Land Reform and Rural Transformation in SADC

The May 2018 issue focuses on the different approaches to African land reform and rural transformation – What are the different approaches to land governance and land reform in SADC? what are the common colonial histories in SADC and how did the colonialists influence land governance in SADC? how have different governments in SADC approached land governance in the post-colonial period? what is different in the post-colonial period?




Headline Story by Serge Hadisi and Nomawethu Ndondo

Land Reform and Rural Transformation in SADC

The SADC region represents close to a third of the total African land mass.[1] However, only 25% of SADC land mass is arable and 6% is being farmed.[2] This implies that SADC has a great deal of untapped potential in agricultural production, jobs creation and to achieve food security at national and regional levels. However, land reform is vital to enable growth in agricultural production and ensure political, social and economic stability in the region. Yet the region continues to fail in its quest to use these land resources in an efficient, equitable and sustainable manner for poverty reduction and wealth creation.

Unequal land distribution remains one of the biggest challenges faced by most SADC countries, due to the colonial legacy of land dispossession which disenfranchised the native majority populations. This left most SADC economies and land in the ownership of small domestic elites and colonial settlers. In most cases, land was predominantly communally-owned and freely accessible to all members of the community administrated by traditional leaders and controlled by the chief.[3] During the colonial period land was dispossessed from Africans and reserved for colonial settlers who had supreme rights over the land and natural resources.[4] In the post-colonial period, unfortunately, at national and regional level, it seems that there has been no clear framework or policies and strategies to return land to the ownership of Africans, and to address the issue of unequal distribution of land.

Agriculture and other land-based means of production remain the primary livelihoods for most people in SADC, particularly rural citizens, and will continue to be so until the industrial and service sectors provide alternative opportunities for sustainable (rural) livelihoods.[5] Apart from supporting livelihoods, land reform also plays a vital role in rural transformation, because it can empower rural citizens to increase their productivity and improve their standards of living. SADC countries have adopted different approaches in response to the land question and resolving land reform challenges. Countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique have all taken somewhat unique approaches to land administration and land reform. The three can be categorised as follows, in terms of land administration: South Africa predominantly provides for freehold and some communal land rights (mainly rural), whilst Zimbabwe provides a mixed system of freehold and leasehold land rights, and Mozambique is slowly transitioning from a predominantly leasehold system towards freehold land rights.  So how do the different approaches to land reform affect rural transformation and facilitate improvement in the living conditions for people in the SADC region?

The SADC region is affected by the consequences of unjust colonial land policies, such as mass land dispossession from indigenous African people and legal dualism where, a minority of white people who owned a vast majority of arable land were more productive, while the majority of black people owned large unproductive communal lands were designated by colonial law.[6] Colonisation was essentially conquest of Africa for land and natural resources to support the expansion of European capitalism following the peak of the industrial revolution.[7] Destroying the pre-existing systems of land rights in Africa and replacing it with a capitalist-based land rights systems was a major objective of colonial rule. Pre-colonial land rights were guided by customary law based on individual, family and clans or tribal claims on land.[8] However, colonial power dismissed the customary or communal claims to land replacing it with individual claims to land. This allowed colonial settlers to acquire the legal and moral rights to land, and provided them with a reason to forcibly expropriate land from African people given that none of the land was privately owned.[9] During colonialism, most of the land belonged to the colonial settlers and the indigenous people worked those lands to make profits for their settlers.[10]

The battle for land by the indigenous people who suffer the injustice of past and present land expropriation and other forms of exclusion, has sparked political conflict across SADC.[11] Restitution of land to indigenous peoples has always been the solution to restore the dignity of indigenous Africans, building social cohesion and strengthening national unity. However, land reform has always been slow and treated with caution due to political, social and economic implications.[12] Conflict over land has been aggravated by land scarcity caused by high demand of new commodity markets such as phosphate mining, biofuel production or renewable energy; growing population; urbanisation; expansion of crop cultivation; land degradation and water scarcity.[13] These challenges have led to rising property prices and a concentration of ownership by certain groups of local elites, to the detriment of poor communities and vulnerable groups.[14]

Colonialism and Land Reform: The Cases of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique
Despite the differences of approach to land reform, the central contention has been about how post-colonial governments can expropriate land from colonial white owners and reinstate it to the victims of colonial dispossession. The central issue here is justice, even though land reform has become increasingly justified through the economic rationale of dealing with inequality and empowering indigenous Africans.

In South Africa land reform has been confined by the 1996 constitution which acknowledges customary land rights and reinforces private property rights. This implied, that government should compensate current claimants through the mechanism of “willing buyer – willing seller” on a market based approach, which contradicts the vision contained in the Constitution. Land reform and restitution have been very slow and achieved mixed results. For example, between 1994 and 2015, approximately 5 million hectares, averaging 238 000 hectares per year have been delivered under the land redistribution programme. To date, 72% of farms and freehold land is owned by whites, followed by coloured 15%, Indian 5%, and African 4%  on the total of 37 031 283 hectares.[15]

In Zimbabwe, government plans at land restitution were overtaken by sporadic land grabs which resulted in the international sanctions and economic isolation of Zimbabwe.[16] Land invasion was spearheaded by war veterans and landless peasants. The ruling party ZANU-PF later endorsed and approved the land invasion through the so called “Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP)”. For example, 168 671 families received land, of which 145 775 were landless; families received small farms and 22 896 were black farmers who benefited from the FTLRP.[17] This scenario proved to be costly for the agricultural sector and the Zimbabwe economy as a whole, due to international sanctions and weakening of agricultural production.[18] The issue of land reform was exploited by the ZANU-PF government in order to gain populist support from Zimbabweans and war veterans, who were leading the country-wide attacks on white-owned commercial farms.[19]

Meanwhile Mozambique passed a decree passing ownership of all land to the government and establishing a leasehold system of land administration, however, this is slowly being replaced by a freehold-based system in order to attract foreign investors to the country.[20] After the end of the 17-year civil war in Mozambique in 1992, the government led by FRELIMO, initiated and adopted the 1997 Land Law, which aimed to protect the best interest of communities and facilitate investors’ access to land.[21] The policy aimed at increasing productive land to reduce poverty and support national development by fast-tracking private investment. However, the Mozambican state remains the sole owner of the land.[22]

Current Land Reform: Bottlenecks, Rural Transformation and Distribution of Income
Land reform aims is to foster national development and prosperity through access to land and security of tenure for poorer citizens and victims of colonial land or state-led dispossession. In addition, land reform has increasingly been used to encourage investments in rural areas to enable rural transformation.[23] However, land reform progress has been slow and implementation has been poor, given the number targets which have not been achieved in order to address colonial injustices. Lack of adequate budget allocation for land reform, limited post-settlement support for the beneficiaries and smallholder farmers, and lack of technical support are the main stumbling blocks for SADC land reform.[24] Consequently, large-scale commercial farming remains mostly owned by colonial settlers who monopolised large tracts of fertile and productive land, sometimes benefiting from state subsidies, and maintaining their competitive advantage over indigenous smallholder farmers.[25]

The unclear role and influence of customary land administration systems is another major obstacle of land reform. In many instances land is controlled by traditional authorities and distributed through customary practices, which disadvantages women in most cases, affecting livelihoods and the distribution of wealth, particularly in rural areas. These customary practices and their influence on land administration and distribution of land are often unresolved by current approaches to land reform. As a result, there are still many contradictions between national policies or formal legislation and customary law.[26] The role of women and their control over rural livelihoods and rural transformation remain undermined, by being subjected to discriminatory customary practices. In many instances women can only gain access to land through the name of their spouses.[27] Regional policies and strategies at the SADC level have enabled programmes to build gender capacity and provide training to address these gender gaps.[28] The issue of race and class struggle also overshadows land reform. The concentration of land in minority groups or certain elites has led to the dominance of market-based land administration, without any progress in terms of land reform, which reinforces minority interests and undermines the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people who depend on land. All these constraints have affected progress in land reform and rural transformation. Without equitable distribution of land, income continues to be unequally distributed whilst landlessness has the worst effect on poor and vulnerable people in the region.

The different land reform approaches have yielded very little in terms of addressing the issues of colonial land dispossession, rural transformation and economic development. Although limited, Mozambique seemed to have made some progress in terms of promoting land redistribution, agricultural development, and rural transformation. It has been estimated that over 1 million hectares have been acquired and leased to investors for farming activities.[29] Between 2004 and 2009, approximately 2 670 000 hectares were leased to 405 projects.[30] The land deals from 2000 to 2014 covered about 2.4 million hectares in Mozambique. However, land cannot be privately owned or traded, and companies can only hold long- or short-term usage rights of the land.[31] Despite this, equitable redistribution of land among the population remains limited. This land strategy was considered important for agriculture and the basic element for development.[32] However, the challenge with this approach is the significance of state control, which can serve narrow elite interests. This approach would require a strong state that is insulated from private interests, in order to bring positive policy change in terms of land possession.

SADC governments have been vocal and persistent in their quest for land reform. A number of different strategies have been undertaken with the aim of empowering indigenous people and victims of colonial land dispossession. Although indigenous people have received land, the bulk of land is in the hands of a few elites and minority colonial settlers. Increased pressure to attract foreign investors has also created a dual focus for governments, which has reinforced market-based approaches to policy-making. This has reduced the chance for poor and vulnerable people to access land. Racial discrimination, unemployment and poverty and inequality continue to prevail in SADC countries and these conditions are linked to the land reform failure. The lack of coherent policies between state government and traditional authorities undermines land reform. The incoherencies between government policies or formal legislation and customary law, undermine security of land tenure due to customary practices in land administration. This has resulted in rent-seeking behaviour, clientelism, and continued exclusion of the majority population from land ownership.

To improve progress towards land reform in the SADC region, governments need to increase efficiency and transparency in land administration, and improve security of tenure through supporting laws to formalise tenure rights for communal land. Improved security of tenure will enable rural citizens to use their land as collateral to access financing which will help to reduce poverty. SADC countries need to establish clear policies and institutional frameworks to implement coherent land polices at the regional and national level. The policies should not undermine the political and economic objectives at the country level, but also promote sustainable rural transformation and agricultural development by increasing competitiveness and encouraging specific value-chains in the region. However, no land will be productive without ensuring that rural citizens have the necessary business and technical skills to economically sustain their agricultural enterprises. It is one thing to empower citizens with land, but another to enable them with skills and capital to work that land.

[1] SADC 2012. ‘Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan’. Available At: [Last Accessed: 12 January 2018].

[2] SADC 2012. ‘Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan’, ibid.

[3] ECA 2004. ‘Land Tenure Systems and Sustainable Development in Southern Africa’, UN Economic Commission for Africa: Lusaka. Available At: [Last Accessed: 5 February 2018].

[4] ECA 2004. ‘Land Tenure Systems and Sustainable Development in Southern Africa’, ibid.

[5] Moyo, S. 2007. ‘The Land Question in Southern Africa’, Human Sciences Research Council Press: Cape Town. Available At: [Last Accessed: 11 December 2017].

[6] Nkanyiso, S. 2010. ‘Where Zimbabwe Got it Wrong – Lessons for South Africa: A Comparative Analysis of the Politics of Land Reform in Zimbabwe and South Africa’, Stellenbosch University: Stellenbosch. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018]; Moyo, S. 2007. ‘The Land Question in Southern Africa’, ibid.

[7] Boahen, A.A. 1987. African Perspectives on Colonialism, John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 133 pages. Reviewed by Siyaduma Biniza. Available At: [Last Accessed: 18 April 2018].

[8] Smith, H. and Wicomb, W. 2014. ‘Customary Law and the Protection of Community Rights to Resources’, Legal Resources Centre: Johannesburg. Available At: [Last Accessed: 17 January 2014].

[9] Smith, H. and Wicomb, W. 2014. ‘Customary Law and the Protection of Community Rights to Resources’, ibid.

[10] Mashimbye, R. 2017. ‘The Role of the Southern African Development Community in Conflict Resolution: The Case of Zimbabwe from 2002 to 2014’, University of Pretoria: Pretoria. Available At: [Last Accessed: 5 February 2018].

[11] Mashimbye, R. 2017. ‘The Role of the Southern African Development Community in Conflict Resolution…’, ibid.

[12] Mashimbye, R. 2017. ‘The Role of the Southern African Development Community in Conflict Resolution…’, ibid.

[13] Knight, R.S. 2010. ‘Statutory Recognition of Customary Land Rights in Africa: An Investigation into Best Practices’, Food and Agriculture Organisation: Rome. Available At:  [Last Accessed: 17 January 2018]; ECA 2004. ‘Land Tenure Systems and Sustainable Development in Southern Africa’, ibid.

[14] Knight, R.S. 2010. ‘Statutory Recognition of Customary Land Rights in Africa: An Investigation into Best Practices’, ibid

[15] DRDLR 2017. ‘Land Audit Report 2017’, Department of Rural Development and Land Reform: Pretoria. Available At: [Last accessed: 15 April 2018].

[16] Mutasa, C. 2015. ‘A Brief History of Land in Zimbabwe:1890-Today’, on the Focus on Land in Africa Website, viewed on15 April 2018, from; Nkanyiso, S. 2010. ‘Where Zimbabwe Got it Wrong…’, ibid.

[17] Mutasa, C. 2015. ‘A Brief History of Land in Zimbabwe:1890-Today’, ibid; Mutandwa, G and Chiumia. 2014. ‘Did 300,000 Families Benefit from Zimbabwe’s Post-1999 Land Reforms? Official Data Says No’, on the Africa Check Website, viewed on 15 April 2018, from; Moyo, S. 2011. ‘Three Decades of Agrarian Reform in Zimbabwe’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 38(3), pp.: 493-531. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[18] Moyo, S. 2007. ‘The Land Question in Southern Africa’, ibid; Peterson, A.C. 2012. ‘A Legal Standard for Post-Colonial Land Reform’, Sustainable Development Law & Policy, 13(1), pp.: 21-28, 60-63. Available At: [Last Accessed: 5 February 2018].

[19] Mashimbye, R. 2017. ‘The Role of the Southern African Development Community in Conflict Resolution…’, ibid.
[20] USAID 2016. Property Rights and Resource Governance: Mozambique. United States Agency for International Development: Washington, D.C. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[21] Kleinbooi, K. 2010. ‘Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa’, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies: Cape Town. Available At: [Last Accessed: 11 December 2017]; LANDac 2012. ‘Food Security and Land Governance Factsheet: Uganda, Netherlands Land Academy: Utrecht. Available At:  [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[22] Kleinbooi, K. 2010. ‘Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa’, ibid; van den Brink, R.J.E. 2008. Land Reform in Mozambique, World Bank Group: Washington, D.C. Available At: [Last Accessed: 11 December 2018]; Norfolk, S and Liversage, H. 2002. ‘Land Reform and Poverty Alleviation in Mozambique’, Southern African Regional Poverty Network. Available At: [Last Accessed: 5 February 2018].

[23] Kleinbooi, K. 2010. ‘Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa’, ibid.; Knight, R.S. 2010. ‘Statutory Recognition of Customary Land Rights in Africa…’, ibid.

[24] Kleinbooi, K. 2010. ‘Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa’, ibid.; Knight, R.S. 2010. ‘Statutory Recognition of Customary Land Rights in Africa…’, ibid.; Moyo, S. 2007. ‘The Land Question in Southern Africa’, ibid.; Hall, R and Kepe, T. 2017. ‘Elite Capture and State Neglect: New Evidence on South Africa’s Land Reform’, Review of African Political Economy, 44(151). pp.: 122-130. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[25] Hall, R. and Kepe, T. 2017. ‘Elite Capture and State Neglect: New Evidence on South Africa’s Land Reform’, ibid.
[26] Knight, R.S. 2010. ‘Statutory Recognition of Customary Land Rights in Africa…’, ibid.; Smith, H. and Wicomb, W. 2014. ‘Customary Law and the Protection of Community Rights to Resources’, ibid.; Kleinbooi, K. 2010. ‘Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa’, ibid.

[27] Knight, R.S. 2010. ‘Statutory Recognition of Customary Land Rights in Africa…’, ibid.; Smith, H. and Wicomb, W. 2014. ‘Customary Law and the Protection of Community Rights to Resources’, ibid.; Kleinbooi, K. 2010. ‘Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa’, ibid.

[28] SADC 2012. ‘Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan’, ibid.

[29] Glover, S., Salvucci, V., and Jones, S. 2016. ‘Where is Commercial Farming Expanding in Mozambique?’, UN World Institute for Development Economics Research: Washington, D.C. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[30] Glover, S., Salvucci, V., and Jones, S. 2016. ‘Where is Commercial Farming Expanding in Mozambique?’, ibid.

[31] Glover, S., Salvucci, V., and Jones, S. 2016. ‘Where is Commercial Farming Expanding in Mozambique?’, ibid.

[32] Mandamule, U. 2017. ‘Land and Poverty Conference 2017: Responsible Land Governance—Towards an Evidence-Based Approach’, Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, World Bank Group: Washington, D.C. March.

Industry Spotlight by Grace Nsomba and Michael Andina

Water-Energy-Food Nexus

Access to water, energy and food is of critical importance for socioeconomic development, environmental sustainability, improving household livelihoods and ensuring sustainable growth. In addition the relationship between these three is often referred to as the water, energy and food (WEF) nexus because they have many linkages and interdependencies. For example, food security is affected by accessibility of water to grow crops and energy to process the crops. The importance of the WEF nexus demands an integrated approach in order to manage and develop these three facets of human survival. The WEF nexus is illustrated in the diagram below.

Water-Energy-Food Nexus
Figure 1: Water-Energy-Food Nexus (Source: United Nations University)

The WEF nexus is particularly important in the SADC region due to socioeconomic vulnerability, varying or extreme weather conditions, and economic dependence on agriculture and mining.[1] For instance, hydroelectric power contributed 99% of the electricity supply in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho and Malawi in 2014[2], which makes water a vital component of both food and energy productions. In addition, these conditions increase competition between the different uses of water which has socioeconomic consequences, i.e.  Where countries have varying demand, needs and uses of water resources where one relies more on using it for food production while the other draws out more water for electricity production that takes up more of the resource.

The WEF nexus and cross-sectoral linkages means that poorly coordinated development and management in one sector has the capacity to negatively affect other sectors.[3] It is therefore imperative to find innovative ways to balance competing needs between the WEF sectors to promote socioeconomic development, while at the same time ensuring that development of one sector does not negatively influence the others.[4] The WEF framework is a useful tool to understand the cross-sectoral linkages and develop more effective policies based on this understanding.

Optimal water management supports SADC objectives of poverty reduction, food security, energy security and industrial development.[5] Water is therefore considered to be at the center of core SADC goals of integration and cooperation. The unequal distribution of water resources is a central challenge amongst other factors prohibiting SADC countries from achieving a well-integrated regional water resource management system, which feeds into food and energy security. Water resources are unequally distributed across the region because most of the region’s water resources are concentrated in shared watercourses which cut across countries with varying social, economic, legal and political conditions.[6]  Differences in land governance across member states and the lack of an integrated policy and regulatory framework for the management of water resources makes it difficult for countries to agree on regional water resource management.

Malawi is an extreme case illustrating the importance of the WEF nexus due to its high reliance on groundwater for its food production and energy generation. The Malawian government water management strategy is focused on the Lake Malawi-Shire River System water resources in order to provide water for a number of productive purposes including agriculture, hydroelectricity generation, tourism and urban and rural water supply. Approximately 85% of the Malawian population resides in rural areas, with their main activity being agriculture accounting for over 80% of employment and accounting for over a third of GDP.[7]  As such access to land for arable farming is very important to provide food security for the rural communities. The food sector is the largest consumer of water with approximately 79% of water used annually for irrigation.[8] Such a high dependency on water can leave the agriculture activities prone to seasonal changes such as droughts or floods, affecting communities around the river, including the destruction of the much needed infrastructure. This impacts on the livelihoods of the rural communities highly dependent on agriculture as their main economic activity.  Rural transformation should be carried out taking into account the balance between the supply of natural resources and human demand on the environment to promote sustainability.

However, Malawian electricity utility ESCOM is close to meeting its maximum capacity given the little room between national capacity of 326MW and the maximum demand of 330MW in 2017.[9] Malawi’s peak electricity demand is projected to increase to 953MW by 2023. This means that ESCOM will be under pressure to meet demand in future. However, it is unlikely that ESCOM will be able to meet this demand given its low net earnings of USD 10.5 million in 2017.[10] The infrastructure investment gap would far outweigh the income that ESCOM is generating which requires government to intervene. Moreover, Malawi needs to diversify its electricity mix given that hydroelectricity accounts for 95.9% of total existing power stations generation capacity.[11]

As a largest land-based water resource in the SADC region, the Zambezi basin is home to about 40 million people who rely on the river for drinking water, irrigation, and hydropower production.[12] It is also a source of tourism attraction for tourists coming to see the Victoria Falls, Okavango delta and wildlife living along the river banks.[13] It covers 1.37 million km2, which is about 4.5% of the area of the continent.[14] The Zambezi basin spreads across Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. SADC has been tasked with implementing the transboundary water management of the Zambezi amongst its 8 member states. However, the process is challenged by members’ competing water needs, competing interests, differences in human capital and financial resources, as well as weak stakeholder participation.[15]  In order to effectively deal with the conflict between human and ecosystem water resource needs, SADC have to consider the impact of both climate change and rural transformation.

The Zambezi basin plays an important socio-economic role as it provides the communities along the basin with water to generate both energy and for irrigation, as well as the energy needed to supply water and produce food. Therefore agriculture as the main activity along the basin is boasted for sustainable production, especially for countries like Malawi. For the Zambezi basin as a whole, the water requirements are much less than the water availability. Attention has to be paid, however, to the Chobe tributary, originating in Angola and shared by Angola, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. The Zambezi River entering Zambia from Angola in the north has an annual discharge of 18 km3, which is twice the volume needed to irrigate the 700000 ha potential of Angola. The Chobe tributary, however, has a discharge of only 1.3 km3/year when leaving Angola, so if a large part of the irrigation potential area of 700000 ha in Angola or if part of the irrigation potential of 159000 ha in the upper Zambezi basin in Zambia is located in this sub-basin, problems may arise for Namibia and Botswana, even though irrigation potential there is very limited compared to the other countries. Further downstream, no particular problems are expected in terms of water resources.[16] However, water regulation would be necessary for full development of the potential.

The WEF nexus is undoubtedly of key importance for land resource management and rural transformation. Meeting of basic human needs, enabling alternative livelihoods and contributing to national development are all linked to the nexus, particularly in the African context. However, without clear linkages between individual national objectives of SADC member states to regional goals, the relationship between food, water and energy cannot be meaningfully exploited for the sake of rural transformation.

[1] Conway, D., van Garderen, E.A., Deryng, D., Dorling, S., Krueger, T., Landman, W., Lankfort, B., Lebel, K., Ringler, C., Thurlow, J., Zhu, T. & Dalin, C. 2015. ‘Climate and Southern Africa’s Water-Energy-Food Nexus’, Nature Climate Change, Vol. 5, pp. 837–846. Available At: [Last Accessed: 24 January 2018].

[2] SAPP 2016. ‘SAPP Statistics 2016’, Southern African Power Pool: Harare. Available At: [Last Accessed 27 January 2018].

[3] ZamCom 2016. ‘Zambezi Today: Water-Energy-Food Nexus Integrated Planning Essential’, Zambezi Watercourse Commission: Harare. Available At: [Date Accessed: 22 January 2018].

[4] ZamCom 2016. ‘Zambezi Today: Water-Energy-Food Nexus Integrated Planning Essential’, ibid.

[5] SADC 2006. ‘Regional Water Strategy’, Southern African Development Community: Gaborone. Available At: [Last Accessed: 23 January 2018].
v[6] SADC 2006. ‘Regional Water Strategy’, ibid.

[7] IMF 2017. ‘Malawi Economic Development Document’, International Monetary Fund: Washington, D.C. Available At: [Last Accessed: 1 May 2018].

[8] IMF 2017. ‘Malawi Economic Development Document’, ibid.

[9] SAPP 2017. ‘SAPP Annual Report 2017’, Southern African Power Pool: Harare. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[10] SAPP 2017. ‘SAPP Annual Report 2017’, ibid.

[11] SAPP 2016. ‘SAPP Annual Report 2016’, Southern African Power Pool: Harare. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[12] SADC 2016. ‘Bridging Water Series: Zambezi River Basin’. [Online Video] Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[13]  SADC 2016. ‘Bridging Water Series: Zambezi River Basin, ibid.

[14] FAO 2016. ‘The Zambezi Basin’, on the Food and Agriculture Organisation Website, viewed on 18 April 2018, from

[15] SADC 2016. ‘Bridging Water Series: Zambezi River Basin, ibid.

[16] FAO 2016. ‘The Zambezi Basin’, ibid.

Policy Spotlight by Tafadzwa Mahubaba and Khabonina Masango

Land Governance and Restitution

Colonialism and dependence on agricultural and mining commodity exports has left a deep-rooted negative legacy of inequality, disempowerment, poverty and unemployment in Southern Africa. SADC member states have embarked on various land reform programmes aimed at addressing skewed land tenure rights. However, this process has been complicated by the delicate balance of contradictions caused by historical traditional land tenure systems and modern liberal market-based land governance principles, together with maintaining appeal for foreign investment by ensuring property rights.

Some governments, like Angola and Mozambique, have applied a state-led model by transferring all land ownership rights to the state and maintaining a communal or leasehold system in order to enable redistribution and developmental access to land. But the need for private investment, mostly foreign, has forced them to implement a mixed system by introducing selective freehold land ownership. Other countries that implemented freehold land ownership in the post-colonial period, like South Africa, have had to contend with sustained or rising inequality caused by the legacy of colonial dispossession of land. This has pressured them to implement a mixed system by maintaining or supporting communal land ownership, in order to enable redistribution and improve access to land. As a result, many SADC countries maintain a mixed system of land governance, with both traditional (communal or leasehold) and modern (freehold) land rights.

These policies have resulted in sustained inequality and poverty in urban areas, where freehold property rights are predominant. Limited economic opportunities sustain inequality and poverty in rural areas, where traditional land rights are predominant. The influence of competition between governments and traditional authorities over rural land allocation and development has resulted in limited redistribution of land and constrained rural transformation. The process of transforming rural communities by introducing alternative livelihoods has been slow in SADC, which undermines economic diversification at a national and regional level. SADC rural transformation requires transforming ownership and the usage of rural resources to meet basic human needs, and attracting private investment to enable alternative livelihoods.

The 16 SADC member states have diverse political, social, cultural and economic histories which provide for varying contemporary development trajectories accompanied with context-based socioeconomic opportunities for development.[1] With a few recent exceptions, most SADC countries’ post-colonial development trajectories have been distinguished by political and social stability, and sustainable economic growth, which enabled the development of social welfare. However, SADC economies have experienced limited diversification due to slow rural transformation and mixed, limited land reform. Therefore, concerted improvements in land reform are required for structural economic transformation in SADC.

Approximately 70% of SADC’s population’s livelihoods depend on farming and land-related activities, primarily from household subsistence farming.[2] Droughts and water-shortages have affected agricultural production, increasing dependence on food imports. Agriculture contributed an average of 8.8% of GDP in all SADC member states in 2016.[3] Mining and utilities contributed an average of 15.1% of GDP for all SADC countries. As a result, the primary sector contributes approximately 23.9%. Illustrating the need for economic diversification and redistribution. But this requires the appropriate policies to reform land governance and enable economic development and redistribution of income.

SADC member states have been developing a regional approach to addressing land reform issues through the Land Reform Support Facility.[4] This was justified by the potential impact of land issues on regional peace and security, as well as socioeconomic development. The approach recognises the sensitivity and required national specificity for land issues in the region, involving various consultations with both state and non-state actors such as multi-national corporations and non-governmental organisations.[5] Although active steps taken by SADC have been informational, directional and necessary, the developmental process of land policy has been slow, yielding small-scale results. Transformation and implementation in the SADC region have not been uniform, however, the result has been the same, in that, most SADC countries now maintain a mixed system of free holding and traditional land rights.

Free Holding and Traditional Property Rights: The Case of South Africa
In South Africa, the development and advancement of industry and the services sectors contributes to the process of economic diversification. The primary sector – agriculture and mining – contributed 11.05% of GDP in 2016, suggesting that the issue of economic diversification is not as severe as the SADC average, but rather, the issue of redistribution remains a problem.[6] As a developmental response, post-Apartheid governments enacted the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994 (RLRA), which was the first attempt to address the land and agrarian question. However, land reform and agriculture-driven rural transformation has largely failed in South Africa due to legal constraints. The RLRA established the Land Claims Court to deal with restitution of land and enabled the government to expropriate privately held land if it was previously dispossessed. But the RLRA and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, requires government to provide compensation as agreed to by those affected, or decided and approved by a court.[7] This has resulted in slow adjudication of land claims and the escalation of land restitution costs.[8]

Land reform and restitution has made little progress and achieved mixed results at best. Both public and private interventions have seldom produced the intended outcomes. This is particularly applicable in the case of high productivity and large-scale land restitution, diversifying rural economies and livelihoods, providing public services and effectively addressing the historical legacies of racial segregation, gender biases and inequality.

Expropriation was never seen as a viable option, so the government chose to negotiate settlements taking a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ approach, even though it is not required according to legislation.[9] This approach protects private property owners and reinforces the current distribution of power and land. Landowners who do not wish to part with huge tracts of fertile and productive land are protected, even if the land was previously dispossessed from black people during Apartheid. As a result, the implementation of policies has largely reinforced barriers to land access, which is a major obstacle to the socioeconomic development of South Africans, particularly in rural areas and in the case of large-scale, land-based production. However, the ANC-led government has taken a decision to review the Constitution, to allow for expropriation without compensation in order to enable redistribution and reduce inequality and poverty.

Lease Hold and Traditional Property Rights to Free Holding: Angola and Mozambique
At the end of Mozambique’s 17-year long war in 1992, the government initiated a land policy review which led to a new National Land Policy in September 1995. The policy subsequently led to a new Land Law in 1997, implementing further regulations in 1998.[10] The 1997 Land Law aimed to achieve a balance between safeguarding the interests of communities and facilitating investors’ access to land. The legislation sought to halt speculative land grabs that were leading to increased landlessness amongst the poor, by creating a right known as Direito de Uso e Aproveitamento dos Terras (DUAT). This right offers, secure, renewable and long-term user rights, up to a period of 50 years. However, it does not confer full land ownership. Essentially, the Land Law provides communities and local people with a secure title to land, while providing security to investors.

Similarly, Angola struggled to create a legal framework to address the complexities of land ownership since independence in 1975. In November 2004, the Lei da Terras (Land Law) was passed. This law aimed to harmonise state land, state concessionary land given to private individuals, and the traditional land-tenure system. The law delineated and expanded on the range of land rights available by concession and recognised some measure of traditional land rights. In 2006, the Angolan government proposed some additional regulations that were gazetted in 2007. These regulations specifically addressed the land-concession sections of the land law, and provided some detail on how land rights would be formalised. The regulations also expanded on the government’s authority to expropriate land. This is seen where expropriation is only legal by court order, and international standards and procedures apply in relation to informing, negotiating, and compensating affected parties.

In 2010, the government of Angola merged its poverty reduction strategy (Estrategia de Combate a Probeza, ECP) and its national food and nutritional security strategy (ENSAN). The ENSAN strives to improve the lives of Angolan citizens by securing quality food in quantity. This will be executed through local food production, by increasing the diversification of farming and fishing production in a sustainable way, so as to improve the supply of dietary requirements to the population.[11] ENSAN makes provisions for restoring internal markets, and interconnection of surplus production and major consumption zones. These two prominent strategies have resulted in the Integrated Municipal Program for Rural Development and the Fight Against Poverty (PMIDRCP).

The PMIDRCP program focuses on reducing extreme poverty in rural Angola, promoting access to basic public services, and enabling social justice.[12] The PMIDRCP is fundamentally done through the land transformation instituted by the Country Programming Framework (CPF). The key priorities of the program focus on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, by providing opportunities for Angolans to create alternative livelihoods within the state, specifically through the creation of mainstream land management practices to enable social justice. This is executed through fair access to land, and the provision of implements and resources, whilst taking heed of the conservation of the land. The CPF program is part of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an Angolan field programme, which comprises of 22 on-going projects within the state.[13]

The CPF programme has been promoting the ‘Land Programme’ for the past ten years, to address the issue of land degradation and promote sustainable food and agriculture systems in Angola. One intervention, targeting the south-western provinces of Namibe, Huila and Benguela, was designed to mitigate the impact of the degradation processes and rehabilitate lands by mainstreaming locally adapted Sustainable Land Management (SLM) technologies into agro-pastoral and agricultural development activities. These activities supported 3 000 smallholder agro-pastoralists via Farmer Field Schools. Accordingly, cooperation within Angola is enhanced through the partnership of FAO and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), coordinated through CPLP’s Executive Secretariat, Assembly and Council for Food and Nutrition Security (CONSAN).

Following a multi-sectoral approach, the initiative addressed issues such as good governance, inclusive mechanisms and coordination of food security institutions, and compliance with the human Right to Food. Action ensured linkages between regional, sub-regional and national initiatives, and knowledge exchange was encouraged through the promotion of South-South, North-South and triangular cooperation arrangements. In addition, individual projects strengthened stakeholders’ networks and helped set up National Food Security and Nutrition Councils, as well as parliamentarian fronts against hunger. The PMIDRCP has been positively accepted by the citizens of Angola, specifically those situated in the Namibe region. The programme has encouraged massive poverty alleviation, aided the diversity of agricultural goods and implemented strategies to educate the local people on commercial farming by FAO.

The Constitution of the Republic of Mozambique (1995), provides for land-use and benefit rights, also known as DUATs. All citizens of Mozambique have a fundamental right to access, and use of land.[14]  Apart from the 1995 Constitution, Mozambique passed the 1995 National Land Policy, which is still in effect to date. The Land Policy differentiates between securing local land rights acquired through customary occupation and securing investor rights, which aims at promoting new private investment.[15] The Land Policy is considered to be a good basis for protecting the land rights of poor and vulnerable Mozambicans.

The Land Policy recognises land rights of communities and individuals as acquired by customary or long-term occupation, giving equal legal standing to customary land rights and state allocated DUATs.[16] Land rights for women are further protected by constitutional provisions which focus on ensuring woman-headed households are not excluded from accessing traditional land rights, or excluded due to customary norms. Collective DUATs can be held by local communities, providing stronger protection to households whose rights were acquired through and managed by customary structures.[17] Despite accessibility of land and land rights enabled through the Constitution and Land Policy, most Mozambicans do not have the necessary resources to productively exploit the available land.

The 1997 Mozambican Land Law tries to resolve the resource gap by providing mechanisms for investors to acquire rights in land where local rights already exist, even though the Law does not differentiate between communal and commercial land.[18] This creates a synergy of rights and attracts private investment. This is done through community consultation between potential investors and communities occupying land to be developed. In principle, these agreements should ensure that local people gain economic and other benefits in return for ceding their rights to private investors. However, the Land Law has three fundamental challenges, including a lack of clarity. Government officials appear to interpret the law arbitrarily, which undermines the principal that ‘good faith occupation of the land’ confers legal property rights.

The second consequence is the lack of capacity. Whilst guidelines for community consultations exist, these are poorly disseminated and often misunderstood. It has been noted that neither communities nor the government has the capacity to guarantee proper community consultations prior to the granting of use rights to investors. And finally, the issue of allocating DUATs for free, which has encouraged extensive land grabs. The government has responded to this by suggestive reforms. The government states that it will be important to develop a low-cost process that secures the rights of local communities on a systematic basis, so as to enable it to negotiate effectively with outside investors. Furthermore, it is important to establish an improved incentive framework and start introducing land tax. Ultimately, the Mozambican government plans on conducting systematic reviews of all DUATs granted, to assess how much land has already been allocated through concessions, and which DUATs are in clear violation of development conditions. Where development conditions have been met, DUATs should be automatically revoked or sub-divided, in order for the DUAT holder to retain the portion in which he or she invested.

Subsequently, the Land Law has attracted prominent investors from companies such as the Obtala Limited Sawmill in Nampula, Mozambique. The forestry group has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development that will enable land development in the state, combat illegal logging and promote timber processing. Real estate giants such as Grit have invested in Mozambique through property development in the Maputo area. The land law has benefitted citizens with immense opportunities to acquire land through the establishment of DUAT rights. Citizens have regained land and created better livelihoods by deriving income from agriculture, and using the land to create alternative incomes. Moreover, the land law gives citizens the legal voice to fight against land grabs and gain access to resources.

Evidently, SADC member states have taken different approaches to land reform, even though the SADC Secretariat provides support to the member states through the Land Reform Support Facility. Despite the different approaches taken by SADC member states, the central problem of land reform and rural transformation is the same for all SADC countries. SADC countries are still grappling with administrative challenges or contradictions of reducing inequality and poverty through equitable land access, or recognising tradition land rights, whilst maintaining private property rights in order to attract investors.

Notably, Angola and Mozambique have beneficially created land rights for citizens and protected their states from invasive investors taking control of land resources. However, they face challenges involving unclear laws, which are difficult to implement due to lengthy processes and bureaucracy. The land reform policy in South Africa has also yet to be finalised, for various reasons such as technical difficulty in support, and at times, political interference. The question of land is currently controversial and contested in South Africa because of the issue of ‘expropriation without compensation’. There are concerns that the current land debate is flawed, with beliefs that the state will mismanage this resource once legislation regulating land affairs is enforced.

As a result, there is still considerable work that need to be done regarding land policy and development within the SADC region. The future of land transformation in SADC requires legal accountability, allocation of effective bureaucrats, and consultation of communities, policy analysts and respective state departments.  An increasingly accessible and transparent process needs to be facilitated to assist the states that lack implementation capacity in their structures and institutions. Lastly, member-states should engage in extensive consultation processes with the SADC Land Reform Support Facility to create cohesive and context-based land policies and development within their states.

[1] SADC 2017. ‘The Union of Comoros Becomes the 16th SADC Member State’, on the Southern African Development Community Website, viewed on 17 April, from; AUC-ECA-AFDB 2010. ‘Land Policy in Africa: Southern Africa Regional Assessment’, African Union Commission-Economic Commission for Africa-African Development Bank Consortium: Addis Ababa. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[2] SADC 2008. ‘SADC Multi-country Agricultural Productivity Programme’, Southern African Development Community: Gaborone. Available At: [Last Accessed: 18 April 2018].

[3] UNCTAD 2018. UNCTADStat Database, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development: Geneva. Available At: [Last Accessed: 16 April 2018].

[4] AUC-ECA-AFDB 2010. ‘Land Policy in Africa: Southern Africa Regional Assessment’, ibid.

[5] AUC-ECA-AFDB 2010. ‘Land Policy in Africa: Southern Africa Regional Assessment’, ibid.

[6] AUC-ECA-AFDB 2010. ‘Land Policy in Africa: Southern Africa Regional Assessment’, ibid.

[7] DOJCD 1994. Restitution of Land Rights Act 22 of 1994, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development: Pretoria. Available At: [Last Accessed: 4 February 2018]; DOJCD 1996. Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development: Pretoria. Available At: [Last Accessed: 4 February 2018].

[8] POSA 2017. There’s No Willing Buyer, Willing Seller Principle on Our Constitution – Gugile Nkwinti, on the Parliament of South Africa Website. Available at [Last accessed: 10 February 2018].

[9] POSA 2017. ‘There’s No Willing Buyer, Willing Seller Principle on Our Constitution…’, ibid.; PMG 2004. Willing Buyer, Willing Seller: Notes, Parliamentary Monitoring Group. Available At: [Last Accessed: 2 February 2018].

[10] SADC 2017. ‘The Union of Comoros Becomes the 16th SADC Member State’, on the Southern African Development Community Website, viewed on 17 April, from; AUC-ECA-AFDB 2010. ‘Land Policy in Africa: Southern Africa Regional Assessment’, African Union Commission-Economic Commission for Africa-African Development Bank Consortium: Addis Ababa. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

[11] OCHA 2009. ‘Angola Government Designs National Strategy for Food Nutrition and Security’, from the ReliefWeb Website, viewed on 17 April 2018, from

[12] UNGA 2014. ‘National Report Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 5 of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 16/21: Angola’, United Nations General Assembly: Washington, D.C. Available At: [Last Accessed: 1 May 2018].

[13] FAO 2018. ‘Angola & FAO: Partnering for Resilience and Sustainable Rural Development’, Food and Agricultural Organisation: Luanda. Available at [Last Accessed: 17 April 2018].

[14] Tanner, C. 2010. ‘Mozambique’, in K. Kleinbooi (ed.), Review of Land Reform in Southern Africa, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies: Cape Town, pp. 30-32.

[15] Tanner, C. 2010. ‘Mozambique’, ibid.

[16] Tanner, C. 2010. ‘Mozambique’, ibid.

[17] Tanner, C. 2010. ‘Mozambique’, ibid.

[18] Lahiff, E. 2003. ‘The Politics of Land Reform in Southern Africa’, Sustainable Livelihoods in Southern Africa Programme: Brighton. Available At: [Last Accessed: 15 April 2018].

Serge Hadisi

Role: Research Associate
Serge is an Economist with extensive research and publications on sustainable economic development focusing on social development in sub-Saharan Africa...

Nomawethu Ndondo

Former Junior Research Associate

Grace Nsomba

Former Research Associate

Michael Andina

Former Regional Analyst

Tafadzwa Mahubaba

Former Research Associate

Khabonina Masango

Former Junior Research Associate

Siya Biniza

Role: Executive Director
Siya is a Political Economist specialising in Development Finance, Industrial Development, and Regional Integration...

Michelle Livie

Former Editing and Research Specialist

Inga Mtolo

Role: Editing and Research Specialist
Inga is an Economist specialising in Financial Markets and Socioeconomic Research...


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