HomeOpinionFarmbiz: Land disputes retrogressive

Farmbiz: Land disputes retrogressive

By Kudakwashe Gwabanayi

Last week we ran an article that encouraged farmers to pay their land levies so that the works of their hands are fruitful. The topic stirred debate on land ownership and transfer amongst other things.

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the expected season’s rains this week, most of the responses were about the land disputes some farmers are finding themselves in. Most are unable to plant anything now because of the misunderstandings.

The disputes are multi-faceted; some are family members fighting over inherited land; or landlord and tenant fighting; or corporates and individuals fighting over land. We however cannot discuss them one by one — whatever the case may be, differences over land are very retrogressive.

I must hasten to say that land disputes have been in existence as far as humankind can be remembered.

Most wars in the Bible, which is one of the earliest records of history, have been about land. Israel has been at a territorial war with Palestine from time immemorial. Political analysts have said that the situation isn’t going to be sorted out any time soon.

The most recent peace plan, prepared by the United States when Donald Trump was president, was called “the deal of the century” by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it has been dismissed by the Palestinians as one-sided and never got off the ground.

Coming back home, traditional history has it that the Great Zimbabwe wall in Masvingo was built as a way of the Shona protecting their territorial integrity after suffering several raids.

But, perhaps the most popular land dispute in our country — more than whether Mzilikazi\Mtwakazi belong to Zimbabwe or they should return to the Transvaal — is the Chingwizi Transit Camp in Masvingo, where over 18 000 families have locked horns with the government over resettlement. Without going into the merits or demerits of their situation, there is a general consensus that the people of Chingwizi live a life of refugees — surviving on handouts — in their own country, so many decades after independence.

What makes the situation worse is that their troubles started way before independence in 1955 under the colonial regime when it decided to build Tugwi-Mukosi dam and started moving them around. Majority rule of 1980 has actually made their situation worse.

The community, which is often moved around the Tugwi-Mukosi dam construction site, lives in tents and shacks, at a camp where they spend the day doing nothing but waiting for handouts.

Their future there is uncertain to the extent that they can hardly bury their loved ones among them, and in some instances are forced to ask their relatives in the province to bury each other in their homesteads.

Not only is the concentration camp hot (it’s actually nicknamed “the little hell on earth”), experiencing 44 degrees Celsius in summer, it is also swampy when it rains. People have to leave their homes to higher grounds to survive drowning, and of course there are always casualties.

Whilst the Chingwizi community relies on salty water which neighbouring farmers would not want their cattle to drink, the biggest question has always been why they are not moving.

Some of them were allocated 500m2 of land which is not enough for subsistence farming especially in semi-arid areas where you only get minimum harvests. Animal husbandry is almost impossible because of the small areas allocated as well as high drought probability of the area.

But still these people will not move, they claim that their lives have been disrupted for too long.

There are so many farmers in the country who are in such situations or worse. Most of them are resettled farmers who suffered double allocations on the same land and find themselves entangled in dragging disputes.

Others are tenants, who after much investment on the farms are asked to leave for one reason or the other.

There are some communal farmers who are currently being affected by mining activities in Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe and Umguza because by operation of law, mining precedes farming.

What is important to know is that all land is government land, so whether you have a title deed, a lease or you inherited it or you got it from the chief or headman it remains state land.

Government is the ultimate arbitrator in land disputes.

Farmers need to make bold and critical decisions once they find themselves in invidious positions and disputes because unfortunately farming requires a lot of planning ahead of time. It also requires a lot of huge equipment to use hence one has to avoid a scenario where they end up having to stay with a tractor and a combine harvester in residential areas because they have nowhere else to keep them.

The most affected, especially tenants,  are usually those with cattle, sheep and goats because once you are asked to leave, you have nowhere to put them.

Commercial white farmers have devised measures to mitigate their losses in the event that their farms are invaded after noticing that the Land Reform Programme is not ending anytime soon which most tenants must take a cue from.

Those into crop production are going for crops like blueberries which they plant in vases or small plastic buckets. In the event that they are asked to leave they will just carry their crops in the vases or buckets with them. This way, invaders will be left with the land that they would have come and not get the crops as a bonus.

In most cases invasions, displacements and breach of contracts are driven by greed, malice when people want to harvest where they did not sow.

In animal husbandry, most farmers are not building brick and mortar structures anymore. They are using fences and shades for the keeping of goats, pigs, sheep and many other animals so that if there is a breach of contract they easily take everything that is theirs off the place.

Indigenous farmers must consider these methods of farming to mitigate losses in the event of displacement.

When on a lease it wise to grow crops like lettuce, peas, sugarbeans and other early maturity crops so that you can harvest your crops early.

The idea is to maximally utilise the land in the shortest possible period so that you get your return on investment.

Tomatoes will give a constant in-drip income.

Pigs and chickens are also ideal in that their economic lifespan is 6 months so you can slaughter them when push comes to shove.

Cattle, goats, sheep start making money for you after 3 years from their offspring which is a long time considering that the country is currently under a ‘gold mining revolution’.

Crops like ginger, tobacco and turmeric that require 6 months to maturity must be avoided. Even those annual crops like macadamia nuts, lucerne caster beans must be avoided at all times.

In the event of a dispute, it is always important to leave earlier than delay the inevitable especially if the land is not yours. The moment the relationship becomes acrimonious it becomes very difficult to operate to profitability.

Disagreements open room for sabotage and theft of vital farm properties like electricity transformers and water pumps because once the future of farm workers becomes uncertain, they start looting so that they at least get something out of it.

If there is offer of meaningful compensation, it must be taken instead of people arguing about emotional investments and ancestral land title because when miners come they will not leave possible bullion of gold just because it is under a grave.

They will mine it by hook or crook.

The case of Marange diamond fields comes to mind where the community was displaced after the government discovered diamonds.

As the elders say, there nothing new under the sun. Farmers are urged to look at precedence when dealing with land disputes and avoid wasting time clinging on to a piece of land which does not belong to them.

  • Gwabanayi is a practising journalist and a farmer in his own right. — 0772 865 703 or gwabanayi@gmail.com

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading