Academic journal article Africa

Forbidden but Not Suppressed: A 'Vernacular' Land Market in Svosve Communal Lands, Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Africa

Forbidden but Not Suppressed: A 'Vernacular' Land Market in Svosve Communal Lands, Zimbabwe

Article excerpt


This article examines the status of land tenure in Zimbabwe following the 'Fast Track' land reforms of 2000-3. It finds that post-reform land tenure remains strongly dualist, with land sales and rental prohibited on the land (about two thirds of the total) classified as 'A1' resettlement or 'communal areas', while tradeable leases apply to much of the remainder, classified as 'commercial land'. The article draws on fieldwork in Svosve Communal Area and on previous studies on land transactions in Zimbabwe to argue that land sales and rental transactions are an enduring feature of land use in Zimbabwe's 'communal areas'. Moreover, the article argues that, despite government prohibition, there is evidence that such transactions are being fuelled by increasing demand for land arising from the collapse in the non-farm economy in Zimbabwe. The article argues that while the logic of informai (or 'vernacular') land sales and rental is widely recognized by land users in communal and resettlement areas, government prohibition, in favour of asserting land allocation rights of customary authorities, is driven by considerations of political control of the rural vote.


Cet article examine l'etat du foncier au Zimbabwe a la suite du programme accelere de reforme fonciere (Fast Track) entre 2000 et 2003. Il constate que le foncier post-reforme reste fortement dualiste, avec d'un cote des terres classees zones << communales >> ou de reinstallation Al (environ un tiers du total) frappees d'une interdiction de vente ou de location, et de l'autre essentiellement des terres << commerciales >> auxquelles s'appliquent des baux negociables. L'article s'appuie sur des travaux menes dans la zone communale de Svosve et sur des etudes precedentes sur les transactions foncieres au Zimbabwe pour soutenir que les transactions de vente et de location foncieres sont une constante de l'utilisation des terres dans les << zones communales >> du Zimbabwe. De plus, l'article soutient qu'en depit de l'interdiction gouvemementale, il semble que ces transactions soient alimentees par la demande croissante de terres resultant de l'effondrement de l'economie non agricole au Zimbabwe. L'article affirme que, alors que la logique de rente et de location fonciere informelle (ou << vernaculaire >>) est largement reconnue par les utilisateurs de terres des zones communales et de reinstallation, l'interdiction gouvernementale qui encourage les autorites coutumieres a revendiquer leurs droits d'affectation des terres est mue par des considerations de controle politique du vote rural.


Between 2000 and 2002 the 'Fast Track' land reform in Zimbabwe saw the transfer of some 9.3 million hectares of white-owned farmland to state ownership for the use of black farmers. The process has been criticized as deploying mob violence to occupy land, as enacting unconstitutional legislation, and as serving to reinforce undemocratic government and undermine human rights (Helium and Derman 2004). Nearly a decade later, the political significance of Zimbabwe's land reform and its consequences for the country's people remains the subject of intense debate (Mamdani 2008; Scarnecchia et al. 2009). It nonetheless appears that the Fast Track reforms marked the end of racialized inequality of control of land that, from 1930 to 1980, had seen half of Zimbabwe's agricultural land owned by European settlers comprising only 5 per cent of the population. However, despite this significant change, and the resettlement of some 134,000 families on former white-owned farmland (Moyo and Yeros 2005: 195), land tenure in Zimbabwe remains strongly 'dualist'. Resettlement areas are clearly designated as either 'A1' or 'A2'. The former consist of 'family plots' (with additional rights to common grazing land) that are inheritable but non-marketable, while on the latter 'commercial farms' are held as 99-year leases, to be used as collateral to secure loans and with a prospect of eventual transfer through a land market. …

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