The importance of a sound land administration system (LAS) cannot be over-emphasised.
This article seeks to examine the current state of the land administration system across all land-use categories in Zimbabwe, a general overview of the land administration challenges, with the aim of providing a policy proposition of how the land system can better be administered.
The land administration system is a critical component, which must be a priority in the ongoing process of crafting a National-Gender Sensitive Land Policy by policy makers.
This opinion piece represents the views of rural farmers, researchers, women lobby groups and land and agrarian civil society organisations drawing from extensive fieldwork conducted by the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies in partnership with the Zimbabwe Land and Agrarian Network (ZiLAN).
Land administration system in Zimbabwe: The challenges
It is critical to understand that the Zimbabwe land administration system was operationally handicapped and faced a myriad of hurdles succeeding the implementation of the fast-track land reform programme
(FTLRP) in 2000 that radically altered the agrarian structure from a colonial bimodal to a trimodal structure. Although Zimbabwe had a vigorous land administration system going into the first decade (1980-90) of independence, this system came under increasing pressure as more land was resettled, restructuring the land management systems with it. The current land administration system, is unfortunately overwhelmed by the increase in the number of farmers, and increase in unit plots of land in a multifaceted and changing environment.
At the current juncture, multiple ministries and institutions are involved in land administration and management in Zimbabwe. In theory, the Zimbabwe Land Commission (ZLC) is the institution legally empowered to resolve disputes on "agricultural land" encompassing A1, A2, old resettlement areas and large-scale commercial farms since the enactment of the constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act of 2013.
However, the ZLC as noted is yet to fully institutionalise and decentralize its functions, and evidence suggests that the provincial land committees (PLCs) are still influential in the adjudication of the disputes in the A2 schemes.
The provincial Offices of the Ministry of Lands headed by the provincial resettlement officers (previously known as the chief lands officer before the restructuring and merging of the land and agriculture portfolios) are usually the first port of call for reporting land disputes, which are then forwarded to the provincial land committees for resolution.
Transparent land tenure administration and management is a component in the resolution of land related disputes in Zimbabwe. Realising the centrality of land information systems in securing and managing land rights, the Ministry of Lands and the United Nations Development Programme piloted a Land Information Management System (LIMS) to facilitate holistic land tenure documentation.
The records for the A2 land offer letters are stored in the automated LIMS database which presumably includes information on all landholders. However, the ministry's land tenure database is not publicly available and thus limiting transparency and accountability in land tenure administration and management.
Also worrying is the evidence showing the involvement of traditional leaders to varying degrees in the allocating of land to A1 beneficiaries. Without any legal backing, village heads also play an important role in adjudicating disputes although they are often disliked by youths and women (Vudzijena, 2016).
Policy dialogues convened by SMAIAS have continuously reflected tensions that exist between rural farmers and traditional leaders over allegations of corruption by the latter across all land tenure regimes save for the A2 sector.
In communal areas, traditional authorities under the headship of chiefs are the most prominent land administration authorities at the local level and their roles have been extended to cover A1 areas in resettlement areas. Traditional leaders continue to be regarded as the custodians of the customary lands, even though legally RDCs have oversight responsibilities over the administration of such lands as well as coordinating rural development in the district to include both communal and newly redistributed areas.
The traditional authority is composed of the chiefs, headman (sadunhu) and village head (sabhuku). There is no synchronisation of and clear hierarchy among the different laws used to administer land in the communal areas. The RDCs are composed of elected ward representatives (councillors) and a CEO, who is responsible for the daily operations of the council.
It is important to note that the presence of various LAS institutions results in the competition and antagonism over the allocation of land (particularly in the A1 areas), because of different approaches, which are used in the selection of beneficiaries and land administration. Furthermore, the competing land administration institutions weaken the dispute adjudication mechanism, which is also not autonomous of political interference.
The interference of non-state actors such as political parties and traditional leaders in the LAS structures further thwarts the efficient functioning of the system, resulting in the provision of contradictory land administration services, which fuel land disputes, undermining the equitability, fairness, accountability and legitimacy of the LAS as a public service provider.
Baseline research by the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies shows that most land disputes reported are generated by poor land allocation and land use regulation processes, underpinned by the failure of the land dispute mediation system to resolve such disputes timeously.
It is, therefore, critical for policy makers to attend to the above issues in crafting the National-Gender Sensitive Land Policy. Below we suggest policy options.
Strengthening the Zimbabwe land administration system: Insights and recommendations
Having problematised the challenges of the Zimbabwe LAS, the greatest task for policy makers is to come up with a coherent well-functioning LAS, which is resourced and works with a coordinated system across all the land tenure regimes. The ZiLAN constituent through a workshop held in November 2019 noted that it is critical to strengthen the land dispute resolution mechanism that exists in the ZLC to address the concerns of different stakeholders with neutrality.
To this end the ZiLAN constituent strongly recommended decentralisation of the ZLC, preferably at the district level, which is autonomous from the district land committee (DLC) structures and MLAWCRR land administrators. Moreover, there is a strong need to strengthen the operations of the existing DLCs to enhance the accessibility of the LAS across all the land tenure regimes, with the DLCs being the most critical decision-making and functional step of the LAS in each district.
There is also emerging evidence that suggests that LAS services, including registration systems and access to land dispute resolution remain largely remote and expensive for the majority of resettled farmers, especially women. The introduction of the land rentals and development levies for the A1 and A2 through the Finance Act of 2015 have seen most farmers facing challenges to pay these bills, with other farmers expressing frustrations over double billing citing confusion on where to pay the land rental and developmental fees between the central government and the local authority.
The payment of these bills can enhance the fiscal sustainability of the LAS reforms, which can also be used to establish a land capital development fund and credit guarantee scheme to augment landholder investments into developing their land and contributing to a compensation fund. It is, therefore, strongly recommended that these overlapping institutions hindering the levy payments should be dealt with by illuminating clear mandates and responsibilities of different ministries, such as the MLAWCRR and MLGNHPW.
Land information, which should be provided for in the formal land information management system is also currently not publicly available, which stimulates disputes and conflicts of land boundaries, ownership among the farmers. The Zimbabwe land network constituent, through land tenure cluster meeting held in May 2019 suggested publicising the land management information in a centralised database as a sure way of reducing the disputes.
It is also recommended that the 2013 constitution must be adhered to and that harmonisation of different laws and statutes governing the land administration must be a single Act. It is thus critical to clarify incoherent land-related policy statements in order to better guide land administration at the central and decentralised levels.
The mal-representation of women in land administration boards is a hindrance to women's tenure security in various tenure categories. There is thus the need for a 50% representation of women in boards as specified in the Zimbabwe constitution of 2013. The presence of different categories of women in the land boards will enable other women to have their concerns raised.
l This article is part of a series of advocacy pieces written on behalf of the Zimbabwe Land and Agrarian Network.
l Steve Mberi, Freedom Mazwi and Walter Chambati are all researchers with the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies.