Land Policy and Settlers’ Responses to Land Tenure Under Threat in Emerging Peri-Urban Spaces in Zimbabwe

December 2023
J. Bhanye, R. H. Shayamunda, R. I. Mpahlo, A. Matamanda and L. Kachena (Land Use Policy)

This open access academic article is based on qualitative research in the Caledonia peri-urban settlement, a medium-sized town 30km east of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, which is also one of the fastest growing informal settlements in the country. The authors analyse some of the complexities of peri-urban land politics in Africa and note the range of strategies undertaken by vulnerable settlers to protect against threats to their land tenure, including political rent-seeking, legal action, civil disobedience and religious symbolism. The authors observe that examination of these strategies in practice sheds light on the complex interplay between settlers’ agency and local authority dynamics, given the proliferation of competing claims to urban resources, particularly land, and the emergence of new forms of power in the dynamic environment of a rapidly-urbanising setting. Much has been written on Zimbabwe’s land struggles that focuses on farm land and rural areas, so this article offers a fresh perspective on land struggles in the country in a different context. That said, Caledonia was formerly a private farm that was first occupied by war veterans during the peak of the national land invasions in 2003; it was then gazetted as state land and used for housing and has since grown via informal settlement. The result is a huge mix of tenure types, housing types and means of initial land acquisition among residents, which makes everyone’s tenure fragile. The authors use case study examples to demonstrate how the different strategies noted above have been used to try to shore up tenure security. Conflict and contested authority emerge as key land governance issues, aggravated by plural and fragmented land administration mechanisms and options. A key conclusion that speaks to human ingenuity is what the authors call the “unyielding determination” of settlers to safeguard what they see as their rightful claims to land, and they recommend holistic and targeted interventions to support improvements to tenure security in peri-urban settings.