Customary land acquisition needs policy
Published On January 7, 2014 » 6241 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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By JULIUS PHIRI –

CUSTOMARY land in Zambia has continued to provide opportunities for many rural settlers that are now able to achieve meaningful lives and contribute to the development of the country.

All land in Zambia was vested in the President who holds it in trust for and on behalf of the 13 million people.

This means that if the total landmass of the country was divided against the population, every Zambian would have at least twelve acres of land.

The Head of State has in turn delegated administration of land to the Commissioner of Lands for state land and traditional leaders for customary land.

According to the Lands Act of 1995, this does not expressly define customary tenure but provides for the recognition of customary tenure as a form of landholding in the country.

Although, customary land tenure appears informal in most respects, it was a legally recognised system of landholding in Zambia.

Zambia’s land administration was based on a dual tenure system which meant leasehold and customary tenure.

Official statistics indicate that customary land constituted 94 per cent of the total land area of Zambia while leasehold tenure only covers six per cent.

In reality, however, customary land was not as large as official measures were indicating as the statistics have been updated since the 1950s.

In areas where customary land in Zambia is recognised, individual ownership, concurrent interests and communal interests were also recognised.

Individual ownership means that the landholder or occupant has more rights and interests in the land than any other person.

Chief Madzimawe of the Ngoni speaking people of Eastern Province said the role of the chief was to regulate the acquisition and use of land.

For example, in Nyimba District which is home to more than 80,000 people, the district has seen a rise in demand for traditional land by the elite who have the bargaining and buying it.

Most of the people were on untitled land and were given at the mercy of the traditional leaders who cannot move them anytime.

These people have lived on the land for generations but yet they do not have security over their land.

According to the Zambia Land Alliance communications and networking officer Mercy Nyangu, since then a lot of customary land has been converted to statutory tenure as either state farms, private commercial farms, Game Management Areas (GMAs), mines including residential plots.

Ms Nyangu said land was a very important resource and forms the basis of all human survival in terms of social and economic advancement.

Zambia’s land administration system faces various challenges which have made it difficult for the majority of the people to acquire and secure land.

Currently, Zambia covers a total area of 752,612 square kilometres and is administratively divided into ten provinces namely, Central, Copperbelt, Lusaka, Western, Luapula, Northern, Northwestern, Eastern, Southern and Muchinga.

In late 1890’s when the British colonised Zambia, they introduced English land tenure system which was subsequently codified into an Act that governs the entire country.

Before the introduction of the English law, land in Zambia was administered according to the African customary law.

According to Chipata District Land Alliance coordinator, Allan Kasongo, the customs and traditions upon which land was administered varied from chiefdom to chiefdom due to the multiplicity of tribes in the country.

“The introduction of the English law created a dual land tenure system. These systems to date run parallel to each other,” he said.

There were, however, many challenges that existed particularly for the people in Zambia, namely the large-scale land purchases, long term leases, land disputes and displacements.

It had been argued that lack of title in customary land brought about insecurity because rights over land were not recognised and protected by law.

The acquisition of the land was one other facet that had brought an increase in poor tenure insecurity.

Last year, former Wusakile member of Parliament Barnabas Chellah was allegedly killed over a land dispute. If there had been proper management of the land dispute, the loss of life could have been avoided.

The Zambia Land Alliance executive director Henry Machina said it was unfortunate that lives have continued to be lost over land disputes.

Mr Machina said there was need to establish a land policy that would give guidance on land acquisition and ownership.

Recently, Lands Minister Harry Kalaba imposed the ban on the sale of the customary land which was not preventing the foreign investors in the acquisition of the land.

Mr Kalaba said that foreign investors, provided they adhered to the laid down procedures, would still be given an opportunity to continue with their investments.
“It is those who are making short-cuts who will not proceed in that manner. What we have seen in the past is a trend where people just went to traditional leaders and agreed with chiefs and bought thousands of hectares of land which is not permissible within the confines of the law. So they should avoid short-cuts because they will cut you short, follow the right procedure and the Government will ensure that the environment which is investor-friendly is sustained,” he said.

The minister said the Government was concerned with the alienation of the customary land by the traditional leaders.

Following the ban, some chiefs including Chief Madzimawe appealed to the Government to engage all chiefs in continuous dialogue to address land administration issues and discuss the implication of the ban.

The Zambia Land Alliance believes that customary land tenure should continue to exist as such, there was need to clearly define how customary land should be administered, create checks and balances in the whole system land tenure system.

Usually, the customary land was favouring the rural poor who may not have the bargaining power to get the statutory title.

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