Govt sets deadline for full land audit

Vangelis Haritatos

THE government has set December this year as the deadline for the completion of the current land audit exercise as it seeks to bring order to the land redistribution programme implemented in early 2000, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.

The previous audit exercises made shocking revelations of corruption and serious irregularities in the redistribution of farm land.

Top government officials recently told the Independent that the second phase of the audit, which was rolled out in June 2019, implicated a number of provincial lands officers in unscrupulous land deals, which have since stoked concern in government and anger among resettled farmers over double allocations.

The National Agriculture Land audit, which was conducted in phases starting in 2018 in the country’s 10 provinces to rationalise farm ownership and sizes, is a costly and time-consuming exercise.

The current audit exercise started at the beginning of this year. Contacted for comment, the Zimbabwe Land Commission chairperson Tendai Bare said a deadline had been set for December.

"We are looking at completing the land audit and the government has set a December 2022 deadline and we have not been looking at a specific number of hectares and that is why it’s called an audit," Bare said.

The audit was instituted after the government discovered that lands officers from the ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, Climate and Rural Development and  the Land Commission had been parcelling out land without following proper procedures. Some provincial and district lands officers have since been transferred.

The level of indiscipline in the distribution of land reached levels where lands officers were disregarding original land maps for certain farms, especially in Mashonaland East and coming up with new maps. The discoveries made in the last audit saw the ministry issuing an instruction to all provincial lands officers to stop issuing new offer letters. It was also discovered that some lands officers were acting in connivance with village heads who were issuing offer letters on behalf of them without approval from the head office.

“If you go to various land offices right now, you will be shocked by what you see there. Some offer letters and plot numbers are no longer existing and double allocations is now the order of the day,” a senior government official said at the start of the audit.“While the officers are in the comfort of their offices after getting rich pickings from bribes, the farmers will be fighting on the ground.

“Provincial Magistrate Courts are now overwhelmed by cases of land disputes.”

Last year, the government concluded an audit which revealed serious irregularities in the redistribution of land seized from white commercial farmers in 2000 and allocated to indigenous people. In an interview in April, Land, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Resettlement deputy minister Vangelis Haritatos said: “The initial land audit was 16 000 but now it has gone to 100 000 farms .

“The usual issues that came out in the first land audit like double allocation and multiple farm ownership also came out. It’s an issue our ministry is committed to solve.

“That is why we are looking at farm sizes. Some farms were over maximum sizes. There are a number of issues that the Land Commission is looking at,” he added.

Low agricultural output in the country has also been attributed to the fraudulent allocations and other gross irregularities where land has been allocated to non-deserving applicants through illegal channels.

It is estimated that the Agriculture ministry has over 100 000 land seekers on the waiting list and the officials are preying on them as the demand for farmland skyrockets.

There are further revelations that some land officers have been fraudulently parcelling out farms through issuance of offer letters signed by former minister Didymus Mutasa in a scam that has since prejudiced a number of desperate land seekers. The current audit is expected to address some of the issues that were highlighted in the last audit.

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