By Byron Mutingwende
Depinah Nkomo (widowed) is the owner of a successful farming enterprise in the Selous area of Chegutu, Mashonaland West Province but her road to success is not a stroll in the park.
“When my husband died, he left me only a house in Waterfalls but I was born with a passion for farming. I had been left behind in the land reform programme despite numerous attempts to get an offer letter. What pained me is that some men had vast tracts of land, some of which they registered in the name of boys as young as 13 years old while me, a woman who played a key role like men during the liberation struggle had no land. That inspired me to invade a farm in Chegutu that was lying idle,” Nkomo explains with a deep, steady voice that resembles that of a real fighter.
Sharing her story of courage to inspire other women in farming, Nkomo said she was unfortunate that her maize plant was slashed before harvest but the move by the culprits only hardened her resolve to fight for her right to land as a woman.
In 2011, Nkomo stood her ground at the Grain Marketing Board Aspindale Depot when authorities there tried to disenfranchise women from accessing farming inputs. In a heroic feat, she led to the abandonment of the inputs distribution until women were included on the beneficiaries list. The women present there pooled resources together and raised capital to register the Zimbabwean indigenous Women Farmers Association Trust and made Nkomo its president. The organisation is functional to this day and represents the needs of women farmers.
She approached law enforcement agents who ordered the culprits to replant her maize. Chief Chivero was roped into the saga until the then ministry of lands finally gave her a plot with rich soil on which she is doing wonders by growing maize, soya beans and wheat among other crops. She also keeps a variety of livestock including cattle, goats, sheep and chickens.
A fellow woman, Tsitsi Muchabaiwa, paid tribute to Women and Land in Zimbabwe for empowering her with knowledge that inspired her to take bold steps to repossess her clan’s inherited land dispossessed by greedy traditional leaders.
“Despite being married to the Muchabaiwa people, it pained me that my clan, the Madzvimbos from Hwedza had lost prime land to greedy traditional leaders. I thank my local chief for giving us back our land. I am now a successful woman farmer with a Farmer Growers’ Number and a bank account with Ecocash courtesy of the valid education obtained from Women and Land in Zimbabwe,” Muchabaiwa said.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), rules of tenure define how rights to land are to be allocated within societies, how access is granted to rights to use, control, and transfer land, as well as associated responsibilities and restraints.
On the other hand, Lastarria-Cornhiel, defined land tenure as the social relations established around land that determines who can use what land and how (1997:1317-18).
Newman Tekwa, the South African Research Chair in Social Policy at the University of South Africa said the right of women to hold and use land in the various land tenure regimes in the southern Africa region, including Zimbabwe continues to be inequitable in all land tenure regimes, despite the major strides taken in promoting more equitable land redistribution and progressive constitutional reform.
“In the Zimbabwean case, the land rights available to women in Communal and Resettlement Areas (including Old Resettlement and A1 lands) are the most limited in scope and insecure. Women’s access to land in commercial farming areas, including the leasehold lands and remaining large-scale farm (LSCF) areas is largely limited by various market related resource constraints.
“Customary law is acknowledged as part of the national legal system, receiving constitutional recognition and protection. Many African countries have progressively given legal recognition to customary land tenure as well as to the institutions administering it. The space for securing women’s land rights remain in question. Though important, lacking is harmonisation between customary law and the constitutional value of equality to secure women’ s land rights,” Tekwa said.
Speaking at a workshop on “Gender Implications of Changing Land Tenure Regimes in Zimbabwe: Harare Land Tenure Policy Dialogue” at the Holiday Inn Hotel recently, Freedom Mazwi from the Sam Moyo African Institute for Agrarian Studies said laws alone are not the total panacea to improving women’s access to land.
“We need to address issues like marriages, social norms and culture that usually act as impediments to the possibility of women having equal access to land compared to their male counterparts.There is need therefore to improve inheritance and marriage laws. In Southern Africa, the bulk of land is under customary ownership hence prospects for women accessing land become very small,” Mazwi said.
There are growing calls to review and repeal all the formal and informal institutional constraints from personal, family and customary laws, provisions on inheritance and marriage (including polygamous marriages) which discriminate against and impede women from gaining access to, owning and control over land.
“It is important to synchronise current marriage laws and the Constitution. Ununified marriage laws defy the Constitution—as parties to different marriage regimes (civil marriage, customary marriage) have different rights and responsibilities. Consequence, contrary to constitutional provisions, women who enter into marriages have no uniform and land tenure rights.
“Stakeholders here represented including the ministry of land, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, women farmers, farmer representative organisations and the media should raise awareness through disseminating the new laws that promote the rights of women to land so that they are widely known among government officials, NGOs, media, traditional leaders, land allocation committees, and the development community working in rural areas and most importantly among rural women themselves.
“We should also gender sensitise local and traditional leaders, officials and others with decision making power over land distribution and management to ensure customary complaint systems are gender-sensitive,” Mazwi added.