Land Rights in Zimbabwe: Striving for Equity and Stability

Compiled by Leon Dzumbira

In Zimbabwe, the question of land tenure remains complex and unresolved within the country’s legal system. Contradictions in the 2013 Constitution regarding the government’s authority over land expropriation and people’ rights to due process have allowed opaque land agreements to persist, impeding progress toward a harmonised tenure system that balances productivity and equity.

Section 72 of the 2013 Constitution attempts to limit arbitrary government land seizures by stating that “no person may be deprived of property except in accordance with law” and demanding fair compensation. This provision, however, gives the state discretion, noting that compensation is not required for measures regarded to be “for public purpose” or “in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning, or land settlement.”

Tension between citizens’ rights and the government’s powers over land came to the forefront in the 2021 Chilonga case. In this instance, the government invoked eminent domain to displace Chilonga residents and allocate their communal land to a dairy company, justifying it as being for “public purpose.” Unfortunately, this controversial deal lacked consultation with the affected communities and failed to provide due process for compensation. The dispossessed citizens found themselves with limited legal recourse due to the broad constitutional powers vested in the state regarding land.

To overcome these issues, Zimbabwe urgently needs substantial reforms that put constraints on corruption and elite capture in land agreements. A unified tenure structure that goes beyond the current classifications of communal, old resettlement, small-scale, and large-scale farms should be created. Zimbabwe can improve tenure security for its population by providing individuals or groups with official land titles backed by explicit deed registration and collateralization rights.

Constitutional amendments that explicitly outline community consultation requirements and limit arbitrary state land seizures would offer greater protection to citizens. These changes would ensure that the government acts in the best interests of all Zimbabweans, fostering transparency, accountability, and social cohesion.

In this pursuit of land rights and resolving land displacements, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) plays a significant role. Dedicated to promoting environmental justice, natural resource governance, and sustainable development in Zimbabwe, ZELA through it’s programming on land rights and displacements,  raises awareness, advocates for policy changes, and provides legal support to affected communities. It’s work is crucial in empowering citizens and fostering a more equitable and just land tenure system.

Looking ahead, Zimbabwe stands at a critical juncture. Without major legislative and policy changes, the unresolved land question will continue to breed instability in the country. By implementing comprehensive reforms, including a harmonized tenure system, formal land titles, and constitutional amendments that protect citizens’ rights, Zimbabwe can progress toward a future where land rights are respected, citizens are empowered, and the nation thrives in harmony.

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