Chaos in land ownership, title deeds mean nothing

The courts are getting overwhelmed with land dispute cases. Almost everyday, there is a land dispute matter somewhere in the country. These cases do not only involve private citizens or entities; we have seen that government wings are also taking each other to court over land ownership dispute.

Traditional leaders have also not been spared; some are suing their subjects while others are being sued by their subjects; all in pursuit of this commodity. Customary land is being sold to investors without approval from the Ministry of Lands, while on the other hand, government is encroaching on strategic forests reserves in chiefdoms without the consent of the traditional leaders – a mark of failing leadership in the land administration sector.

What are we talking about? We carried a story on 3rd January on a land dispute that has ensued between the Zambia Army and the Zambia Airports Corporation over part of land within the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport. Zambia Army officers have been erecting concrete pillars paving the way for a fence, a move that prompted the Zambia Airports Corporation to invoke litigation.

The Zambia Airports Corporation contended in court that a certificate of title relating to stand number 4169 was issued in its name for the construction and rehabilitation of the new Kenneth Kaunda International Airport terminal building. But the truth of the matter is that the Zambia Army encroached on airport land because they also had documents giving them jurisdiction over it.

If big government wings such as the Ministry of Defence and the Zambia Airports Corporation Limited can be victims of double allocation of commercial land, where is the hope for an ordinary Zambian with a certificate of land title? Where is the hope for those who occupy ancestral land in villages?

In 2018, Nyambazi residents in Zambezi District petitioned against the sale of their 36,000 hectares ancestral land to Meanwood Agricultural Company Limited of Lusaka by Chief Mpidi. The concerned residents petitioned Senior Chief Ishindi to reject, on their behalf, the planned demarcation, alleged sale and alienation of 36,000 hectares by the same named company.

Just last week, over 120 police officers were dragged to court for illegally possessing land in Lusaka West which apparently belonged to subjects of Senior Chieftainess Nkomeshya. The 58 subjects have sued the police officers for allocating land to themselves in a location which they had occupied for more than 12 years.

This is the misery that you have to go through if you own land in Zambia There is no peace of mind. Years back, when you possessed title for your land, you were the legitimate owner. Today, title deeds mean nothing, two, three people can easily own title over the same piece of land, and after a dispute, the ultimate owner ends up being the one with more money or influence in the system.

Lusaka West is actually one of the riskiest areas to own land in the Capital City. It doesn’t matter whether one has got title deeds or has occupied land for generations, once cadres target it, there is nowhere you can run to. But that’s not the worst part, they don’t sell land to someone else, they sell it to several others who join the ownership dispute.

There is a notorious PF cadre in Lusaka West going by the name “Oga Plots” This cadre is, in himself, a Minister of Lands, Minister of Justice, Commissioner of Lands and Police Inspector General. He has the audacity of going on someone’s farm and putting up adverts that the land is up for sale. Landowners have dragged this cadre to the police before, but he never gets arrested. In fact, he seems to have a number of police officers on his payroll because he is quite famous at Lusaka Central Police. How can this be allowed?

We don’t believe that a simple cadre can have power to break the law with such impunity. Obviously, senior government officials involved in the administration of land use him as a hit man for some dirty work. When there is a piece of land with a spectacular road-front which they admire, they unleash Oga to go in and displace the locals. Anyone who stands in the way of Oga’s operation gets a very good beating.

We are not exaggerating anything on this matter. We have interviewed witnesses before who have been physically beaten and hounded out of their land. This cadre called Oga is someone whose arrogance we have encountered before, and his contact details are in public domain, yet he walks a free man with no law chasing after him.

This is a clear sign that there is something seriously wrong with the way government is managing this precious resource. One would have expected that with the establishment of the Lands Tribunal sitting at the level of the High Court, a lot of conflicts relating to land would be handled expeditiously, but just like the case is with the rest of the other courts, public confidence in this institution of arbitration is fast vanishing.

Government needs to revisit the composition of the Lands Tribunal with the deserving urgency. The police must immediately look at ways of arresting this chaos before it is too late. Such poor administration of land opens doors for criminals, it grants an opportunity to unscrupulous people to engage in illegal sale of land. The lack of strict land administration policy gives those with money and influence chance to bully and displace weak owners of plots and farms.

         

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