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Furore over land policy

The Zambian civil society has described the current draft land policy released by government as a sham, as it seeks to continue vesting land in the hands of the republican President.
Singy Hanyona

Government has released a draft land policy, which states: "All land in Zambia is absolutely vested in the hands of the President, and shall be held by him in perpetuity, for and on behalf of the Zambian people".

But the Zambia Land Alliance, a coalition of civil society organizations, has come strongly against such a land delivery system, describing is as inefficient. Some 94 per cent of Zambia's land falls under customary land tenure system. The Land Alliance argues that the current land administration in Zambia is too cumbersome, long and costly to the average poor. In its submission on the draft land policy, the Land Alliance says vesting of all land in the President, opens the administration to abuse.

"All land must be vested in the state, instead of the President", says the Alliance. The Alliance argues that in relation to over ambitious aim to promote title deeds in rural areas, the policy should consider leasing of land under a customary tenure system, without first converting such land to state land. "Such lands must continue to be in the hands of traditional rulers without the local communities losing their customary rights to the leased land".

"Failure to do this could perpetuate whole-selling of agricultural land by speculators to the rich minority, while evicting the poor, as has been the experience in the last seven years under the Lands Act of 1995".

The Land Alliance says there is considerable ambiguity among many stakeholders in land, including the ministry of Lands. This is so especially over terms used in the draft Land policy and in the administration system relating to 'customary land, ownership and custodianship'.

The Alliance says there is need to be sensitive to the voices of many Zambians who express the belief that land is sacred. Some activists believe that land is not something to be tempered with through writs and economic arrangements. Since customary land is regarded as belonging to the entire community, individual ownership is not allowed.

The Church has come out strongly in upholding of social teachings that protects the interests of the minority in society. The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) says development should strive to achieve common good of the down trodden, the rural poor, by maximizing their ownership to land. A CCJP report on the impact of Zambia's Land Act of 1995, on the livelihoods of the poor and peasant farmers in Zambia, reveals that any threat to access to land is 'potentially disastrous'.

"It is for this reason that any institution concerned with improving the welfare of the poor, should interest itself in the formulation and development of an appropriate national land policy", says CCJP Director Joe Komakoma.

Until recently, there were no title deeds to traditional land. This meant that holders could not use the land as collateral to obtain bank loans. Even when customary land is given out, it is often insufficient for large-scale economic activity. Moreover, traditional rulers are ill-equipped to undertake proper mapping before allocating land.

Some of the major concerns pertaining to the 1995 Land Act (now under review) include its potential to erode traditional authority structures and reduce rural food security. It also includes the vesting of excessive discretion in the administration of land in the name of State President.

CCJP says the overall and policy reforms should aim at integral development in line with the principles of social and economic justice. "At issue today is not simply a matter of land distribution for increased agricultural production. The whole social fabric of the country is at stake. Will the land policy reforms mean that peasants will be marginalized, pushed off their land into shanty-towns?", the CCJP reports raises the question.

In the process, it has become difficult for policy makers to convince peasants that it would be to their advantage to register and take title deeds, for the land they consider to be theirs : a birth-right passed on from their fore-fathers. These concerns emanate from situations other countries have found themselves in, as a result of having land policies that lacked a 'social face'.

Revolts against such oppressive situations have brought a lot of sufferings to the people, sometimes deaths. In neighbouring Zimbabwe, the conflict is still raging between the government of President Robert Mugabe and the white farmers (landlords) on the question of redistributing land to many landless Zimbabweans.

Zambia's current draft land policy proposes to transfer a large proportion of customary land into state land to expedite allocation and foster quick development. There are also proposals to reserve 30 per cent of land for women.

But an environmental pressure group, the Green Living Movement, reiterates that the new draft land policy must not endanger, but enhance and empower rural farmers, especially women. The movement's Land Policy Focal Person Alex Mumbi says it is necessary, even within a liberalised land tenure, to protect the interests of small-scale farmers. Mumbi said land policy reforms must be sensitive to gender issues in order to realize and achieve human rights. "Women should have the same right as men regarding land issues", he said. The draft land policy in its third chapter claims that 'Current laws do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender'.

Analysts view this claim is misleading because there are still customary laws and statutes in relation to land that in themselves are discriminatory. For example, more than 90 per cent of State Land is owned by men. Legal analysts say Zambia's land tenure is essentially a colonial legacy, following the British government's take over of the administration of the then Northern Rhodesia from the British South Africa Company (BSA).

Lawyer Patrick Matibini argues that what triggered the land reforms in 1975, was the attempt by the Development Bank of Zambia, to purchase a piece of land at an inflated price. In a 'watershed speech' by the first Republican President Dr Kenneth Kaunda, specific reforms were that "all vacant plots and all undeveloped land in and around Lusaka, and all other cities, would be taken over by local authorities".

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