A few weeks back, I highlighted the launch of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI), and the availability of small grants for doing research on both the contours of the current conjuncture, and how authoritarian populism emerges and is sustained in rural areas, as well as the forms of resistance and diversity of alternatives being generated for more emancipatory futures.
The paper is open access, so please do share widely. The small grants window closes at the end of this week, so if you are thinking of applying do so now. And tell others across the world!
Since our initial launch, there has been massive interest, so do sign up for more info via the ERPI website (www.iss.nl/erpi). This paper will hopefully inspire further questions, suggest challenges and further provoke the debate. With political developments in all parts of the world, this is a vital theme for engaged researchers and activists concerned about the future of the rural world – and more broadly too.
A new political moment is underway. Although there are significant differences in how this is constituted in different places, one manifestation of the new moment is the rise of distinct forms of authoritarian populism. In this opening paper of the JPS Forum series on ‘Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World,’ we explore the relationship between these new forms of politics and rural areas around the world. We ask how rural transformations have contributed to deepening regressive national politics, and how rural areas shape and are shaped by these politics. We propose a global agenda for research, debate and action, which we call the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI. This centres on understanding the contemporary conjuncture, working to confront authoritarian populism through the analysis of and support for alternatives.
Download the paper here. We’d love to hear what you think of it. And please do get involved in the Initiative!
The reconfiguring of land use and ownership through land reform has inevitably generated a range of disputes. Having a clear, transparent approach for dispute resolution is essential. This is a key task for the Zimbabwe Land Commission, as this third blog in an occasional series on priorities for the Commission argues.
The process of land invasion and occupation and then the subsequent planning under the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme has left a legacy of overlapping boundaries, double occupations, evictions (including of farm workers), follow-on invasions and illegal allocation of lands outside the fast-track framework, competing authorities over land, lack of clarity over gendered rights and more. The failure of the land administration system, and the legal framework, to catch up with the realities of land reform even 17 years after the event have compounded the problem. The growth of urban and peri-urban demand for land, including in designated rural areas, only adds to the array of disputes over land being faced. Finding a clear route to addressing this reconfiguration of land rights and disputes is critical.
Zimbabwe’s land is subject to pluri-legal jurisdictions, with overlapping arrangements and often competing institutions. This is reflected in the variety of formal legislative provisions, as well as the intersection of formal and informal (customary) law. It provides for a confusing and complex situation that is often subject to dispute. The Land Commission Bill usefully pulls together a variety of pieces of legislation and the formation of the Commission will provide a single institutional point of reference for these issues. This will undoubtedly help. However, the Commission will have to continue to deal with these issues in practice, and develop ways of approaching dispute resolution in particular in this context. While the proposed Bill offers some formal mechanisms for doing this, how this will actually be done remains unclear.
Potential land disputes arise in a variety of areas:
Registration of leases and permits, including the importance of identifying joint rights of spouses (currently only optional, but disputes will be reduced if obligatory, and joint rights are clarified – see blog in this series on women and land)
Land audits including the assessment of utilisation and ownership (the latter will be clarified through the permit/lease registration process, and via an open access land registry and associated information system, while some clearer criteria for utilisation requirements are needed for auditors).
Compensation and valuation, mostly for large-scale farms, requires a clear approach to valuation, and the option of recourse, but overseen by the state (see blog last week in this series on this theme). Currently there are a variety of interested parties offering their view, and indeed some substantial but non-transparent data. However, all groups need to operate in relation to one system, as accepted by the Constitution. While this is provided for in principle in the new Bill, the practicalities are not yet clarified. As discussed last week, the establishment of an independent Land Tribunal for assessing disputes, operating intensively for a time delimited period, may help to relieve the backlog of claims.
BIPPA land (land under international investment treaties) is covered by an international dispute mechanism, and an international tribunal. As many have observed, this is heavily weighted in favour of the investor. International pressure to reform this system, in line with the FAO Voluntary Guidelines, and best practice approaches for land investment by foreign companies and financiers is building, but Zimbabwe has not engaged in this wider debate significantly. This may be an important route to seeking wider experience on land investment, and developing a more effective national approach, and avoiding the legal complications arising from the delayed mediation of the disputes over BIPPA properties. Here too, limited state capacity adequately to value BIPPA farms and to secure adequate legal services to engage the international tribunal, as well as pursue negotiations with the landowners and their national diplomatic corps, has undermined resolution.
Land inheritance and succession remains a recurrent issue, and now increasingly in relation to large, valuable properties in A2 areas (see earlier blog on women’s empowerment). The wider law specifies the requirements for this, including the rights of women, however the practices have been less than satisfactory, given the patriarchal domination of legal and administrative processes. Greater clarity in regulations (including naming in permits and leases) will help, but will have to be combined with public education and support to ensure that the letter of the law is followed, and known about.
The experience of national land policies and the establishment of land tribunals in a variety of countries in Africa will be a useful source of comparative experience for Zimbabwe as it establishes the Land Commission. For example in Namibia, recent legislation to facilitate dispute mediation and arbitration to pre-empt costly adjudication could provide useful lessons. There is a key lesson that the policy, commission and tribunal are only the framework,, and the practice – based on local arbitration and mediation – must be evolved on the ground. The principles of collaborative rather than hard law are essential here, and require a (re)training and capacity building among lawyers, as well as administrative officials.
Procedures must be transparent, and garner legitimacy. Any sense of corruption, conflicts of interest and so on would undermine the working of the Commission. A big challenge for the workings of the Commission in practice, particularly in the A1 and communal areas, will be to address how these processes articulate with ‘traditional’ and customary law. This is not tackled in the Bill, as formally in legal terms these do not apply. However, de facto law is pluri-legal, overlapping and conflicting, and so this will have to be addressed. Developing examples, and associated ‘case law’ in pilot cases will be important in this regard.
Given the importance of regularising land administration in the post land redistribution period, a series of decentralised district pilots that deal with all dimensions of land administration within an overarching framework may be the next best step. These can model the functioning of the Zimbabwe Land Commission for the rest of the country and provide the basis for building trust, developing administrative capacity and sharing lessons. How this might work will be picked up in a forthcoming blog in this series.
This post was prepared by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland. It is part of an occasional Zimbabweland blog series on priorities for the new Zimbabwe Land Commission.
Paying compensation following land reform is perhaps one of the most pressing and emotive land policy issues in Zimbabwe today. Delays have caused uncertainty and limited agricultural investment, undermined trust and prevented international re-engagement. Valuation and paying of compensation needs to be dealt with urgently.
With any compulsory acquisition – whether through land reform, or through expropriation for mining or urban development in communal areas or from freehold land – comes the responsibility to pay compensation, and the associated liability is taken on by the state. This is formally acknowledged in Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, but the practice of compensation in Zimbabwe has been found wanting.
Beyond the importance of political recognition of this as a priority, there needs to be a set of practical responses that help build trust between the different parties. This blog is one of an occasional series (for example, here) on priorities for the new Zimbabwe Land Commission, established by the Constitutional settlement. Here are four important challenges around compensation.
First is the methodology for valuation. The Constitution, agreed across political parties, specifies the obligation of the state to pay for ‘improvements’ (and only for land held under investment treaties). This is reiterated in the Zimbabwe Land Commission Bill. However, given the delays in implementing the approach there are many disputes about how such improvements are valued, and what improvements constitute, and who is responsible for them. This results in wildly variant estimates of the total liability, with the ranges of US$2-10 billion being presented. However there are fairly standard approaches to valuation available, and much international experience for dealing with different types of valuation, and depreciation including in volatile currency environments. Key outstanding issues relate to how responsibilities for compensating given ‘improvements’ are allocated. For example, a dam may be both a public and private asset – with water ‘owned’ by ZINWA, the dam infrastructure by the farmer, and the use of the water spread amongst a variety of users in a catchment.
Second is the state’s capacity for valuation. Here there remains wide dispute about appropriate methods, and the scope and comprehensiveness of the existing valuations as well as capacity to conduct and validate them, while maintaining a reliable assets database. The pace of official valuations is a real problem, and parallel initiatives have emerged. To date the government’s response has been piecemeal and slow, with individual farms being processed in ways that does not result in an overall strategic response. At current rates, it would take over 20 years for all farms in the country to be valued to allow compensation to be paid. Limited staff are available in the Ministry of Lands for valuation purposes, and equipment is limited and outdated. Mechanisms for self-financed surveying were proposed by the Minister of Finance in 2014, but private surveyors must work closely with government for such surveys to be accepted. This is not yet the case with valuations. There are major capacity constraints in implementing the process that need urgent attention. Formally transferring tenure, paying compensation and formalising new uses through leases or permits has to happen in one go, as new investments and funding flows are often conditional on all aspects being addressed.
Third is the process for dispute resolution (see next week’s blog). This requires clarification of the administrative process and the rights to recourse. The proposed Bill helps in this regard. Notice and gazetting is required, followed by a process of valuation and the option for arbitration in an administrative court. However while the procedure is specified the capacity to implement this in a way that all parties trust remains open to question. Given the importance of speeding up the process (and so likely increasing the number of disputes needing speedy resolution), there is a clear need for a time delimited administrative solution to deal with the process. The establishment of a specialist tribunal under the Land Commission, may alleviate capacity limits and improve the process’ transparency and legitimacy. Current provisions for dispute resolution are clearly inadequate.
Fourth is the funding of the process. In the context of the on-going fiscal constraints of the Government of Zimbabwe, there is limited capacity to pay for compensation, even if there is a willingness to do so. There is therefore a need to disaggregate the liability and define a series of mechanisms for paying it off. Improvements may include private goods acquired by individual farmers (such as farm machinery, buildings, irrigation equipment etc.), public productive goods (such as wider infrastructure, including roads, dip tanks, dams and so on), and public social goods (including those buildings now converted to schools, clinics, government offices/accommodation, trading centres). This is particularly the case on A2 land, but may relate to public housing for former farm workers on A2 land, as compounds are converted.
There is a clear assumption that land reform farmers will contribute through land rentals, and the purchase of some of the assets found on their farms with A2 farmers paying substantially more than A1 farmers. However, given the public developmental benefits of land reform, the state and development partners can be expected to pay for public productive and social components, including as part of debt clearance and development funding arrangements. The Bill establishes a Land Fund through which this can operate, and provides a channel for investment by development partners in public good/developmental aspects, so as to ensure a fiscally feasible response, given current constraints. In turn, a key challenge will be to ensure revenue flows from new farms are sufficient to pay rentals and so contribute to the fund to pay compensation. The fiscal sustainability of the process for both farmers and the state is crucial, and argues for a speedy resolution so that compensation is paid, new ownership and finance arrangements are established and farms increase productivity to pay contributions – together with the state and other development partners – in order to pay off the liability within a reasonable timeframe.
In order to speed up the process, there is an important imperative to boost capacity for implementation and financing. This requires a one-off effort, together with the establishment of a longer term system. The enhancing of survey and valuation capacity in the Ministry of Lands and the Surveyor General is a priority, together with the establishment of an independent Land Tribunal (operational for a time-limited period, say two years) under the Zimbabwe Land Commission to hear dispute cases, and deal with these swiftly, without them clogging the court system, and overwhelming administrative capacity.
Novel approaches to financing are required that see addressing the outstanding liability from land reform as part of debt restructuring and refinancing of the productive economy. Disaggregating the costs into private and different types of public cost will clarify who has to pay what, and this can be managed through an integrated system under the proposed Land Fund, involving all parties – private farmers, banks/financiers offering loans/mortgages, the government and development partners and international banks/finance institutions.
Ensuring a swift move from acquisition to valuation (via dispute resolution if required) to compensation and then issuing of leases or permits is crucial. This must be a central part of any land administration system for the future, and the backlog created by lack of action in the past 17 years must be dealt with urgently. Issuing of leases, for example, will allow for security of tenure and so potential for new financing, and then payment of rentals which in turn will replenish the Land Fund. Paying compensation must be seen as part of a wider strategy for refinancing the economy and increasing its productive, developmental potential, as well as addressing outstanding debts – including around land – is part of this. This is an urgent, and long overdue, priority.
This post was prepared by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland. It is part of an occasional Zimbabweland blog series on priorities for the new Zimbabwe Land Commission.
The new Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is a former minister of health in Ethiopia. Africa – at last – is now at the centre of global health policy. This is good news, as persistent ill-health and threats of disease emergence remain, and a different approach to the standard western solutions is required. This must be centred on a One Health approach – where human, veterinary and ecosystem health are seen together. This will require new approaches to research, policy and practice, and must be a major priority for WHO and member states.
But realising these ideals is easier said than done. What might a One Health approach look like for Africa? Today a new Special Issue of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions (Biology) journal is published. Across 12 papers, this offers some clues. The issue is called – One Health for a Changing World: Zoonoses, Ecosystems and Human Well-being, and all articles are available, free online here. You can also download individual articles from the links below.
Through a combination of detailed fieldwork and broader integrative modelling, we aimed to ask how diseases emerge, who they affect, and what to do about them, taking a One Health approach as the starting point. The papers highlight the importance of taking local knowledge of diseases seriously, understanding how both local ecological and social factors generating disease risk and affect poverty and wellbeing, but also how long-term vulnerabilities are generated by politics and changing environments. The papers highlight the importance of modelling as a route to thinking about complex dynamics over time and space, but emphasise the need to link modelling approaches, generating a conversation between modelling approaches. This may involve ‘constructive conflict’ at the centre of a negotiation around how to respond, and will require a rethinking of policy approaches, as well as organisational mandates.
Providing an effective platform for a One Health response to complex and dynamic disease challenges must be a priority for Africa – and the new African DG of the WHO. Hopefully this Special Issue can provide some important pointers, as well as highlighting the real challenges of realising interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral engagement in a changing world.
In this work we asked what difference did the ‘model’ of commercial farming make, contrasting large-scale plantations/estates, medium-scale farms in commercial farming areas and contract farming arrangements linked to core estates (see background paper here). This is a theme being picked up by a new initiative – the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa project of the Future Agricultures Consortium – which includes new work in Zimbabwe, starting this year.
Colonialism brought large-scale farming to Africa, promising modernisation and jobs – but often dispossessing people and exploiting workers. Now, after several decades of independence, and with investor interest growing, African governments are once again promoting large plantations and estates. But the new corporate interest in African agriculture has been criticised as a “land grab”.
Small-scale farmers, on family land, are still the mainstay of African farming, producing 90% of its food. Their future is increasingly uncertain as the large-scale colonial model returns.
To make way for big farms, local people have lost their land. Promises of jobs and other benefits have been slow to materialise, if at all.
The search is on for alternatives to big plantations and estates that can bring in private investment without dispossessing local people – and preferably also support people’s livelihoods by creating jobs and strengthening local economies.
Two possible models stand out.
Contract farming is often touted as an “inclusive business model” that links smallholders into commercial value chains. In these arrangements, smallholder farmers produce cash crops on their own land, as ‘outgrowers’, on contract to agroprocessing companies.
Then there is growth in a new class of “middle farmers”. These are often educated business people and civil servants who are investing money earned elsewhere into medium-scale commercial farms which they own and operate themselves.
So what are the real choices and trade-offs between large plantations or estates; contract farming by outgrowers; or individual medium-scale commercial farmers?
These different models formed the focus of our three-year study in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Evidence suggests that each model has different strengths. For policy makers, deciding which kind of farming to promote depends on what they want to achieve.
Plantations are ‘enclaves’
Our cases confirm the characterisation of large plantations as being “enclaves” with few linkages into local economies. They buy farming inputs from far afield, usually from overseas, and in turn send their produce into global markets, bypassing local intermediaries.
Plantations are large, self-contained agribusinesses that rely on hired labour and are vertically-integrated into processing chains (often with on-farm processing). They’re usually associated with one major crop. In Africa, these started with colonial concessions, especially in major cash crops such as coffee, tea, rubber, cotton and sugarcane. Some of these later became state farms after independence while others were dismantled and land returned to local farmers.
Many plantations do create jobs, especially if they have on-site processing. Plantations may also support local farmers if they process crops that local smallholders are already growing. For example, we found an oil palm plantation in Ghana that buys from local smallholders, giving them access to processing facilities and international value chains they would otherwise not reach.
But, typically, plantations have limited connections into the local economy beyond the wages they pay. Where production is mechanised, they create few jobs, as we found in Zambia: the Zambeef grain estate employs few people, and most of these are migrants whose wages don’t go into the local economy. And the jobs that are created are invariably of poor quality.
The main story is that plantations take up land and yet often don’t give back to the local economy. In the cases we researched, all the plantations led to local people losing their land. For instance, the establishment and later expansion of the 10,000-hectare Zambeef estate led to forced removals of people from their cropping fields and grazing lands.
There are some benefits from plantations and estates. But, given more than a century of bad experience, it may be time to concede they seldom – if ever – live up to their promises.
Contract farming brings benefits for some
Contract farming has a long history in Africa, dating back to colonial times. As with plantations, these arrangements were largely for the major cash crops, including cocoa, cotton, tobacco and sugarcane.
Contract farmers are smallholders who enter into contracts with companies that buy and process their crops. Sometimes members of outgrowers’ households might also get jobs on larger “nucleus” estates run by the companies. Whether or not they benefit, or get mired in debt and dependence, depends entirely on the terms of these contracts. Our study looked at contract farming in Ghana’s tropical fruit export sector, in French bean production in Kenya and in sugarcane farming in Zambia.
Contract farming has been hailed by some as the “win-win” solution, enabling commercial investment for global markets without dispossessing local farmers. Farmers farm on their own land, using their own family labour, while also accessing commercial value chains – rather than being displaced by large farms. But we found that this is not necessarily the case. Crucially, there are different kinds of arrangements that determine who benefits.
In Kenya, contract farmers are poorer than most farmers around them. For them, farming on contract provides a crucial livelihood, especially for poor women, who cultivate French beans for the European market and combine this with seasonal jobs on big farms.
In one Zambian block scheme all outgrowers gave up their land to Illovo, a South African company that grows sugarcane. The company pays them dividends. Here, the landowners, typically the old patriarchs, benefit from cash incomes. Young people lose out: they neither inherit the land nor control the cash incomes.
Contract farming clearly provides one effective avenue for smallholders to commercialise. It means, though, that smallholders take on both the risks and the benefits of connecting to commercial value chains.
Medium-scale farming: a promising option
Between the large plantations and the small contract farmers is another model: medium-scale commercial farms owned by individuals or small companies. We studied areas where medium-scale farms were dominating: mango farmers in Ghana, coffee farmers in Kenya and grains farmers in Zambia. While this kind of medium-scale farming also has colonial origins, the past two decades have seen massive growth in new “middle farmers”. Many of them are male, wealthy, middle-aged or retired, often from professional positions.
The medium -scale commercial farming model has a lot to offer. We found that they create more jobs and stimulate rural economies more than either big plantations or smallholder contract farmers. Yet cumulatively, such farms may threaten to dispossess smallholders, just as the big colonial and more recent plantations and estates have done.
The push behind the explosion of the “middle farmers” in the countries we studied has been investment by the educated and (relatively) wealthy. In Ghana in particular, we found, their expansion has displaced smallholders. Cumulatively, even modest-sized farms have led to substantial dispossession and reduced access to land.
Their informal employment patterns mean poor working conditions and few permanent jobs. But, unlike the plantations, these farms are well connected with the local economy. Building on social networks, these “middle farmers” often buy inputs and services from local businesses. At least some of their produce is sold into local markets.
Winners and losers
While policy choices are of course political, they can and should be informed by research about the implications of these different pathways of agricultural commercialisation. What is clear from our research is that different kinds of commercial farming will have different effects on the economy. It’s not just about efficiency. Ultimately, it’s about who wins and who loses.
Why is this important? Deepening inequalities, failed livelihoods, mass (under)employment, climate chaos and racist anti-immigrant attacks characterise many settings across the world. Forms of ‘progressive neoliberalism’ — peddled inaccurately as social democracy — have failed to stem disillusionment, disenfranchisement and marginalisation. The rise of populist, nationalist movements — with racist, misogynist and isolationist characteristics — has been one very visible response. Such exclusionary politics are unravelling protections for women, racial minorities, disabled people, LGBTQ communities and many others.
This type of populism depicts politics as a struggle between ‘the people’ and some combination of malevolent elites and racialized, unfairly advantaged ‘Others’. Yet the reactions to authoritarian populism are incredibly diverse, across and indeed within countries. In this Initiative, we are interested in changes ongoing in and in relation to rural areas that both give rise to a particular form of politics, but also offer alternatives.
Whether in the US, across Europe, Turkey, India, the Philippines, Brazil or South Africa and Zimbabwe – and many other countries besides – various forms of reactionary nationalism have entrenched a narrow, sometimes violent, conflictual, exclusionary politics. This may be in the name of ‘taking back control’ in favour of ‘the people’, or putting one ideology and position ‘first’, while excluding others, generating tensions across society. All are responses to crises in contemporary capitalism, yet they are rooted in specific histories, institutional and social structures and political dynamics. Responses may be contradictory: for example shoring up a certain style of political power, while selectively offering progressive policies, whether free education, land reform or investment in rural communities.
The ERPI is focused on the social and political processes across rural spaces that are giving rise to such political reactions today. We seek to understand – but not judge – the characteristics of the social base that give rise to such political dynamics. We also aim to explore how alternatives are being actively generated to regressive, authoritarian politics. We seek to create the space for a debate about alternatives, documenting, analysing and theorising these in order to begin to outline new emancipatory politics that challenge narrow, exclusionary, violent and populist visions, analysing, sharing, supporting, deepening and scaling up alternatives.
Initially, we are proposing three core themes and a range of questions for the Initiative: (i) The current conjuncture: rural roots and consequences (ii) Resisting, organising and mobilising for an emancipatory rural politics (iii) Alternatives: understanding, supporting, creating, deepening and scaling. More detail on emerging thinking can also be found here.
With this call we seek to engage scholars, activists and practitioners from across the world who are both concerned about the current conjuncture, but also hopeful about alternatives. We will initiate a Working Paper series, supported by a limited number of small grants, to allow for the writing up of original research. In parallel we are inviting other, shorter contributions in a variety of media, helping to map out responses and alternatives. In 2018, we will host a major international conference on this theme, and we will be encouraging publication of a series of papers in the Journal of Peasant Studies, as well as other popular and media outlets, as a focus for an intense, informed and radical engagement around this theme. We hope others in social movements, political formations, policy institutions, and elsewhere will participate, developing new visions that respond to the current moment.
Collectively, we hope that we can make a small contribution in sharpening our analysis of the global situation, and by doing so, help inspire more people to join in peoples’ movements, community conversations and local innovations and experiments, wherever these may be. So readers of this blog, researching in rural areas and interested in these themes, please join the Initiative! You can sign up to mailing lists by getting in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow on Facebook and Twitter.
Rights to land for women have been enshrined in law in Zimbabwe, but the practice of law in reality often has not delivered women’s empowerment and rights. This must change, but how?
Zimbabwe has a range of progressive laws aimed at gender equality on the statute books – notably around marriage, inheritance and succession. These feed through into land legislation and administration, and are recognised in the new Land Commission Bill. These include the recognition that leases and permits should recognise both spouses as land holders. However law in practice may not uphold these ideals. Biases in administrative procedures, competing legal orders in a pluri-legal system, and the resort to ‘tradition’, and the lack of awareness of rights all combine.
Women did gain access to land in their own right at land reform. This was at higher levels than exist in the communal areas, with around 15-20% of all plots in A1 schemes being registered to a woman, compared with typically around 5% in communal areas. Most such female land holders were widows, divorcees and single unmarried women. The possibilities of women’s empowerment in land access through the land invasion and occupation process around 2000 has been widely documented. However, since land acquisition, there has been a reversal of some of these gains, and women have lost out in new allocations due to the patriarchal practices of local administration systems, now combining ‘traditional’ approaches (via chiefs and headmen) and land offices.
Many lobby groups argue that women must be allocated land. Yet, women often recognise the value of gaining access to land and other resources in the context of the marriage contract, making addressing gender equity within joint arrangements just as important. Indeed, a focus on the allocation of plots for women, while essential for some, may miss the point for the many – and divert attention from many other opportunities to protect wider rights and entitlements. While current statutory law notionally provides the basis for women’s empowerment, in practice it often falls short – and this differs between A2 (medium-scale commercial farms) and A1 (smallholder) land.
A number of high profile cases have occurred in relation to A2 farm land, where divorced women have contested the rights of their husbands to hold all the land following separation. Yet these have also shown the limits of the law in practice. This is despite the fact that, in cases of contests over A2 land, where large areas of land are concerned and the case comes to court, there are procedures in law and administrative practice that can be used to address gender inequalities. Even with joint registration, and in the absence of ‘traditional’ customary legal frameworks operating in these areas, the rights of women may not be upheld, either by formal courts or administrative procedures, due to the pervasive patriarchal assumptions around land ownership. This needs to be challenged through the development and documentation of case law and the sharing of effective practice that upholds women’s rights within both the legal profession and within the administrative arms of the Ministry of Lands.
In A1 land, however, the enforcement of statutory law is more challenging. Permit regulations from 2014 again specify the rights of women, encouraging the joint naming of spouses. The regulations specify rights in relation to divorce, and around polygamous marriage. However in practice, very often women’s names do not appear on permits (or their predecessor offer letters). There is no legal requirement for this, as this appears to be a discretionary provision in the implementation process. The point of land registration is an important moment for specifying rights and ensuring joint naming moves from optional to mandatory, but as disputes are dealt with locally within a pluri-legal system, even this move will have to be backed by wider cultural change in a deeply patriarchal traditional and administrative system.
Land reform areas in Zimbabwe are state land, where nationally agreed legislative provisions – around women’s rights, for example – apply. Formally, the state can overrule patriarchal institutions, and can have a role in enforcement. In seeking progressive change in land related policy, such as around women’s empowerment, state ownership is important. The state, unlike in customary land, can take back land and also specify the rights over land for both men and women, without any intermediation by traditional councils, chiefs, or a poorly defined ‘community’. However, in A2 farms, with considerably larger land areas and more capitalised systems of production, there is greater value at play, and the opportunities for the state to override may be less, although formally the state can still intervene. Clarity on roles and responsibilities and a clear administrative framework for land is therefore essential.
To help push administrators and the legal system to recognise women’s rights to land, joint naming of spouses should be a legal requirement, in my view. Equally any wider audit and registration process needs to include a gender audit. As with past public awareness campaigns around marriage and inheritance (such as the 1993 film Neria, written by Tsitse Dangarembga and starring Oliver Mtukudzi), a similar effort needs to mobilised during land audit and registration.
There are real challenges for realising rights in practice, as progressive legislative moves may be undermined by patriarchy in both local communities and administrative systems. This requires reform of administrative processes, the guaranteeing of joint naming on land holding documents and public awareness campaigns.
This post was prepared by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland. It is part of an occasional Zimbabweland blog series on priorities for the new Zimbabwe Land Commission.