Credit: Andrew Ashton.
Land tenure in Zimbabwe has long been a controversial, politically-charged issue, and several phases of reform have taken place since the country’s independence in 1980. The primary goal of land reform in post-colonial Zimbabwe has primarily been to address racial disparities and inequalities created by colonial rule; at independence, the vast majority of privately owned land, including an estimated 70% of the most fertile land, was held by whites who comprised just 5% of the population.
Although these figures have changed as a result of land reform programs that reduced both white ownership and private tenure, no official statistics are available to confirm current landholding patterns.
Community Land Rights
Despite a trend towards increasing formalization of land tenure, communal tenure remains a prevalent practice in Zimbabwe. In colonial Zimbabwe, millions of blacks who were dispossessed of their land by colonial settlers were forced to live as tribes under a community land system in rural areas, under the terms of the 1967 Tribal Trust Land Act. After independence, the 1981 Communal Land Act shifted authority over these lands from traditional rulers to local District Councils and changed the designation from Tribal Trust Lands into Communal Areas.
Given the pressures of projected population growth, increased resource demand and a trend towards privatization of communal land, community ownership of land is under increasing threat. Over the years, policies aimed at increasing security of communal tenure have faced severe challenges during implementation.
Women’s Land Rights
The Zimbabwean constitution promotes gender equality, however throughout the various phases of land reform the number of women beneficiaries has been much lower than that of men; there still is no defined mechanism aimed at ensuring that women acquire secure tenure. Rules that discriminate against women continue to apply to inheritance and land allocation, such that single, married, divorced and widowed women are vulnerable to losing land upon the death of the man to whom the land is registered.
The Zimbabwean land framework is in need of additional reform to effectively support secure land rights for all. Clear land rights have the potential to boost agricultural production and support Zimbabwe’s economy.
Donors have recently begun reengaging with Zimbabwe, over a decade after the initiation of the FTLRP led to significant withdrawal. In late 2014, the World Bank committed 44 million USD over the next five years to support Zimbabwe’s economic policy reforms.