As one drives from the north, east or west into Lusaka one sees a cacophony of developments ostensibly under the guise of advancement of the communities in these areas. The sprouting of the developments seem to go unnoticed from a national discourse point of view.
Our discourse as a nation has revolved, sadly, on issues such as who owns a grade 12 certificate, which cadre has a bigger panga than the other while we leave out substantive issues that have a telling effect on the future and shape of the way of life of our communities-especially the rural peri-urban communities.
We have lost the plot-pun intended- on the way land has been managed in customary areas and the sooner we get to grips with what is happening in these areas the better. The management of peri-urban traditional land has been left to the vagaries of traditional leaders who are often dangled lucrative “carrots” in order for them to “allocate” such land. The traditional leaders then allocate land willy-nilly to the highest bidder.
[pullquote]we will have another landless class of people who in future shall try to reclaim their land and ask for reparations.[/pullquote]
The rug of land is indeed slowly being dragged out of the feet of all those villagers in Katuba, Chongwe, Shakumbila etc and soon we will have another landless class of people who in future shall try to reclaim their land and ask for reparations. Their own traditional leaders who claim to hold land in their trust are perpetuating the ultimate betrayal. These leaders-who can be powerful- are listened to by politicians because it is believed they would influence voters in their areas to vote against the politician if an untoward law was passed. Politicians would therefore pander to the whims of these traditional leaders where land matters are concerned as evidenced with the hullaballoo that took place with the issue of vesting land in the President in the revised constitution.
NGOs and donors also listen to traditional leaders since they are considered closer representatives of the people than the State. Therefore, it would only seem right that issues of land management should be left closer to the people and by extension be handled by their representatives in the name of traditional leaders, right? Nothing can be further from the truth in this respect! With due respect to our traditional leaders we have seen how they, like politicians, get rich while their “subjects” continue to wallow in abject poverty.
We have had the mistaken belief that traditional leaders hold the interest of the people whenever land seekers of all shades come to their areas to ask for land and that whenever land allocation is done it is with the full consultation of the people to be affected. However, a casual observation will reveal that while there is an effort not to displace the communities as much as possible, often the main beneficiaries are the traditional leaders. Except in a few cases, the poor villager remains poor while the palace King/Queen drives a Pajero and sends his/her children to international school. That is the sad reality. There is nothing wrong for traditional leaders to better their lives, what is bothersome, however is that they do so at the expense of the subjects they claim to represent.
Land Management, it must be said, is more than land allocation and the way land continues to be allocated without regard to the future planning requirements of services such as water, sewer and other basic infrastructures such as roads in these peri-urban rural areas is going to have a telling effect on the future of otherwise prime land raped into haphazard settlements.
The introduction of the Town and Regional Planning Act could not have come sooner but law and practice seems to be hectares apart as usual. The submission here is that as traditional land continues to be raped in our own eyes we need to rethink how such should be managed. The current practice in which traditional leaders are consulted and sign consent letters and approvals sought from the planning authority in the areas is exacerbating the already poor land management practice. When one gets the Chiefs authority and manages to have the land surveyed one quickly fences off the land to the exclusion of the communities and in no time we see a pattern emerging where haphazard developments take place and further subdivisions are done without any holistic bird’s eye view.
There is need for a holistic approach to land management that will address among others, the skill set required to manage traditional land and plan for future infrastructure. We need to fix the basics first before we think of bigger and esoteric things and one believes the Land issue is fundamental at the very basic level of existence.
Is it any wonder that we would all like, if we had money, to live in Rhodes Park or Kabulonga? It is because in the early days of planning Lusaka there was such forward thinking that we now all covertly admire living in those areas. These things do not happen on their own, they need serious thought and planning which is seriously lacking in the current “planning” happening in the peri-urban rural. The Chiefdoms and their current administrative structures are not up to it in terms of managing land for our rural communities and the sooner we recognize the rape of the land that continues to take place and address it quickly the better.
By Emmanuel Tembo
Lecturer in Surveying and Land Administration