Monday, 5 December 2011

Land tenure in Lesotho

Land is a tricky issue in Southern Africa. From land grabs (farm invasions) in Zimbabwe to foreign ownership questions in Mozambique, land is a touchy subject. Now Lesotho is contemplating modernising land tenure. According to a SAIIA researcher

"Every male Basotho is entitled to inherit plots of land, but while families expand, land does not, so the plots kept getting smaller and smaller. Because this was all done informally, eventually there were a lot of disputes" he explained.

So, it seems logical to modernise the system, provide more secure tenure - based on laws, regulations and paper rather than communal memory - and maybe attract some FDI in the process. It might work, too, especially with strong calls for moves that will make land tenure less secure in neighbouring South Africa. And Lesotho could definitely use a boost for the economy.

But 3/4 of the population of Lesotho rely on agricultural livelihoods. And agriculture, particularly pastoralism, has always been deeply rooted in communal land tenure rights.
In a direct challenge to land as a Basotho birthright, the inclusion of a "use it or lose it" clause permits the authorities to take land that has not been cultivated for at least three years.

This seems to suggest that there might be an intention to sell off land to foreigners, which is probably not a great idea given how little of it Lesotho has to begin with. Perhaps this will turn out to be a good thing but if privatising hospital care and investing more money in failing industries are other examples of the modernisation plan, it doesn't look that good.

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