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Zim and region women prefer customary land tenure system



WOMEN in Zimbabwe and three other countries in the region, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa, prefer to live under customary land tenure systems as they consider them more stable, adaptable, cheaper and dynamic to support a diverse range of land-based livelihoods for the poor and vulnerable than others in their relevant environments.


In a presentation titled The Formalisation of Customary Land Rights and Its Implications for Women’s Land Tenure Security and Livelihoods at a recent regional land policy conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Zimbabwean academic Dr Phillan Zamchiya (pictured) said while there are several land tenure systems which can be adopted, Zimbabwean women and their regional counterparts say they are happier under living customary land tenure systems.

“What then is the alternative? What did the women say?,” Zamchiya said. “They prefer to live under customary tenure because most female respondents considered it as: cheaper because they did not have to pay council rates; part of their heritage; dynamic to support a diverse range of land-based livelihoods for the poor and vulnerable; adaptable and flexible, which worked well for the poor and future generations; and capable of providing cheap and easy access to alternative dispute mechanisms.”

The research was done by Zamchiya and his colleagues at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape under a project conceived in 2020 to investigate how and why the formalisation of customary land rights is affecting tenure security for women living in rural areas in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia and the relational intellectual research and policy advocacy.

Most countries, including in the global north, are struggling with how to reform tenure systems to improve security for all, especially women, and deepen democracy in the process.
A number of global instruments have been put in place to secure women’s land rights .
Zamchiya said women in the region want the customary land tenure system to remain in place.

“Across the four countries, the majority of female respondents (81.4%) preferred to live under customary tenure compared to statutory leaseholds. The distribution per country is as follows: Mozambique (68.2%), South Africa (90.5%), Zambia (75%) and Zimbabwe (92%),” he said.

However, women said they still want an overhaul of patriarchal norms and practices and land governance institutions within customary tenure systems to be more democratic, inclusive, gender equitable and accountable.

“Few female respondents preferred formal titling because to them it is less open to patriarchal and state abuse once rights are agreed,” he said.

“Women disgruntled with the customary tenure systems are mainly widows without children, single women without children, and divorcees who are usually treated unfairly by traditional leaders and community members and the rich who could afford new rates.”

Zamchiya’s presentation come with some policy recommendations:

  • Provide for more explicit legal and social recognition and respect for customary land rights holders — both women and men — and their rights to use, access, control, own, and transfer land and other natural resources. This requires changing the colonial mindset of distorted versions of customary law and amending land laws and policies to shift the balance of power and authority over land to women and men, families, and members of the community living on customary land from traditional leaders, the executive and rural district councils;
  • Legally recognise existing traditional and good faith occupation by individuals (women and men), families, and local communities who have been using customary land for at least 10 years; and
  • Establish a property rights framework with secure land rights for different categories of women le- gally equivalent to those of men and provide clarity on the shared land rights between women and men — that is, not undermined by other laws such as marital, family, succession and inheritance, and patriarchal practices.

Individualisation might work in some cases, but where there are other family members with rights both residential and arable land rights should be vested in families to avoid possible exclusion of other users — especially women and children — by one individual. On the other hand, common property resources should be vested in members of the community.

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