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Zimbabwe urgently needs a new land administration system

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Zimbabwe urgently needs a new system of land administration to harness development in the agricultural sector. The country’s land use and ownership have been significantly reconfigured by the fast-track land reform programme undertaken during Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Today, following the land reform of the 2000s, Zimbabwe has an agrarian structure that’s made up of small, medium and large farms, all under different forms of land ownership. A landscape that used to be dominated by 4,500 large-scale commercial farmers is now populated by about 145,000 smallholder households, occupying 4.1 million hectares, and around 23,000 medium-scale farmers on 3.5 million hectares.

Knowing exactly who has land and where is difficult. Illegal multiple allocations combine with unclear boundary demarcations and an incomplete recording system. Many new land owners don’t have formal documentation and lack leases or permits confirming ownership. There is a great deal of uncertainty given the often haphazard, sometimes corrupt, approach to land reallocation that took place under the land reform programme.

Given that the landscape is very different to what went before, a new system of land administration is urgently needed.

Promise of change

In his inaugural speech, Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, declared that land reform was both necessary and irreversible, and acknowledged some big, outstanding challenges.

A new land administration system for the post-land reform era is long overdue. Paying compensation to former owners is a vital first step. This has to be combined with a comprehensive land audit to weed out those failing to produce, or those illegally holding more than one plot, alongside allocating leases and permits to those in land reform areas, and attracting investment into agriculture as the mainstay of an ailing economy.

Both compensation and audit processes will inevitably throw up disputes. A fair and transparent system for rapid resolution is required, including the establishment of an independent Land Tribunal. Alternative dispute resolution processes at a local level will hopefully avoid the dangers of the courts getting clogged with numerous cases.

An audit also has to be linked to land registration, and an effective, but low-cost, land information management system. Following registration, legal recognition and formal documentation of land ownership is essential, as land tenure security is vital for future investment.

Many forms of tenure

Some believe that the only solution is individual freehold titling, as land is otherwise seen as “dead capital”. But this is mistaken, as other forms of land tenure can offer security, spurring investment, if the institutional, legal and political context is right.

As argued in 1994 by the Rukuni Commission, a major review of tenure policy in Zimbabwe, a multi-form tenure arrangement makes most sense. In some settings, communal tenure regimes are best, allowing flexibility and broad access. In others, a simple permit system can allow registration. In others, a leasehold arrangement can offer security and collateral, while regulations can offset land concentration and assure access for certain people.

Occasionally freehold title may be appropriate if a completely free market in land is required. However, titling schemes are notoriously expensive to deliver, open up multiple disputes and are difficult to regulate to ensure more equitable ownership structures, including land ownership by women.

Financing is essential

To pay land taxes, mortgages or compensation payments, the land must be productive, and this requires finance. Finance for agriculture has been missing in recent years.

Great efforts have been made to ensure that the 99-year lease for medium-scale commercial farm land (known as A2) is bankable, and cannot be withdrawn arbitrarily. It seems that, at last, the Zimbabwe Banking Association is in agreement. This will allow the release of private bank finance, as land can be used as collateral.

For those without land leases, other types of collateral can also be used, including assets such as livestock, vehicles or buildings. Alternative sources of farm finance include commercial crop contracting, partnerships and joint ventures or government backed loans.

All these financing models have shown some promise in Zimbabwe in recent years, with crop contracting at the core of the smallholder tobacco production success story. Contracting arrangements are also extending to other crops. Joint ventures, including partnerships with Chinese investors and former commercial farmers, have also been emerging in a number of under-capitalised medium-scale farms.

“Command agriculture” – a public-private input supply scheme – has been a flagship project led by the new president and the military. It has helped to revitalise maize and wheat production, especially on larger farms with irrigation infrastructure. Questions are however raised about longer-term sustainability of such subsidised financing.​

Sustainability is key

Getting a new land administration system working is a huge task. All the elements have to work together – from audit to valuation to compensation to dispute resolution to issuing land tenure documentation to financing – and back again.

And this is not just a one-off task to resolve the current mess. Land disputes will continue, audits will need to be repeated, and new leases and permits and sources of finance secured. For this reason any new system must be sustainable, both administratively and financially, and not reliant on external donor finance. Taxes, rents and compensation repayments need to be paid back into a land fund, which in turn supports the system for the long-term.

Testing this all out at a district level before rapidly rolling it out across the country is an urgent task for Zimbabwe’s new Land Commission. Elaborating a new land administration system is long overdue. Such a system will help the country get over the post-land reform impasse, resolving outstanding land issues and getting much-needed investment flowing into the agriculture sector.

Only with this working well – as countries in East Asia recognised when they undertook land reforms decades ago – will the full benefits of Zimbabwe’s land reform be realised. – Written by Ian Scoones, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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A Country On A Roll

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The tiny country of Rwanda is now producing factory-fresh Volkswagen cars from its rolling hills. Next up are ride-hailing and public car-sharing services by the German carmaker.

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The Heroes Among Us

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Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.

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The Power, Humour And Anger Of Mandela

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It is a century since Nelson Mandela came kicking and screaming into a world that he would change.

In one hundred years, his name has been spoken with pride from the paddy fields of Vietnam, through the savannahs of Africa to the smoky steak houses of New York. His legacy appears more contested with every passing year.

I was fortunate to have a front row seat in the Mandela years and saw the power, humour and anger of the man. I used to feel 10 feet tall at press conferences when he used to greet my questions with: “Mr Bishop, how are you?” Once I was walking to a TV interview with him, at an African Union summit in Harare, the day after I had ruptured my knee playing football, he noticed I was hobbling far behind – something he was not used to. He turned and inquired of the cause of my pain.

“May I suggest you take up boxing, it’s safer!” says the old man with that million dollar smile. I shall take the warmth of that smile to my grave.

Make it clear, I am no Mandela worshipper. He was no saint and certainly didn’t want to be one: he could be angry and petulant with the best of them; his past was chequered by domestic troubles; a man of the people, yet distant from his own family, according to many close to him. A man who promoted press freedom, yet like many of the lesser politicians who followed him, wanted his picture on every page of the morning newspaper. Mandela drew the line at the sports page – he joked that he didn’t want to risk being associated with losers.

The greatest fear Mandela had was that his ideals – not his name – would be forgotten after his death. Not for Mandela the greed of rule, nor the trappings of power.

Yet it is very fashionable these days to run Mandela down as something akin to a sell-out. Those who claim, erroneously, that Mandela sold out his people. They say he didn’t stop poverty overnight nor right the wrongs of the past with the wave of his wand. They need to talk to those who were there in the negotiations for a new free South Africa.

“People say we gave up too much in negotiations yet we had nothing to start with,” Denis Goldberg, a man who faced death with Mandela at the Rivonia Trial in 1964, once told me.

READ MORE: Mandela Through Their Eyes

The negotiations with an entrenched elite – that held most of the cards and only grudgingly acknowledged Mandela and his comrades – were difficult to say the least. Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) could not even threaten to go back to war because the depleting arms of its military wing posed little or no threat to the state.

Even so, a deal was hammered together somehow. In the next two years, in the run-up to the 1994 elections, Mandela won his leadership spurs as he steered South Africa away from the civil war that many feared was inevitable. He flew to Durban and told bloody-thirsty faction fighters to throw their weapons into the sea and they listened. When revered freedom fighter Chris Hani was gunned down on his front drive, in 1993, many were ready to take the law into their own hands.

Mandela barged into the SABC studios in Johannesburg that night and made a broadcast to the nation to calm down and put its weapons away. He wasn’t even in Parliament then and I wonder to this day how many lives that broadcast saved with this canny display of leadership.

Then, when into power with a virtually bankrupt Treasury, Mandela steered the National Development Programme that built millions of homes and schools; electrified the homes of legions of poor people and rolled out roads to connect the nation. Yet, the money was never going to stretch far enough and millions still have no roof over their heads and too many schoolchildren attend classes under trees.

It is fashionable these days to say the majority of South Africa must rise in a civil war in which the nation will be cleansed of its past, restored of its land on the path to righteousness. It probably sounds even better after a few drinks.

READ MORE: Celebrating Mandela From Where It All Began; Soweto

I say this is bunkum and anyone who has ever seen or smelt a civil war will agree with me. How a vile, stinking trail of dead fathers, raped women and children, destruction and disorder, can lead a country to the light beats me. Those who scream for war have clearly never seen it.

The first time I clapped eyes on the great man, at the Harare Agricultural Show, on his first foreign visit to Zimbabwe in August 1994, he walked alone, without a security man in sight. I didn’t ask for a selfie – they didn’t exist then, anyway – I was tongue-tied. We merely smiled at each other in passing.

So when people in political circles told me that South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t care for wealth and power – he merely wanted to put his name up there with Mandela – I smiled like I did on that August day in Harare.

This does seem feasible as President Ramaphosa – a millionaire in his own right – was the man who stood next to Mandela, holding the microphone, on the town hall steps in Cape Town, on February 11 1990, during his famous address on release from 27 years in prison.

“I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people,” said Mandela to deafening cheers on that bright summer’s day.

Clearly this humility and willingness to serve rubbed off on President Ramaphosa on that fateful day in 1990. In his first 100 days, he has made manful attempts to stop the rot in South Africa by merely enforcing the rule of law. A course of action he made no secret of even before he took power on February 15.

“There are no holy cows. Anyone who is caught doing wrong things will end up behind the bars of a jail,” says Ramaphosa, with microphone in hand and humble service in mind at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

True to his word, Ramaphosa cut swathes through the corruption of the past. Former president Jacob Zuma ended up in the dock on corruption charges something that many – including me – thought they would never see in their lifetime. He removed the rookie finance minister Malusi Gigaba and replaced him with the people’s choice Nhanlha Nene who has staved off more downgrades of the economy. A clean-up of the state-owned enterprises and the institutions is underway and many who thought they were invincible six months ago have been cut down to size.

I am sure the old man, who must have been spinning in his grave over the last few years, would approve.

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another,” says Mandela at his inauguration at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

As we mark 100 years since his birth, it is time for cool heads and clear thinking to make sure this utopian ideal of liberty and tolerance lives on after his death. Our grandchildren will judge us harshly if we don’t.

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