‘We will overhaul the tenure system’
WE HAVE received over 2000 cases of land disputes and 512 have been resolved. This may appear to be a very small number, but solving land disputes is a very demanding and delicate matter because you are dealing with somebody’s livelihood and heritage, and you have to be very careful.
The mechanism we are using to solve the disputes is called Alternative Dispute Resolution, where all disputants participate in resolving the dispute. It entails all the participants meeting at the same time and providing all relevant information and we will be arbitrating, mediating and conciliating.
This makes the process protracted; it is not an event, but a process.
But the beauty of this method is that once consensus has been reached, the disputants sign a certificate of agreement and that marks the end of the story, because you must remember that these people have to live with each other for the next 99 years.
It is also a cost-effective method and not adversarial in the sense that they are not going to court and (it) brings about a winwin situation.
Sources of disputes
Boundary disputes are the number one source of conflict. We have cases where boundary marks such as beacons or a tree are removed and neighbours begin encroaching on one another’s land.
In such cases, we go on the ground and compare the actual map and the layout given to each farmer. Then a cartographer explains to the farmers the features on the original map and ensures that the farmers agree on the features on the layout map so that there is congruence.
When they have agreed on that, we then use a Plano-meter to measure the boundaries on the layout of each farmer who is contending and when each farmer is agreed that the layout is what is reflected on the parent layout, we then have to walk the boundaries farm-by-farm and then we agree and usually leave a stone so that they can have beacons erected and after that they then sign.
That is why the process is so demanding and protracted. The other source of disputes relates to double allocations.
This arise as a result of the withdrawal of an offer letter from the original beneficiary, with it being offered to someone else.
Again this is a complex matter, because we have to establish why the offer was withdrawn and when the beneficiary first settled on the land.
This is so because there were different policies that were being articulated by Government over a 17-year period, and we have to look at the inconsistencies of the policies.
This is a very delicate process because we need to get information from the Ministry of Lands, and that takes time.
We also have conflicts between miners and farmers and again we have to look at the policies and laws guiding that.
Miners don’t want to give preference to farmers but I think now its law that if mining is 50 metres within the farmstead, then the farmer has first choice.
Then the other disputes we are dealing with are those of sharing infrastructure.
This is particularly prevalent with the A1s where they have to share electricity, dams, servitudes and roads.
Everyone wants to have access to the infrastructure but not everyone wants to pay for the services. Particularly for water and electricity, there are some who pay the bills and some who are not prepared to do so. If the electricity is switched off, then it means production stops for everyone.
The other cases include inheritance issues. Every time we are dealing with a batch of disputes, we always have two or three cases of inheritance disputes where the surviving spouse and the children are being disposed of the farm and household.
The Deceased Estate Act is very clear that the surviving spouse, particularly where there is no will, inherits the farm and the homestead.
This is an area we hope the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development can come in and assist in raising awareness and advocacy.
This is an area that brings a lot of discontent, inequalities and social injustices because sometimes the deceased’s relative will invoke tradition and customary law, yet statutory law is very clear.
The other area pertains to cases where there has been a divorce.
In some cases, the partners, when the union still subsisted, would have invested their resources into the farm and may have disinvested what they had kumusha or in urban areas. So when they divorce, they have to share the property and the farm, and it is very difficult to co-exist with a partner that you no longer have affection for.
That is another area that we think Government should review in order to come up with a better proposition because either way one of them is going to be destitute, particularly in cases where all the investment has been sunk into the farm.
Then the other area of conflict is on illegal settlers who settle on either wetland or grazing land, particularly on A1 schemes. This brings about congestion and hostility.
To sum it up, wherever there is a dispute, you can bet it will disrupt operations and social relations. That is why we opt for ATR so we can restore social relations and also it is cost-effective. On average, we are getting about 300 cases of disputes per month.
And the challenge is that I don’t have enough staff to deal with all the disputes; like I said, the dispute has to be resolved in situ.
Then we don’t have enough vehicles because we have to move from one district or ward to the next; in fact, that is the major challenge we have.
We have been assessing farms submitted to us by the Ministry and during assessment, we have established that the process of acquiring a 99-year lease is very bureaucratic; there are 37 steps to be followed.
And it is also a very expensive process and the farmers feel that the tenure document is too long for them to absorb all the information and their obligations.
Then with the tenure rights, some of the rights are not easily comprehensible.
Some are saying when they take the document to the banks, they cannot access finance and sometimes banks request production plans and collateral.
Complimentary to that is the requirement in the Constitution that we look into the tenure system with the aim of ensuring that the system provides the appropriate rights and that they are simplified.
It is something we are looking at as a Commission and hoping that by the first quarter of next year, we should come up with recommendations of the tenure system and the 99-year lease.
We are researching on it and we are also examining what other countries are doing.
In fact, we just had a team that was in East Africa and they established that in Rwanda, the tenure document is just one page and that the process is not as bureaucratic as it is here. We are likely to have an overhaul of the tenure system.
We understand from what we have gathered from study tours and other best practices that a tenure document should embrace access, occupation, transferability and use.
So that is the framework we will be looking at in processing the tenure document.
The land audit is going to start from the 25th of October (Thursday) to about the 25th of November.
Through the pilot study that we carried out earlier on, we were able to fine-tune the instrument that we are going to use and also ascertain the logistical support required. But the challenge of resources remain. In fact, the foreign currency exchange turbulence that occurred last week destabilised us because we were supposed to take delivery of vehicles from a supplier that had been authorised by Government.
Then the supplier came and said they can’t proceed with the contract because they required foreign currency.
As a result, we are not able to implement the land audit to the scale that we had envisaged unless we have the issue of the foreign currency resolved. So now we have to hire cars and when you hire cars, you reduce the budget you had. We will be going to all the eight provinces (besides Harare and Bulawayo).
For example, in Manicaland we are going to Makoni; in Masvingo to Gutu; in Matabeleland South to Beitbridge; in Matabeleland North to Lupane; in Midlands to Kwekwe; in Mashonaland West to Hurungwe; in Mashonaland Central to Muzarabani; and in Mashonaland East to Hwedza.
We will be auditing all the resettlement models we have, namely: A1, A2, small-scale commercial farmers, three-tier system, commercial farms settlement scheme, commercial agriculture plots and A1 villagised, A1 self-contained and peri-urban farms as well as large-scale commercial farms.
We have developed an instrument that has got 37 questions which more or less covers the complete picture of a farm.
Then as the questionnaire is completed, we will upload all the information into our server and our data capture officers will then analyse the information.
Findings of the audit
It is going to take some time (to conclude the audit) because of lack of resources.
If all goes well and we are given all the resources, we should complete it by the end of next year. But if it fails, the Act provides for us to do it incrementally over a period of five years, but we want to do it earlier so that Government has a land information management system which can help them formulate policies, programmes and strategies to sustain agriculture development.