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Despite a significant high court victory, the Kondo community in Chipinge District, Zimbabwe, are still sceptical about their continued access to land because their legal victory from being dispossessed of their land might be short-lived. On 23 June 2022, the High Court of Zimbabwe interdicted the Chipinge Rural District Council (CRDC) from “urbanising Kondo Communal Lands without following due process”.

This is the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle between rural communities and local authorities in Zimbabwe. 

This land conflict has been brewing since 2019., according to Claris Madhuku, director of the Platform for Youth and Community Development.

“Considering that land conflicts in Zimbabwe are usually emotive, it’s not easy for a community to get a favourable ruling. There is a perception that these are political issues whereby sometimes those who are given such cases would act on political instruction,” Madhuku says.

The June 2022 victory, therefore, elicits mixed feelings and anxiety among the community in Kondo. Madhuku says this is because there is still room for the CRDC to go ahead with its urbanisation plan. All it has to do is to follow the due process.  Therefore, the victory is not against dispossession but the manner in which the CRDC undertook its planning process.

Despite the looming threats of dispossession, the Kondo community have vowed to keep fighting for their land.

“As a community, we are aware of the principle of free prior and informed consent, whereby even if due process were to be involved, the community would have to give consent. The community has to say we agree to being moved from Kondo village, and then there should be alternative land. And from the way we understand this, it will not be possible for the community to consent,” Madhuku says.

Key issues
While the community prepares itself for a long legal road ahead, Madhuku shares four critical issues at hand that he says need to be addressed.

  1. The Communications Act gives the president of Zimbabwe powers to endorse appeals for land dispossession, which may disadvantage rural communities. . In particular, political elites with connections to the president are likely to have their appeals endorsed and communities cannot fight anyone with political backing.
  2. When communities such as those in Kondo village are dispossessed of their land, they are not compensated nor allocated alternative land. Communities that are having challenges with the rural district council, even when they are being displaced for projects being undertaken by the government. There have been challenges with compensation,” Madhuku says. 
  3. The third issue is the unfair treatment of women in land allocation. “Research has shown that women have been impoverished. Access to land for women, whether they are widowed, divorced or single, has been very difficult. Only those women who are married have been accessing land.”
  4. Lastly, Madhuku says, the land is an issue of governance. “I think we have a challenge in terms of the competence of our RDC (rural district council). Those that are mandated to manage the land in rural communities like the Rural District Authority have very limited capacity.”

Dr Phillan Zamchiya, a senior researcher at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, has previously called for a moratorium on evictions of people living on communal land. 

He said the Zimbabwean government partly bases its decision on a narrow belief that private big estates are the only vehicle for economic transformation despite widespread evidence of their detrimental effects on the vulnerable people’s diverse livelihoods. 

“One alternative pathway to rural development would also require an emphasis on development projects that ensure that men and women living in rural areas do not lose their customary land,” he said.

Only time will tell how long this latest victory will last, as the recent ruling leaves room for a lingering legal battle. However, Madhuku still holds firm to the belief that what the land means to Africans goes beyond its commercial benefits. It is linked to identity as a community and individuals, something not critically considered in development projects.