Past, present and future perspectives


Access to land and resources in southern Africa is perhaps the most socially and politically sensitive issue, now being entangled in environmental and political agendas. Minority individual tenure and state-based conservation practices were imposed on land which was traditionally owned by indigenous people, and most of the black populations were removed and confined to areas insufficient in extent or quality to meet production requirements, as detailed in Box 2f.5. Although colonial and post-colonial apartheid policies have largely been replaced, or are in the process of transformation, ownership and access to resources is now largely determined by economic status, with commercial farmers occupying the best farmland and contributing most visibly to the economies. For example, in Zimbabwe, a minority of 4 500 mainly white commercial farmers control more than 33 per cent of the country's prime agricultural land.

Box 2f.5 Colonial influences on land rights in Southern Africa

Colonial policies on land tenure and access influenced patterns of land use and management in several ways in southern Africa. Shifting cultivation was seen as destructive to forests, for example, and legislation creating forest reserves was passed, leaving farmers with little option but to intensify production from existing cultivated or grazing areas. The traditional communal land tenure system was perceived to be insecure and a further cause of environmental degradation and, therefore, land was either leased from the state or privatized. It has since been acknowledged that state or private ownership can be just as harmful to the natural resource base, and extensive land tenure reforms are underway, with a greater recognition of indigenous rights and practices, as well as a greater appreciation of the role of women in agriculture.

Source: Annersten 1989

Land inequities were, until recently, most extreme in South Africa, where some 70 000 white farmers owned 87 per cent of the arable land, and 2 million black subsistence farmers were restricted to 13 per cent of the land

Land inequities were, until recently, most extreme in South Africa, where some 70 000 white farmers owned 87 per cent of the arable land, and 2 million black subsistence farmers were restricted to 13 per cent of the land (Moyo 1998). The imposition of state-controlled institutions significantly undermined the traditional and cultural institutional structure for resource management, thereby alienating the indigenous people from their cultural and governance aspirations. Traditional tenure security was effectively eroded, and CBNRM came under threat. Inequitable access to land underlies the food and agricultural problems facing southern Africa today, and their impact on poverty. Botswana's Tribal Land Act (1968) facilitated the conversion of tribal land to individual lease for residential, arable or grazing purposes (DFID 1999). This has led to the expansion of commercial cattle ranching, which contributes to vegetation and soil degradation, and to the marginalization of traditional hunter-gatherer communities, such as the Bushmen. The traditional authority of the chiefs has been replaced by a Land Board and its Board Secretariat, a Technical Committee and Land Officers (DFID 1999). Land Rights issues in southern Africa are manifest in increasing pressure on resources, land-based conflict, and pressure for rural development and land reform. In Zimbabwe, the conflict over land encompasses ancestral claims, claims by veterans of the independence war and gender imbalances.

In response, most countries of southern Africa are developing new policies, through reorganization and transformation, in order to address the needs of previously disadvantaged masses. A number of strategies were adopted, in order to achieve the objectives of land reform, including land redistribution and resettlement programmes. For example, in Zimbabwe, the government plans to acquire 5 million ha of the total 11.3 million ha of land belonging to the commercial sector, in order to complete its resettlement programme. Following land identification and planning, selected groups are to be resettled according to six different models, covering mixed farming, specialized farming and ranching (Government of Zimbabwe 1998). However, there have been significant delays and, of the targeted 160 000 families aimed for resettlement, only 60 000 had been resettled by 1988 (African Development Bank 1993). Other policy instruments that have been used include five-year national development plans to reorganize communal areas by agricultural potential. These plans presented options for sustainable and viable agricultural production, in an attempt to alleviate fears of falling agricultural productivity levels and economic recession.

In South Africa, the land reform process has attempted to provide for tenure, use and access rights that are either individual or group-based, with existing or new community organizations qualifying for such rights on the basis of demonstrable public support. Land Rights Officers are proposed, in order to ensure the participation of all stakeholders in decision making, and Land Rights Boards will arbitrate in the event of disputes and will make recommendations to the Minister (DFID 1999). Implementation is in the early stages, however, and assessments of effectiveness would currently be premature. In Mozambique, the 1998 Land Law is beginning to be implemented, following an extensive public awareness and discussion programme. Surveys to register land rights have commenced in certain areas, and verbal testimony to tenure under customary law is sufficient to register tenure rights under the new law (DFID 1999).

In many countries, land reform processes have been strengthened by the creation of central agencies, such as government departments for land, agriculture, local government and resource development. These institutions provide land, credit facilities, and a range of technical and professional services.

The current mixture of land tenure systems allows varying degrees of access to resources by women. Under the private freehold system, women have rights to access land, but very few of them have the resources to purchase such land on the open market. On the other hand, communal land held under the traditional or customary system allows women secondary access through marriage but, as soon as the marriage breaks, they lose the right to cultivate lineage land (SARDCWIDSAA 2000). However, through processes of land reform, liberalization and improved status of women, women are slowly beginning to control a sizeable proportion of rented, purchased and allocated land.