HARARE - After many years of a chaos-driven, hurried and disorganised handling of the land redistribution issue, officials in charge of the Lands and Rural Resettlement ministry seem to have come up with a plan that will restore a semblance of order.
The proposed land audit comes at an appropriate time and hopefully will make short-shrift of multiple land ownership as well as absentee ownership while landless locals hanker for land.
Almost 15 years on, after the agrarian reform, there has been total anarchy and disorder evidenced by the friction regarding who are the rightful owners of contested pieces of land.
The situation had easily assumed traits of feudalism where the survival of resettled families lay in attaching themselves to powerful land barons.
The introduction of settlement permits now ought to reverse that.
Settlement permits have the potential to clean up some flaws of the haphazard agrarian reforms, essentially offering landholders a sense of security of tenure.
These permits portend real empowerment of landowners, particularly the peasants, against administrative weaknesses emanating from autocratic chiefdom power and the lack a of genuine black land ownership deal.
Chiefs, headmen and village heads have all along been allowed to exercise vicarious authority over rural landowners, burdening subjects with ego-stroking rules and regulations regarding land tenure and ownership.
Erstwhile unwritten laws stipulate that every arable patch belongs to the chief and his henchmen, basically leaving the rural folk at the mercy of the tribal head.
This implies that rural landowners are the traditional chief’s eternal tenants expected to pander to the whims of the chief and often subjected to abuse, lest they be banished from an area.
Among documented abuses of chiefs’ authority are the denial of freedom of association to those who refuse to pay annual “tribal levies” and the banning of community meetings which are not organised without the chief’s say so in some areas.
Basically, settlement permits emasculate and disempower the tribal chief and his henchmen accustomed to abusing age-old vicarious authority.
Rural Zimbabweans have endured inordinate years, scared of transgressing a regime of rigid, primitive and tyrannical regulations imposed by village tin-pot dictators that have often threatened them with eviction.
Quite frankly, the agrarian reform programme has been marred by bureaucrats converting a noble cause into a self-serving enterprise without regard to the economic consequences of their action.
The criteria to own land and merit a settlement permit should strictly impose on beneficiaries an obligation to utilise the land.