Intersectionality of women, land and corruption in Zim

The women who rely on the chief to have access to the land are either `unmarried`, widowed or divorced.

LAND is a very political question in Zimbabwe. It was the basis of the liberation struggle, where natives fought colonialism, mainly because of repressive land rights.

The fight for liberation in Zimbabwe was supported by the notion that land was to be reclaimed by the Africans and for the Africans.

The liberation struggle was fought, the land was taken back.

However, access to this resource is not uniform to all black Zimbabweans.

The post-colonial Zimbabwean government maintained the distinction through the Communal Land Act.

Communal land consists of all land that was Tribal Trust Land in terms of the Tribal Trust Land Act.

This includes customary tenure with a surfeit of native and state administrative arrangements that specify what people in communal areas should and should not do.

Customary land does not have legal recognition as there is no title to it.

According to International Transparency Zimbabwe research titled What is Land Corruption? by Farai Mutondoro and Mary Jane Ncube, there is an increasing abuse of power by traditional leaders, such as village heads and chiefs and by rural district councils through their explicit and tacit participation in illegal land sales.

Land in communal areas cannot be sold.

According to the Zimbabwean constitution, traditional leaders are custodians of communal land, which means they simply administer land that ultimately belongs to the State.

Traditional leaders are, however, using this custodial role to enrich themselves through land sales.

Access to communal land for women, therefore, is at the discretion of the traditional chief.

This makes women gullible to corruption and sextortion.

The women who rely on the chief to have access to the land are either `unmarried`, widowed or divorced.

Using an intersectional lens to corruption means recognising the historical contexts surrounding an issue.

Long histories of violence and systematic discrimination have created deep inequities that disadvantage some from the outset.

These inequalities intersect with each other, for example, poverty, caste systems, racism, and sexism, denying people their rights and equal opportunities.

 Land corruption can have a particularly negative impact on women.

In many societies, women have limited access to land ownership, control, and use due to traditional patriarchal norms and discrimination.

This can make them more vulnerable to various forms of land corruption, such as illegal land grabbing, forced eviction, and land-related conflicts.

When land is illegally grabbed or acquired through corrupt means, women often face displacement and loss of their homes, farms, and other sources of livelihood.

They may also be excluded from decision-making processes related to land use and management, which can further marginalize them and limit their ability to defend their rights.

In addition, women's lack of access to land can also limit their economic opportunities and perpetuate their poverty.

Land ownership can provide women with a means of generating income, as well as a form of social protection and status in their communities.

When women are denied these opportunities, they may be unable to provide for themselves and their families and may be more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

Overall, addressing land corruption is crucial for promoting gender equality and empowering women.

This can involve promoting transparency and accountability in land governance, strengthening women's land rights, and ensuring their meaningful participation in decision-making processes related to land use and management.

Corruption within the communal land sector impacts on the livelihoods of many of the rural women.

Without land, the majority cannot sustain a livelihood.

The dilemma with communal land in Zimbabwe is that there are numerous and conflicting players in its administration and control.

Traditional leaders and rural district councils often compete over jurisdiction because the legal and political constructs are unclear on the roles of both actors.

As such, there are several occurrences where chiefs and local government officials have conflicted over land administration.

Chiefs are defined as custodians of land under the constitution, they do not own or control the land.

Traditional leaders have, over time, grabbed ownership powers and have been actively involved in parcelling out land. They have been involved in illegal land sales.

Corruption aggravates gender imbalances in a society, especially with access to resources.

Women, who are gainfully employed and economically advantaged can purchase land with title.

The women without the resources relies on the mercy of the traditional chiefs and politicians.

Land ownership is dominated by men as only 13,9% of large-scale commercial farms are owned by women, while 34,5% of owners of land in communal areas are female as compared to 65,5% and while under the farms acquired through the land reform, women only own 3,5% and 16,3% of A2 and A1, respectively. 

More women than men in the agriculture sector are employed as members of producer cooperatives, unpaid contributing family workers and own account workers.

Women’s representation is insignificant in the local power structures and traditional bodies in Zimbabwe, where decisions concerning land allocation and resource development have principal implications for rural women. 

Women’s representation at the district and provincial levels has typically been low. This in turn inhibits their ability to influence resource allocation.

 The latest Southern African Development Community’s (Sadc) Gender Protocol Barometer says in the whole of the country there are six female chiefs and 13 “head women,” or vice chiefs.

Zimbabwe has over 270 chiefs and more than 24 000 villages (Community Law Centre, 2010).

Promoting transparency and accountability in land governance requires a multi-pronged approach that involves various stakeholders, including governments, civil society organisations, and the private sector.

Here are some ways to achieve this:

Strengthen legal frameworks: Governments can enact laws and regulations that promote transparency and accountability in land governance. This can include laws that require public disclosure of land transactions, the establishment of independent land oversight bodies, and the enforcement of penalties for corrupt practices.

Enhance public participation: Civil society organizations and local communities can be empowered to participate in land governance processes. This can involve providing access to information, consultation, and grievance mechanisms to enable them to voice their concerns and hold decision-makers accountable.

Use technology: Technology can be used to increase transparency in land governance. This can include the use of digital land registries and mapping tools that provide up-to-date information on land ownership and transactions. This can help prevent fraud and corruption by creating a clear record of land ownership.

Promote international cooperation: International cooperation can be useful in promoting transparency and accountability in land governance. This can involve sharing best practices and experiences, providing technical assistance, and promoting international standards and norms related to land governance.

Build capacity: Building the capacity of government officials, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders can help promote transparency and accountability in land governance. This can involve providing training and support to help them understand their roles and responsibilities and develop the necessary skills to promote good governance practices.

Overall, promoting transparency and accountability in land governance requires a sustained effort and collaboration among various stakeholders.

It requires a long-term commitment to building the necessary legal and institutional frameworks, promoting public participation, and using technology and international cooperation to strengthen land governance systems.

The non-existence of openness and accountability in the distribution of communal land and the abuse of power by those with decision making power has exposed women of different forms of abuse and corruption.

Women end up bribing for them to access land they are rightfully entitled to. The lack of policies that intentionally place women where the resources are is worrying.

There is need to develop frameworks and policies on how women should access communal land without the discretion of traditional norms.

  • Mutowekuziva is a registered legal practitioner. She has keen interest in human rights, development and governance These weekly New Horizon articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852.


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