BY MASIMBA MANYANYA AND MARY NYADOME Drawing inspiration from a now famous remark by a Zimbabwean legislator, this article seeks to capture emotions of locals around unending land conflicts in peri-urban Goromonzi.
As the key driver of Zimbabwe’s war of liberation, the oppressive colonial land policy was supposed to be buried at independence, making way for secure and productive land relations.
Forty two years into independence, little appears to have changed in the former (colonial) Tribal Trust Lands, now communal lands.
Originally from Murewa, Martha is a widow struggling to fend for her four children, whilst at the same time fighting in-laws who want her off the land in Goromonzi.
Martha is now fighting another battle to prove that she is not an alien in Goromonzi. Then she must, as a letter from council demands, pay a penalty fee of US$1 500 to council to regularise her stay in Goromonzi, otherwise legal action would be taken against her.
Evicted twice before, from Hatcliffe through government’s Operation Murambatsvina (literally, clean out the filth) programmes, Mbuya vaTadiwa is in a state of shock.
It is late in the afternoon, and she is sitting on a rock at her home.
In a short while there are two visitors; a council official (a young woman), and a policeman.
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Quite ironically the council official is wearing a wristband with the inscription: “Say No to Gender-Based Violence”.
The village meeting, called at 7pm in the morning, is tense with emotion.
Yafele villagers lost their farming lands to council back then in 2010.
They just simply appeared unannounced, often before daybreak, drove pegs in the ground and declared the land was now theirs. In the gross drama and confusion of those confrontations, physical fights broke out, with council officials sustaining serious injuries.
But in the end, the losses to villagers were immense. Villagers practically lost all their livelihood sources.
With unemployment in Zimbabwe literally hitting the roof in 2022, the situation is getting desperate.
Unemployed youths loiter around the local growth point just as alcohol and drug abuse are taking root. Crime is also on the increase.
What does the law say?
When cities and towns grow outwards, this must be backed by appropriate legislation around land. Zimbabwe’s supreme law, the national constitution acknowledges that a home is a formally registered and respected place of residence, allowing citizens, individually, or as families to erect structures and undertake activities that guarantee their sustenance, their safety, security, privacy and convenience.
The president, as the custodian of all communal lands, has powers to exercise in protecting vulnerable groups in this regard.
In rural areas annual rates paid to council are a guarantee of the status of residents as “lawful occupiers of the land”.
In the event that a public authority intends to acquire communal lands for whatever development, the law requires the acquiring authority:
- To give reasonable notice of the intention to acquire the property to everyone whose interest or right in the property would be affected by the acquisition;
- To pay fair and adequate compensation for the acquisition before acquiring the property, or within a reasonable time after the acquisition; and
- If the acquisition is contested, to apply to a competent court before acquiring the property, or not later than thirty days after the acquisition, for an order confirming the acquisition;
Section 57 (right to privacy) states that every person has a right to privacy, which includes the right not to have their home, premises or property entered without their permission; their person, home, premises or property searched; their possessions seized; the privacy of their communications infringed.
Section 74: (freedom from arbitrary eviction) further states clearly that ‘no person may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances’.
Section 51: ‘…every person has inherent dignity in their private and public life, and the right to have that right respected and protected’.
Sections 66 and 71: ‘..every person has the right, in any part of Zimbabwe, to acquire, hold, occupy, use, transfer, hypothecate, lease or dispose of all forms of property, either individually or in association with others.
Subject to this section and to Section 72, ‘no person may be compulsorily deprived of their property except where the following conditions are satisfied:
- the deprivation is in terms of a law in general application
- the deprivation is necessary for any of the following reasons-
In the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, or town and country planning; or
In order to develop or use that or any other property for purpose beneficial to the community
Any person whose property has been acquired can apply to a competent court for prompt recovery of the property.
The law also entitles any claimant for compensation to apply to a competent court for the determination of:
The existence, nature and value of their interest in the property concerned;
The legality of the deprivation; and;
The amount of compensation to which they are entitled, and to apply to the court for an order directing the prompt payment of any compensation.
The state is also compelled by the law to take reasonable legislative and other measures, ‘within the limits of resources available to it, to achieve the progressive realisation of these rights’.
Section 59 also provides citizens with the freedom to demonstrate and petition; (Every person has the right to demonstrate and to present petitions, but these rights must be exercised peacefully).
In the absence of strong policy measures, ad-hoc, knee-jerk policy reactions and interventions to complex urban challenges become the order of the day. However, without systematic approaches by policy makers, vulnerable groups remain at risk.
Their deprived socio-economic status renders them vulnerable in conflicts with land-hungry local authorities, and land barons.
In the end, homes, life investments, and livelihoods are lost as communities are “regularized”, relocated or displaced.
Residents need to deepen their understanding of their policy environment, their extreme risks and vulnerabilities, and their rights and obligations particularly as they relate to local authorities.
As cities or towns expand outwards, there is need for laws and policies that;
Provide adequate legislative, institutional and policy mechanisms to protect the poor and vulnerable communities. Appropriate regulatory institutional and policy frameworks are a cog in the wheels of democratic governance, and the rule of law;
Support educational and public awareness campaigns on constitutional rights and policy privileges, targeting in particular municipalities, councils, traditional leaders, and rural communities;
Promote participatory and inclusive local governance, gender equality, balanced territorial development, environmental sustainability, resilience to climate change;
Prioritise regularisation of existing rural land holdings for conversion into urban residential plots;
Link urban development with future needs, being solidly grounded in fundamental principles of equity, justice and human rights;
Develop properly planned peri-urban regions that lay the basis for well serviced urban, industrial, agricultural, commercial and housing infrastructure in the future;
Deepen mutual trust between councils, communities and residents;
Facilitate integration of rural residents into local authority programs with their minimum social disruption, with land being preserved for those with traditional entitlements, and existing settlers or homeowners being allowed to own their own plots of land;
Provide housing and prevents slums;
- secure urban population access to basic local, in addition to security of land tenure;
Minimise land losses, relocations/ displacements of rural communities and disruptions of livelihoods in these areas. By prioritising traditional land rights to existing settlers local communities are empowered to invest in the development of their homes and in the land)
Facilitate compensation to be granted where land had been taken away by councils.
- Masimba John Manyanya and Mary Nyadome are policy analysts
- *These weekly articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, and independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance and Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe
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