender-based violence in privatisation processes and need legal protection.

Mutape Zvironzo Kondo, a traditional leader, concurred with the finding that women are the most affected in the event of privatisation of customary land. She added that the most affected are single mothers, widows and young women.

Mr Blessing Mamvosha urged all stakeholders, including traditional leaders, the local authorities, as well as the wider community, to prioritise dialogue in addressing the challenge of the privatisation of communal land.

Following discussions and deliberations, the participants made the following recommendations:

  1. Zimbabwe needs to adopt a gender-sensitive land policy;
  2. Women need to be equally represented in decision-making institutions on land governance;
  3. The government must issue tenure documents to landholders in Zimbabwe;
  4. The Traditional Leaders Act and Communal Land Act needs to be aligned with the constitution to ensure that traditional leaders have the authority to protect women’s tenure rights;
  5. Civil society should use litigation or all other means to ensure that the government enforces the laws that support women’s tenure rights;
  6. Graves should stand as a title deed in customary lands since it confirms ownership and usage of land since time immemorial;
  7. Stakeholder engagement and collective responsibility should be embraced when addressing land matters; and
  8. The government should issue private title deeds to farmers for land to be a bankable asset.

Way forward
Following the deliberations, Dr Zamchiya stated that as a way forward, PLAAS was finalising a documentary that amplifies the women’s experiences in their voices. The research team would also return to the study sites to present the findings for the communities to validate them as a true reflection of their experiences. Given the regional context of the research, PLAAS would also hold a regional conference to share lessons across the four countries in which the project is being undertaken. The outcome of these dialogues will be a regional framework that will be debated at the SADC and AU levels.

PLAAS is already contributing to the African Union’s Agenda 2063 through its partnerships with the African Land Policy Centre. Dr Zamchiya thanked all the participants for their input and emphasised the need for the harmonisation of law and practice and the alignment of all pieces of legislation. Finally, he stressed the importance of the UN principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent in all development projects.

Read more about the study on the PLAAS website here.

The dialogue was held by PLAAS in partnership with PYCD and with financial support from the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). We would like to thank ADC for their financial support. However, these views are entirely our own

For interviews and further information about how Zimbabwe’s urbanisation process is affecting women in rural communities, please contact the following:

  • Primary contact: Claris Madhuku, Director, Platform for Youth and Community Development – 0773010331;
  • Secondary contact: Cynthia Gwenzi, Gender, Wellness and Advocacy Officer – 0774163081;

For further information about the PLAAS study, please contact:

  • Dr Phillan Zamchiya, Senior Researcher:

Issued by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies

PLAAS is an independent Policy Research Institute within the Faculty for Economic and Management Sciences at the University of the Western Cape.

About PYCD
PYCD is a non-partisan, membership-driven organisation which exists to mobilise and empower communities in Manicaland Province through lobbying, advocacy and capacity building in order to promote social transformation and sustainability in Zimbabwe.

About Austrian Development Cooperation
Austrian Development Cooperation supports countries in Africa, Asia, South Eastern and Eastern Europe in their sustainable development. The Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs plans the strategies. The Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation, implements programmes and projects together with public institutions, civil society organisations as well as enterprises.