In this blog, Farai Mutondoro, Mary Jane Ncube, Manase Chiweshe and Derick Hamunakwadi discuss the impact of land corruption, particularly on women. The blog is informed by a case study of the Chisumbanje Ethanol Project in Zimbabwe. The discussion on women, land and corruption is a missing narrative in the large scale land acquisitions and biofuels debate.
A hallmark of large scale land deals across Africa is the claim that the land being taken over by corporations is either laying idle or belongs to state. In this narrative the local people living of the land are often made invisible. We bring to the fore an important dimension to the displacement of communities that has taken place in Chisumbanje, Manicaland Province in Zimbabwe. Large tracts of community lands have been leased to establish sugarcane plantations that supply Chisumbanje ethanol plant. The land deal has been marked by corruption allegations of huge bribes paid to government officials by the private investor, as well as widespread contestations over land ownership and boundary disputes between the community, government and the private company.
The Chisumbanje Ethanol Project is a public-private partnership that started in 2009, when the Agriculture and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) signed a 20-year joint-venture agreement with two private Zimbabwean companies to lease over 50,000 ha of land. The objective was to establish 40,000 ha of sugarcane plantations with the potential to develop additional 10,000 hectares, as well as revive the irrigation infrastructure within eight years. The community claims that the government only controls one tenth (5112 ha) of the area, and that the company is grabbing the community land through encroaching outside the ARDA (state) boundaries. An estimated 3000 households have been displaced. While in the past the community was a self-reliant community which produced cotton and maize, with the land dispossession the community has been reduced to a very poor community.
The impacts of displacement are highly gendered. With the land dispossession a number of men have left for South Africa and Mozambique in search for jobs. This has further burdened women who have to take care of more responsibilities. Most men in the community are polygamist, some with more than 2 wives and 5 children, and it is the responsibility of the mother to provide food and school fees to the children. While the private company did provide compensation to some of the displaced farmers by handing out 0.5 hectares of land, this was done irrespective of the size of the original land holdings or family size. Traditionally, husbands would give each wife certain amount of land to access, but because the compensation was only given to the household head (normally the man), many women need to seek other livelihoods alternatives such as selling firewood or water that women fetch over long distances. As a result, a number of children have dropped out of schools and some young girls have been forced into early marriage. Nawaigo (2012) concludes that the whole ethanol project does not recognize the important social and economic subsistence roles of women which sees them as major contributors in feeding and providing for their families.
Women and girls in this community have also borne the brunt of the land corruption. Community members allege that the village leaders only gave land to those who paid a bribe in the form of cattle, goats or money. A few women from the community allege they had to consent to sex to get the 0.5 hectare of land. One of the few women who talked to us about sexual exploitation of women in return for land said that “this was common practice but most women would not disclose this as they fear losing the land, being labelled as prostitute and for those who are married, fear of being divorced. For those who are widows they also fear being victimized or sent back to their kin by the husband’s relatives”. While a few cases of sexual exploitation have been reported to the police, most women do not report, as there is no tangible evidence, they fear the negative social sanctions and the effect of disclosure on community social relations.
To address the complaints, the government appointed Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth, Indigenization and Economic Empowerment to investigate the facts on the ground. A public hearing conducted in Chisumbanje Primary School in mid- 2014 identified several grievances on the ethanol project and its impact on community livelihoods. However, the committee’s recommendations have had a limited impact in clarifying land ownership between the different stakeholders. Civil society actors, including Transparency International, continue supporting communities in this area through legal redress, providing them with platforms to air out their views and demand for transparency and accountability from the authorities.
Farai Mutondoro is a Senior Researcher and Regional Coordinator with Transparency International Zimbabwe
Mary Jane Ncube is the Executive Director of Transparency International Zimbabwe
Manase Kudzai Chiweshe is a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Development Studies at Chinhoyi University of Technology
Dereck Hamunakwadi is a Research Assistant with Transparency International Zimbabwe. He researches on governance and anti-corruption issues
This blog article is informed by a study that TI Zimbabwe undertook under the Women Land and Corruption project in Zimbabwe.
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Matondi, P.B and Nhliziyo C.T (2014) Lessons from land Investments in Zimbabwe:The case of Chisumbanje ethanol investment.Presentation at the conference on Land Policy in Africa 2014.
Matondi, P.B and Nhliziyo C.T (2015). Zimbabwe's new land crisis: Large-scale land investments at Chisumbanje. Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies School of Government. EMS Faculty. University of Western Cape.
Mutondoro, F. Ncube, M.J and Awelana, A (2016). An Analysis of the Impact of Land Related Corruption on Women: Case Studies from Ghana and Zimbabwe. Paper presented at 2016 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty. Washington DC, March 14-18, 2016
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Nawaigo, C. (2012). Appropriation of Land for Agro-Fuel Production and its Effects on Women’s Rural Livelihoods and access to Land: A case study of the Ethanol Project in Chisumbanje, Zimbabwe. Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women’s Law, University of Zimbabwe
Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment (2014). Public Hearing on Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant, Chisumbanje, Chipinge District, 11 July 2014.
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