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Rural women auditing land and land governance systems at the RWA feminist school

Written by Naomi Kamvantope (RWA Malawi)

The second day of the feminist school was focused on Who controls the land: rethinking land governance. The day started off with a powerful mystica that connected the women to the question of land.

The purpose of the land audit was for RWA to take stock of rural women and their land ownership patterns and the land governance systems in SADC. The session started off with each country to provide a land fact. Some of the land facts raised by the women were;

1. Without land one has no identity (Zimbabwe)
2. Land cannot be multiplied (South Africa)
3. Land can produce food (Swaziland)
4. Land gives meaning of life (Swaziland)
5. Land is everything (Namibia)
6. Land cannot be stretched (Zambia)
7. Land does not expire (Malawi)
8. Land Biggest source of conflict (Zimbabwe)
9. Everyone has a Right to land (Lesotho)
10. Land is a source of income (Malawi)
11. Oceans and rivers are part of land (South Africa)
12. Land has its own identity
13. Land is a Foundation of life (Mozambique)
14. Land capitalism is not cultural but its criminal (Swaziland)

The Namibians started the report back sessions with a great play. The play portrayed the corrupt traditional authorities and how they distribute land. We learned from this play that traditional authorities can be quite corrupt because they often favour certain people and facilitate access to land in exchange for money.  This unequal distribution of land has a major impact on rural women access to land in their region. It negatively impacts women who are poorer in the community and who is not able to pay the authorities off in order to get access to land.


Sisters from RWA Lesotho highlighted that very often rural women are dispossessed from their land especially if they discover minerals. One young women from South Africa shared that rights to land should also take into the what happens under the surface. She shared that people in her community in North West were also evicted from land because there is minerals. The sisters from RWA Zimbabwe also highlighted the large scale land grabs that take place by the Chinese. Like in the case of Lesotho government also plays an important role in facilitating the increasing land grabs that take place in Zimbabwe.

In the report back session it also became clear that not all rural women have access to land. For example, most of the women from Zambia owned land and this is a major source of their income.  The Zambian sisters shared that owning land empower women to create employment opportunities on the land for others in their area. The women have great support from the local government because they get assistance with different types of machinery to cultivate their land. Women from Swaziland shared that they do not own land and men are often given preference to get land. Patriarchy privileges men and women often only get access to land through their husbands.

From the different country presentations it became apparent that there are two systems of land governance in the region. One is state-owned land and the other is traditional-owned land.  For example, women in Zambia women negotiated access to land through traditional authorities and were given letters of offers.

The women really enjoyed the land audit and discussed critically their experiences of land ownership. They were eager to learn from each other and listened attentively to each other followed by serious questions on land ownership.

One Zambian sister shared that the land audit process was important for her because she was able to learn about the struggles that women experience in SADC countries with regard to land. She also shared that she is happy because she owns land, but the rest of the women in her area do not own land.  They have access to the land because of their husbands. She expressed concern that she is not sure what will happen to these women when their husbands pass away.  She indicated that because of this information that she acquired she can now organise other women to go to the headman and discuss a way forward.


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