Lesotho Land Reform and Rural Transformation Overview

Lesotho Land Reform and Rural Transformation Overview

Lesotho’s current land governance and land reform programme is informed by the Land Act 8 of 2010, which succeeds the Land Act 17 of 1979 that previously informed land reform in post-independence Lesotho.[1]  The prevailing land tenure system in Lesotho operates under leasehold terms of 31 years, as established under the 1979 Land Act, which mandates the State as the trustee of land in Lesotho. Prior the 1979 Land Act, tenure in the mountainous Kingdom was dictated by a customary system via the 1903 Law of Lerotholi provisions, and overseen by the Basotho King, in whose care the land was entrusted. The King therefore previously held all prerogatives to land allocation in the country.

 

Customary land includes farmland as well as unfarmed common land in the form of forests, rangelands and marshlands, which customary societies exercise tenure over and use as livelihood assets for the society’s advancement. Rangelands in Lesotho constitute at least 60% of the country’s 3 million hectares of land area and play a pivotal role in the country’s economy. Basotho people still largely depend on subsistence livelihoods, which have traditionally been driven by livestock rearing and ownership. The export contribution from Lesotho’s wool and mohair sector was recorded at 2.5% of GDP in the 2015/16 financial year, produced by the Country’s more than 37 000 sheep and goat farmers.[2]

 

The government of Lesotho’s (GOL) land reform efforts, enacted in the Land Act 2010, principally seek to create an environment that is favourable to agricultural development and economic investment.[3] For years, Lesotho has lacked efficient land markets in which foreign investors could participate. The limitations on foreign landholding by the 1979 Land Act have presented impediments to improving the commercial use of land. Notable among the reforms in the 2010 Land Act is the reduced partnership interest which foreign enterprises are required to have with Basotho nationals to acquire land.

 

The 2010 Land Act requires that Basotho nationals should own at least 20% of land acquired by foreign investors as opposed to the cumbersome 51% required by the 1979 Land Act.[4] While primarily aimed at attracting foreign investment through easing the foreign-owned land acquisition requirement, the reduction in the shareholding requirement for Basotho nationals also aims to boost participation in business ownership among Basotho.

 

Lesotho’s long-standing challenge to rural transformation has been its people’s limited capacity to access credit to enhance their livelihoods and support economic transformation in rural communities. To deal with this challenge, the 2010 Land Act seeks to address tenure insecurity and enable rural land to be used as collateral for financing. The Act also enables legitimate exchange of lease rights, which previously could not be sold under the 1979 Land Act.[5] The legal reforms will improve landholding by Basotho and improve their capacity to use the land or commercialise it.

 

In addition, the 2010 Land Act addresses the issue of land tenure insecurity in rural areas. The possession of land rights by those wishing to invest in the land facilitates credit access by providing the collateral required in loan agreements. Lesotho has a dual legal system where both customary and common law are practiced.  This legitimised a parallel customary land tenure system that operated in rural areas while the rest of the land was converted to leasehold land under the 1979 Land Act. Land rights under customary law are inherited along patriarchal lines and almost entirely exclude women. Thus, despite their dominance as household heads in the country’s rural areas, women have been prohibited from owning land. Many women have had to also waive their land rights upon the passing of their husband. The 2010 Land Act provides for the registration of immovable property in the name of a married man’s spouse (his wife), and removes previous provisions that only allowed for male ownership.[6] Consequently, this provision also allows female land owners to gain access to credit should they wish to invest in their land.

 

Successful industrial development typically depends on access to adequate physical infrastructure such as roads, factory buildings, and communications. Hence, governments often assume leading roles in the provision of key physical infrastructure in order to underpin its industrialisation programme. The Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) is the primary government agency providing serviced industrial and commercial workspace to support the GOL’s industrial development programme.[7] The LNDC constructs industrial estates on state-leased land, and sub-lets the premises to industrial enterprises. Most of the industrial estates have been developed in district capitals in the Maseru and Leribe, along with road and rail infrastructure.  The Maputsoe Industrial Area in Leribeis is close to Ficksburg in South Africa, which is connected to Bloemfontein via rail and road freight routes that pass along the north-western border of Lesotho.[8] Other industrial estates include Ha Nyenyane (31 hectares) situated 80 kilometers North of Maseru, Ha Tikoe (40 hectares) situated 7 kilometers South of Maseru, Berea (7 hectares) and Ha Belo (121 hectares) in Botha Bothe.[9] Some of these industrial estates are situated in Lesotho’s rural and peri-urban areas; such as the Tikoe Industrial Estate which opened 11 factory buildings in 2015 that were projected to create more than 5 000 jobs in textiles and clothing for local Basotho.[10]

 

Industrial production and the accompanying infrastructural developments around the industrial estates create important rural-urban linkages within Lesotho. These linkages enable reciprocal transfer of raw and processed goods, and labour between rural and urban areas. Connecting these industrial estates to the freight routes between Lesotho and South Africa enhances regional integration which allows Lesotho to export goods into Southern Africa.

 

An apparent downfall of the 2010 Land Act however, is its silence on customary rights, despite the country’s previous accommodation of customary tenure. While the Act’s strides to allocate land more democratically in its issuing of titles to rural land have largely been welcomed by communities, tenure security on other customarily-acquired land is minimal, and remains restricted to house and farms lands. The Act does not provide tenure security for common land such as rangelands, which constitute the main traditional resource for pastoral activity in Lesotho. Common land in Lesotho is vested with the state, which has liberty to reallocate the land to investors or individuals. Indeed, many of the SADC member state’s national land policies exhibit the same pattern, in which common land is not positively recognised as the property of communities, save to say for a few exceptions like Tanzania and Mozambique.[11]

 

Common land is an important asset to rural communities, often being the main or only source of livelihood for the landless or land-poor. The continual non-recognition of customary communities as the lawful owners of common land perpetuates the risk of tenure loss by these communities to wealthy individuals or companies who acquire land through the state. The GOL’s enthusiasm in boosting industrial activity through the provision of factory space and sites presents a potential threat to customary land tenure in Lesotho, and can potentially also exacerbate the state’s limited investment in the smallholder sector. The Tanzanian scenario provides an ideal model for the recognition of customary rights, wherein the nearly 70% village lands of the country are registered and governed under the Village Land Act 5 of 1999.[12] Village communities assume total control over communal lands, and benefit from utilising the land per the dictates of elected village committees.


[1] NAoL 2010. Land Act 2010 (Act No. 8 of 2010), National Assembly of Lesotho: Maseru, viewed on 3 January 2018, from https://lesotholii.org/.

[2] Mpaki, B. 2017. Plans for Wool, Mohair Centre, on the Lesotho Times Website, viewed on 27 March 2018, from http://lestimes.com/; IMF 2016. World Economic Outlook Database October 2016, on the International Monetary Fund Website, viewed on 22 May 2018, from http://imf.org/.

[3] NAoL 2010. Land Act 2010 (Act No. 8 of 2010), ibid.

[4] NAoL 2010. Land Act 2010 (Act No. 8 of 2010), ibid.

[5] NAoL 2010. Land Act 2010 (Act No. 8 of 2010), ibid.

[6] NAoL 2010. Land Act 2010 (Act No. 8 of 2010), ibid.

[7] LNDC 2018. About LNDC, on the Lesotho National Development Corporation Website, viewed on 4 January 2018, from http://lndc.org.ls/

[8] LR 2015. Commerce, Mining & Industry, on The Lesotho Review Website, viewed on 11 February 2018, from http://lesothoreview.com/.

[9] LR 2015. Commerce, Mining & Industry, ibid.

[10] Ntsukunyane, L. 2015. New Factories to Create 5000 Jobs, on the Lesotho Times Website, viewed on 1 February 2018, from http://lestimes.com/.

[11] Wily, L. 2011. The Status of Customary Land Rights in Africa Today, Indiana University: Bloomington. Available At: http://indiana.edu/ [Last Accessed: 27 March 2018].

[12] Wily, L. 2011. The Status of Customary Land Rights in Africa Today, ibid.


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