The Southern Africa Litigation Centre is assisting a group of twelve Lala families from the Ntenge Muchinda Chiefdom of Serenje in Zambia in challenging an order of eviction and the allocation of their customary land to a commercial farmer without their knowledge, consent, or adequate compensation. The families argue that the forced eviction and allocation of their communal land violates their constitutional rights and Zambian law.
Before 1961, the Lala people of the late Senior Chief Muchinda used to live together as a large community near their chief. The population grew, and the chief advised them to find suitable land throughout the chiefdom to occupy and establish villages. The Lala are subsistence farmers. They then settled in land along the streams in the customary land of the chiefdom. Some of the families settled on what is today plot Farm No. F/11081 of the Luombwa farm block of the Ntenge section.
As time passed, the Lala people, specifically those residing in Farm No. F/11081 established that the land they had occupied for a long time was allocated to a commercial farmer named Philip Jan Jackman. They found out that in 2013 the Serenje District Council received an application from Jackman and the Zambia Development Agency recommending that Jackman be allocated the plot Farm No. F/11081 that in 2014, the entire Serenje District Council approved the application despite knowing of their presence in the land following an inspection that the Council conducted.
Including the fact that despite the knowledge that they were present in the land, a letter of recommendation was letter was sent to the Ministry of Lands and on 5 May 2015, the Ministry of Lands sent an offer letter to Jackman for Property No. F/11081 outlining that his application for a farm in the Serenje District was approved for a lease term of 99 years.
After receiving an offer from the Ministry of Lands, Philip Jackmen approached the Subordinate Court of Zambia, seeking eviction and possession of the land F/11081. In Court, Jackmen adduced all documents that showed the land in question was offered to him and was state land. When asked if he received consent from the Chief before his application, Jackman told the Court that he did not get permission from the Chief because the land in question, according to him, was state land and not traditional and as such only state officials could give consent.
While Godwin Mintamwe and 11 other Lala community members explained to the Court that the land in question was indeed traditional land and that it was given to them by the Late Chief Muchinda, they also explained that the late chief left them in the land and even gave them books documenting claims to the land. Two community members even told the Court they had settled on Farm No. F/11081 since 2001 and had a certificate from the chief. The other community member explained that he got the land from the Headman and was advised to see the chief for papers.
Despite the community’s evidence, on 16 September 2015, the court ruled in favour of Jackman and ordered that the families be evicted and compensated at 1000 kwacha per family as repatriation. The court ordered the families to leave the land by 17 October 2015, outlining that a court clerk would check if the order were followed on 26 November 2015.
In the High Court
On 12 October 2015, Godwin Mintanme and 11 others filed a notice of appeal and, subsequently, a stay of execution of the judgment. In their appeal application, they argue, among other things, that the allocation of their land without their consultation and any form of compensation violated their rights, specifically that:
- The government and the deceased Senior Chief Muchinda neither consulted nor obtained consent from them, contrary to the law requiring that those interested must be consulted and consent before customary land is converted and allocated.
- The state and Jackman have turned them into squatters on their own land and have denied them adequate compensation.
- The respondents have violated the appellants’ customary rights and their right to dignity.
- The State and Jackman have violated the appellants’ customary rights and their right to dignity and freedom to liberty by preventing them from using their land as they wish.
- Jackman and the states’ actions amount to the compulsory acquisition of their customary land, given that the mandatory legal procedures were not followed.
The appeal case was heard on 5 July 2019, and we await judgment.