ZAMBIA: PREVENTING THE DISPLACEMENT OF RURAL WOMEN FROM THEIR CUSTOMARY LAND

> WOMEN'S LAND AND PROPERTY RIGHTS, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND RULE OF LAW, ONGOING CASES > ZAMBIA, REGIONAL
Salc : Staff Writer

SALC is assisting the Munte Community of Senior Chief Muchinda (the Community) with retaining the land they have occupied and farmed for generations. The Community is challenging the allocation by the local land authority to commercial farmers without consultation or compensation.

In 1995, a businessman (1st Respondent) was engaged to construct a bridge across Munte River and was allocated land in Munte Farm Block by the local authority. The Community was not aware of his application and allocation of the land as Munte Farm Block is far from land they occupied. Later in 1999, Senior Chief Muchinda authorised the 1st Respondent to settle as a commercial famer along the Munte River. From that time until 2014, the Community was aware only that the 1st Respondent was a local resident who has been given a small plot of farm land by their Chief as any villager would.

In 2014, the Community first learned that the 1st Respondent was in fact claiming the entire land they occupied. Unbeknownst to the Community, the 1st Respondent had been issued a Certificate of Title on 10 July 2013. On 8 September 2014, members of the Community met with several local government officials to discuss the issue. According to the Community, the result of this meeting was the demarcation of the 1st Respondent’s land as part of the Nansanga Farm Block and without disturbing the land a majority of the community occupied and farmed. At this time, the entire land claimed by 1st Respondent was already part of the Nansanga Farm Block. The Community thought that the issue had been resolved amicably.

In 2016, a commercial farmer (2nd Respondent) arrived in the area and informed the Community that he had purchased the land from the 1st Respondent and that he owned all of the land occupied by the Community. It was at this time that the Community learned that their customary land had been converted to state land as part of the Nansanga Farm Block and that a Certificate of Title was issued to the 1st Respondent in 2013.

On 8 November 2016, another meeting was held where the District Commissioner told the community members that the 2nd Respondent did own the entire land and that they were to vacate the land within two weeks.

In December 2016, in the company of armed police officers, the 2nd Respondent used a bulldozer to demarcate a boundary line and then informed the petitioners that they had to vacate by April 2017. The 2nd Respondent has since started erecting poles along the boundary for purposes of building a wire fence that would enclose the entire land.

The Human Rights Watch reported this case as the Badcock Farm in its October 2017 report on Commercial Farmers and Displacement in Zambia.

On 29 November 2017, the community members filed their case in the Lusaka High Court challenging the taking of their land without consultation or compensation.

If displaced, the affected community will lose access to the land they depend on for their livelihood as farmers and could face criminal trespass charges if they attempt to re-enter their customary land. In addition, if the surrounding forest is fenced off, the community will also lose access to many resources they rely on.

SALC is supporting the petitioners in arguing that these actions have violated several of their constitutional rights including the right to property, dignity, life necessities, and freedom of movement. Furthermore, the petitioners are challenging the compulsory acquisition of their customary land without following the mandatory legal procedures and providing them with adequate compensation. In addition, that certain sections of the Lands and Deed Registry Act disadvantage those communities who enjoy customary land rights contrary to article 23 of the Constitution. Besides, the petitioners are seeking the cancellation of the Certificate of Title issued in this matter on the basis that it was issued by fraud, mistake or misrepresentation.

If allowed to continue, the actions of the Respondents in this matter pose a particular threat to women’s property rights. The Community belongs to the Lala ethnic group whereby land is inherited by daughters, and upon marriage a man is expected to move to his wife’s land. Women’s land rights are guaranteed under Lala customs and traditions. If the Community is evicted from their customary land, it is women who would lose their land which would have otherwise been protected under their traditional laws.

The Community is represented by Malambo and Company. The matter is scheduled for hearing on 31 August 2018.

CASE SUMMARY