News of more than 2,000 residents of Chikuni, Mawewe and Mutuna villages in Kawambwa District being faced with eviction after a Lusaka-based business person claimed that he had title to the land makes sad reading.
While we are not against the ‘rightful’ owner in reclaiming his land, we are appalled at the inertia on the part of the government in land allocation and the numerous anomalies that have surfaced.
We say this after recently carrying stories of ‘squatters’ who are in the same predicament in Serenje following claims by farmers owning large chunks of commercial farms blocks in the area.
We feel if land allocation was done properly with respect to customary land, the problems we are witnessing wouldn’t arise.
Why are we having all these problems concerning land when laws and policies regulating how land can be converted from “customary” to “state” status, or otherwise acquired for farm blocks or other economic development projects are explicit?
What we know is that customary lands are administered by traditional leaders and state lands are under government authority.
However, for the Serenje land saga, government officials have been insisting that all farm block land in Serenje district was long ago converted from customary to state control.
Some advocates and traditional authorities say the processes were so faulty that the conversions should be considered void.
Commercial farms in Serenje district range in size from 150 hectares to more than 5,000 hectares of land.
These ventures are headed up by a broad spectrum of investors, from corporations to family-run farms whose owners live on and work the land directly.
Where is the problem then?
As a media that has covered land scams perennially, the problem is with authorities who have not guided both new land owners and villagers who claim ownership on the procedures on land possession.
We are imploring authorities like the Kawambwa District Commissioner Ivo Mpasa who has understandably expressed surprise at the sudden appearance of a man who is claiming land that has been idle since 1938.
Isn’t this the problem Zambia had shortly after independence when authorities had to grab land that had been lying idle since the settlers who had classified it as crown land were not working it despite claiming ownership?
There should be consideration for families that have lived and farmed for generations on land now allocated to commercial farms since these hapless peasants are being displaced without due process or compensation.
Any one commercial agriculture project, whether a massive investment by foreign investors on tens of thousands of hectares of agricultural land, or smaller land deals on a few hundred to a few thousand hectares, may impact individuals and households.
International standards establish that business enterprises, including commercial farms, have a responsibility to identify, prevent, mitigate, and remedy human rights abuses linked to their operations.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights protects the right to a healthy environment while international and regional human rights law also prohibits forced evictions, and recognizes the rights to food, water, education, and health.
Zambia has ratified human rights treaties and adopted laws and policies that ought to protect rural residents and guide the process of resettlement and compensation.
We feel these rights should be upheld at all costs.