I am finding it difficult to work with PF on land reforms – Nkomeshya
By staff reporter
“I have worked with five successive Zambian governments smoothly so why should I be facing problems with the PF government on Land related issues?” asks Chieftainancy Nkomesyha Mukamambo II of the Soli People in Chongwe.
She says this as she addresses government ministers whilst strutting across the floor in exuberant confidence befitting her status of ‘queen’ or in this case, Chief of the Soli people.
It’s a hot Friday, December 7, afternoon when the royal establishment principal advisor John Luputa calls the meeting to order and asks senior headman Maoma to give an analogue of the events leading to the confiscation of lands surveying equipment in May this year.
The atmosphere is tense, as the heavy government entourage represented by Lands minister Jean Kapata, her Chiefs affairs counterpart Vincent Mwale and Lusaka Province Minister Bowman Lusambo look on reservedly as Chieftainacy Nkomesyha continues to make her point of grievance over government ‘intrusion’ in her chiefdom.
Other government officials who formed part of the entourage are Lands Commissioner Muma, Surveyor General, Chongwe council chairman Geoffrey Chuumbwe, District Commissioner and some officers from the Office of the President.
“For me I work with the government of the day. I confiscated and kept the surveying equipment from May to December this year because we found surveyors working on our Land without consent. The villagers were scared because these surveyors were carrying out their activities with firearms in their possession. When we apprehended them they claimed they carried guns because they have experienced bad encounters with wild animals during surveys in Luano. So we decided to hand over the gun to the police and keep the equipment, awaiting satisfactory answers from government,” she explains.
She laments that there is a clear procedure of entering traditional land for government activities, which includes the approach of local councils (as agents of Ministry of Lands) before moving on site, but this was not done.
“I don’t know if it’s because I am a woman or because I have a small body to have prompted government to take this action. I know we don’t have much time because you are supposed to be attending parliament sessions in the afternoon, but we have other burning issues that we need to discuss like Mikango barracks and Kafue gorge areas.” She outlines, hinting that Mikango is the area were senior military and ZESCO personnel are allegedly sharing her traditional land were the barrack and the hydro power stations are located respectively.
The Chietainancy says she will support the government if they are doing the right thing but will vehemently oppose their ‘bulldozing’ tendencies against her people because she is aware that 90% of the land in Zambia belongs to the chiefdoms..
She complains to the government representatives that she does not understand why they were encroaching on her land when her people had already done enough by giving up the capital city, Lusaka to the state during the colonial era.
Chieftainancy Nkomeshya said she was apprehensive of the government’s action because in the 2016 budget it was stipulated that government wanted to carry out a national land titling programme on all idle land in the country.
She expresses her delight to the fact that the issue was resolved by correcting the wording in the budget speech, which was giving policy direction to the management of land in the country.
But in typical dramatic fashion that has lately characterized Lusambo, he is seen itching to give a response and pandemonium breaks loose as he gets to the podium to challenge the traditional leader’s approach to the meeting intended to resolve the dispute.
“Am disappointed to the chiefdom ……… we need to sort out this matter in a sober manner. You should bear in mind that we carry the Presidency,” he says. “The way we have been called here, its as if we are in court, the president is in court. It’s wrong when the chieftaincy says we shall keep the equipment, its wrong.”
At this point, the people begin to emotionally protest the term ‘wrong’ insisting it is belittling and insulting to senior chieftaincy Nkomeshya and the entire chiefdom.
“Let him apologise, he didn’t come here to molest our chieftaincy, withdraw the word WRONG,” demands one attendant as Lusambo seemingly looks lost and dejected.
As the drama is unfolding, Kapata is seen repeatedly wiping her forehead in apparent deep sweat as Mwale is looking on pensively.
Meanwhile, others are heard saying “You cannot tell our mother that she’s wrong in our presence because allowing you to do so means we are useless”….in no time Lusambo withdraws his statement paving way for minister Kapata to apologise in grand style.
In response, Kapata promises the traditional leaders that the government is not going to ‘touch’ traditional land country wide in its quest to put idle state land on title and that this is exhibited in the rectification of the error in the 2016 budget proposal on titling land nationwide.
“We are aware as government that 90% of the land in Zambia belongs to traditional leaders and only 10% belongs to the state. Therefore, when we are carrying out the national survey we are concentrating on state land so that Zambians are empowered – they can use a title to borrow money from the banks and government can earn some money through the issuance of title deeds” she says before suddenly approaching the chief (flanked by a kneeling Mwale) and rolling on the ground as a sign of remorse.
The meeting ends in a cordial fashion with both parties arriving at a truce after the apology. The chieftainancy agrees to release the $60 000 G.P.S surveying equipment once the Minister of Lands formerly writes a letter setting out the resolutions of the meeting.
Meanwhile, government promises not to encroach on traditional land. But does this fairy tale-ending mark the conclusion of a long term mistrust between government and traditional leadership over matters of land?
As the gathering disperses, one cannot help but feel the heaviness of the “elephant in the room”.
In 2016 Government announced through its then minister of Lands Christabel Ngimbu that it would take stock of every idle land after which it would embark on the repossession of such tracts of land. Warning that “all those that own vast but idle land should start developing it, or they risk losing it to the government,” she warned then.
Government then released the revised National Land Policy in March 2018 setting the context in which the laws governing and allocating land to Zambians would change but the traditional chiefs rejected it on mistrust and suspicion that government wanted to trick them out of Land.
According to a UNAIDS Zambia report on Tenure and Global Climate Change Program) and Land Portal Foundation 2018 Zambia presents an excellent case study for understanding the opportunities and challenges associated with promoting customary rights recognition.
The report says “Zambia’s 288 customary chiefs have legally recognized authority over 70-94% of the country’s 752,000 km2, while government leaseholds on state land are restricted to 6% of the country at independence, surrounding urban centers and lines of rail, with a further 10-20% of the country that may have been converted to leasehold since 1995”.
“The report further points out that the authority of customary leaders over land is recognized but these leaders have limited tools for land management. Spatial records for both state and customary land allocations are limited, and only a handful of chiefs issue documentation of their land allocations or of customary decisions made in traditional courts.
Zambia’s chiefs are relatively non-political, and while some chiefs have been accused of allocating land to investors through non-transparent means, others are seen as advocates for protecting the rights of rural stakeholders” says the report.