Communal Land in Zimbabwe: Legal Framework, Rights, and Ownership
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Communal Land in Zimbabwe: Legal Framework, Rights, and Ownership

The issue of evictions in Zimbabwe has been a topic of much discussion and debate recently. Communal land, in particular, has been at the center of these conversations. But what exactly is communal land, and who owns it?

In Zimbabwe, communal land doesn't have a single owner in the traditional sense. Instead, it falls under the authority of the president, who has the power to allow its occupation and use according to the Communal Land Act. Legally, communal land is distinct from state-owned land, and the president acts more as a custodian overseeing its distribution.

According to the Zimbabwe Constitution, communal land is defined as land set aside by an Act of Parliament and held according to customary law by members of a community under the leadership of a chief. This definition is important because it excludes communal land from certain legal classifications, such as agricultural land subject to redistribution.

The Communal Land Act also provides a historical context, stating that communal land consists of areas previously designated as tribal trust land under specific legislation. This land was vested in the president under the Tribal Trust Land Act.

For the people living on communal land, these legal distinctions have significant implications for their rights:

1. Recognizable Rights: The Constitution recognizes the rights of individuals or communities living on communal land, ensuring their customary-law rights are protected.

2. Protection from Expropriation: Communal land is not considered agricultural land for the purposes of state expropriation or redistribution, safeguarding residents from forced removal.

3. Property Rights: Residents have property rights over communal land, which can only be limited or taken away under specific circumstances outlined in the Constitution. Any deprivation of property must be justified and compensated fairly.

The management of communal land involves a complex interplay between traditional leaders and elected rural local governments. Traditional leaders historically played a significant role in allocating and managing communal land, but recent legislation has also empowered rural local governments in this regard.

This overlapping jurisdiction has led to conflicts and power struggles between traditional leaders and elected officials, especially in resettlement areas created after land reforms in the early 2000s. In these areas, disputes over land allocation and management are common, with traditional leaders sometimes acting independently of government authorities.