Zimbabwe Land Commission: Land Disputes

Land is a crucial resource for the development of any country. This is particularly important in post-independence Zimbabwe, Africa, and the subject of long-standing disputes on a national and local level. Mediation can provide an effective way to reduce the high number and different types of disputes in Zimbabwe.

The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country located in southern Africa, between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers, bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique. The British South Africa Company first demarcated the present territory during the 1890s, and it became the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia in 1923. In 1965, the conservative white minority government unilaterally declared independence as Rhodesia. The state faced international isolation and a 15-year guerrilla war with black nationalist forces that culminated in a peace agreement. The agreement established the independence and  sovereignty of Zimbabwe in April 1980. Robert Mugabe became Prime Minister and later President of Zimbabwe when his party won the elections following the end of white minority rule; he ruled until his resignation in 2017.

Once known as the “Jewel of Africa” for its prosperity, Zimbabwe has struggled to address the agricultural needs of the country. The need to transform land tenure and agrarian structures to provide fair and equitable access to the land remains at the core of the land disputes. Based on political and historical factors related to land re-distributive policies, agricultural land conflicts have severely impacted Zimbabwe’s economy. In 2013, the new Zimbabwean Constitution recognized the need for agricultural re-distribution and dedicated an entire Chapter of the constitution to ‘Agricultural Land.’ Resolving the constitutional questions has helped to clarify the issues regarding land tenure and other land-related disputes.  

CDR’s experience in designing dispute resolution systems in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Liberia provides a lense on common types of land issues. These issues are common in Zimbabwe as well with the preponderance disputes arising due to overlapping boundaries, double occupations (multiple land titles), evictions, illegal allocation of land, lack of clarity regarding gender rights over land, and compensation for state acquired lands. The Zimbabwe Land Commission (ZLC) is dealing with the destabilizing effect of these unaddressed land disputes.

The ZLC was established to “investigate, and determine complaints and disputes” regarding agricultural lands. The ZLC’s broad mandate has been further defined to focus on ensuring ‘equitable’ access to land and expeditiously resolving disputes. As part of a transition from a centralized system, to address at the lowest administration, the ZLC is looking to increase the ability to use mediation at the local level. Chris Moore and Jonathan Bartsch have begun consulting with ZLC on this transition in developing case examples and in delivering a mediation training program in Harare in early March. Next time you see Jonathan, be sure to ask him about his trip!