Customary Land at Crossroads: Contest for the Control of Customary Land in Zambia

Authors Horman Chitonge

ISSN: 2026-8556
Affiliations: Researcher, Centre for African Studies, University of Cape Town
Source: SADC Law Journal, The, 2014/15, p. 45 – 67


Customary land across Africa has come under increasing pressure over the past decade and a half from different angles. Among the factors which account for this growing pressure are population growth, sustained economic growth recorded in most countries over the past 15 years, and urbanisation. For instance in Zambia, the growing demand for land has manifested in the rapid increase of customary land being converted into leasehold tenure by well-resourced Zambians as well as foreign investors. But the practice of converting customary land into leasehold tenure is raising serious questions and concerns about the future of customary land. For some analysts, this is an auspicious moment marking the inevitable transition from communal to individualised land ownership. For example, the Zambian government has been promoting the conversion of customary land into leasehold tenure, arguing that this is the only way to ‘open up’ rural areas to investments, which is expected to bring development to these areas. However, some analysts argue that conversion of customary land into leasehold tenure undermines traditional authorities and the cultures of the Zambian people, as well as the fight against poverty in rural areas. This paper illustrates that while the privatisation of customary land may appear as a genuine attempt by the state to stimulate rural development, this practice is creating a contest for the control of customary land between traditional authorities (who have always been the custodians of customary land) and the state that seeks to extend its control over land resources in Zambia.