Sadc needs common land reform policy

By Willie Breytenbach

THE recent land crisis in Zimbabwe captured worldwide attention. The invasions of white commercial farms were headline news, and highlighted one particular aspect of the land reform pro

blems in southern Africa, namely forced restitution, in a country where Africans had been dispossessed by colonial settlers.


In a recent publication, the South African Human Sciences Research Council comments that land reform policies in the region have been applied inconsistently. Neither colonial nor contemporary practices were ever uniform.


Another major concern in southern Africa is the failure to integrate land reform with tenure issues, resettlement programmes and meaningful land-use policies that cover all land – both rural and urban. Land reform policies should also apply to non-agricultural land, because fertile soil is too scarce a resource in many countries to be made available to everybody.


Only 7% of all land in Africa is arable, and in southern Africa, this percentage is only 6%, with Malawi the highest at 18% and Botswana, at 0,5%, the lowest. Two other Sadc countries where the land reform debate is particularly public fall into the middle range – Zimbabwe has 8% and Namibia 1% of land fertile enough to grow crops.


Regional organisations such as the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) have never expressed an opinion on land reform, let alone tried to deal with it through an appropriate protocol. The tenure variations are great.


For example, most of the land in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is held under customary tenure, while communal land has been phased out in Botswana. State ownership varies from 100% in some Sadc countries (Mozambique and Zambia) to 1% (Zimbabwe) to 0% (Namibia). Twenty-five percent of land in South Africa is state owned.


In addition to commercial farmland that may be earmarked for restitution or resettlement, other categories of land could also be made available. Two that come to mind are insufficiently used and unused territory in the possession of traditional authorities, and nonproductive state land. Namibia may possess both kinds.


Again, in 1994 analysts estimated that 28% of all arable land in Malawi’s communal areas was lying fallow. Commercial farmland is therefore not the only land necessarily available for restoration.


In Zambia, (as in Mozambique and Angola), all private land was nationalised after decolonisation. The Zambian Land (Conversion of Titles) Act of 1975 completed the nationalisation programme by vesting all land in the president on behalf of the people of Zambia.


Formerly private farms were converted into leasehold for 100 years, and land that was not being used was taken over by the state. Under donor pressure, the Zambian government repealed this Act in 1995. Since then, it has been willing to receive white farmers expelled from Zimbabwe and allow them to farm on available land, presumably on a freehold basis.

Nevertheless, uncertainty as to the legal status of this arrangement prevents these farmers from approaching banks for loans on which farms can be used as collateral. A draft land policy, announced in 2002, is likely to clarify many of the uncertainties that remain when it is finalised, but state land is being privatised.


The absence of land under state ownership that can be used for resettlement explains why the governments of Zimbabwe and Namibia have decided to target privately owned commercial farms for redistribution.

In Zimbabwe, resettlement land is placed under state control. In Namibia, the Agricultural (Commercial) Land Reform Act of 1995 stipulates that resettled land be held under freehold. In this manner, President Sam Nujoma has acquired farms for himself. Other Acts provide for communal tenure in the areas under the control of traditional authorities, mainly in the northern parts.


In Zimbabwe, the initial legislative framework was provided by Section 57 of the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe (1979), negotiated at Lancaster House. This provides for a “willing seller-willing buyer” arrangement as well as British funding for resettlement – as in Kenya and Swaziland.


It was part of the Lancaster House agreement that the constitution could be amended only after 1990. This was promptly done by way of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Acts, 1990 and 1993. Both Acts allowed for land resettlement with “fair” – as opposed to “adequate” – compensation, as required in the Lancaster House Agreement.


They provided no definition of either concepts, but adequate apparently meant “market value”, while fair compensation was to be paid only for improvements to the land and not for the land as such. These two Acts amended Section 16 of the Constitution, which, together with the Land Acquisition Act, paved the way for the expropriation of invaded land after 2002.


Following the referendum in 2000, the liberation war veterans association demanded more land. The invasions began in earnest, this time openly encouraged by the government, which supported the veterans’ right to occupy commercial farms. The Rural Land Occupiers Bill of 2001, when passed into law in February 2002, prevented invaders from being evicted by the farmers.


Before the invasions began, land distribution in Zimbabwe had been highly unequal. In 1911, white farms constituted 20% of all land in the former Rhodesia. By 1931, after the passing of the Land Apportionment Act, European-owned land constituted 50,8%.


These percentages declined gradually to 45% in 1965 – at the time of Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence – and 39% in 1980, but still represented a large proportion of the best agricultural land. By 1997, when the first land invasions by war veterans occurred, the percentage owned by white farmers was 28%.


Namibia is the only country in Sadc where a national conference has taken place on land reform. This occurred in 1991, and was followed by the conference of the Namibian Non-governmental Organisation Federation in Mariental in 1994.


Ever since, the Namibian land reform and land transfer processes have been backed by law, and about 567 041 ha have been redistributed. Approximately 7,4% of the total land surface area of the country was purchased by government between 1990 and 2000 to resettle 30 000 people.


Although all governments in the Sadc region have land reform policies, they take different forms and are not coordinated with those of other member countries. Policy convergence, however, does take place in terms of market-relatedness.


Sadc does not have a comprehensive land policy, and has not integrated land reform into a wider rural development strategy. The Nepad document also lacks direction on the issue.


A common regional approach to land reform and a Sadc protocol on land reform are required, and a shared regulatory framework would do much to enhance the predictability of policies that have been affected by the unpredictable events in Zimbabwe.

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