Communal Land Act (Chapter 20:04) of Zimbabwe

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Communal Land

Communal Lands Act (Chapter 20:04) is an act to provide for the classification of land in Zimbabwe as Communal Land and for the alteration of such classification; to alter and regulate the occupation and use of Communal Land; and to provide for matters incidental to or connected with the foregoing. The act commenced on the 1st of February 1983.


Communal Land means land referred to as Communal Land in section three; inhabitant, in relation to any Communal Land or part thereof, means a person who is entitled, in terms of this Act, to reside in that Communal Land or part thereof; Minister means the Minister of Local Government, Rural and Urban Development or any other Minister to whom the President may, from time to time, assign the administration of this Act; use, in relation to Communal Land, includes the erection of any building or enclosure, ploughing, hoeing, the cutting of vegetation, the depasturing of animals or the taking of sand, stone or other materials therefrom.

The historical roots of the concept of Communal Land is a colonial relic. While the notion of Communal Land was an invention of the colonial establishment, albeit as Native Reserves and later Tribal Trust Lands, the post-colonial government has found it convenient and maintained it. While most of the focus on agricultural land has been on the former white-owned commercial farms, there are great opportunities for political actors to craft policies to carry out comprehensive reforms regarding Communal Land. The issue of Communal Land is too important to be ignored. Most of the population live there and many of those who left still maintain critical familial links with their Communal Land.

When black people were displaced, they were relocated to “reserves”, some of which, like the Gwaai and Shangani Reserves, were unsuitable for human habitation. The 1898 Native Reserves Order in Council by the British Government, which came after the First Chimurenga, an uprising against white settler rule, made provision for the creation of “Native Reserves” ostensibly to “protect” the rights of “natives” (blacks) to access land. These Native Reserves, which were ruled by Native Land Commissioners, were in poor, low-rainfall areas that were located far away from markets or access routes.[1]

Communal Land

Extent of Communal Land (Section 3)

Communal Land shall consist of land which, immediately before the 1st February, 1983, was Tribal Trust Land in terms of the Tribal Trust Land Act, 1979 (No.6 of 1979), subject to any additions thereto or subtractions therefrom made in terms of section six.

Vesting of Communal Land (Section 4)

Communal Land shall be vested in the President, who shall permit it to be occupied and used in accordance with this Act. Most Zimbabweans may wallow in blissful ignorance of the fact that the law places all Communal Land in the hands of the President. Section 4 of the CLA provides that “Communal Land shall be vested in the President, who shall permit it to be occupied and used in accordance with this Act”. This gives the President vast power over Communal Land and its “inhabitants”, the term used in the CLA to refer to citizens of communal areas. There is no mention that the President holds it in trust for the citizens. Whereas the Tribal Trust Lands Act contained the notion of trusteeship, which meant the citizens had rights as beneficiaries, the CLA simply vests it in the President. As the further analysis will demonstrate, the CLA effectively makes the President a feudal lord.

Description of Communal Land (Section 5)

1. The Minister shall, by Statutory Instrument, publish a description of the area of Communal Land.

2. The Minister may from time to time, by statutory instrument, amend any instrument published in terms of subsection (1), or any replacement of such instrument, in order—

  • more clearly to describe the area of Communal Land; or
  • to change the name or other designation of any Communal Land: or
  • to correct any error in the description of any Communal Land.

3. If the instrument referred to in subsection (1) has been amended in terms of subsection (2) or in terms of subsection (2) of section six, the Minister may, by statutory instrument, repeal and replace such instrument with a further instrument describing the area of Communal Land as at the date of such replacement and may thereafter, from time to time, likewise repeal and replace any instrument published in terms of this subsection. 4. No statutory instrument published in terms of this section shall have the effect of transferring any land to or from Communal Land.

Additions to and subtractions from Communal Land (Section 6)

1. Subject to this Act, the Forest Act [Chapter 19:05] and the Parks and Wild Life Act [Chapter 20:14], the President may, by statutory instrument—

  • declare that any State Land shall form part of Communal Land;
  • after consultation with any rural district council established for the area concerned, declare that any land within Communal Land shall cease to form part of Communal land

2. Whenever the President has published a declaration in terms of subsection (1), the Minister shall, by statutory instrument, amend the instrument published in terms of subsection (1) or (3) of section five, as the case may be, to reflect such declaration.

3. Whenever any land ceases to form part of Communal Land in terms of a declaration published in terms of subsection (1), such land shall thereupon become State land until it is granted, sold or otherwise disposed of in terms of this Act or any other law.

Plight of Chilonga

Chilonga community in Chiredzi was hardly known to most of their fellow Zimbabweans as clearly put by renowned Zimbabwean lawyer, Alex Magaisa. He said, like many remote communities around the country, they fit the cliché of a forgotten people and rarely feature in the national discourse. Their area is dry and desolate. Over the last hundred years, members of the Shangaan ethnic minority have been shoved from one place to another, to make way for colonial settlers and when sugar capitalists moved in to set up their huge estates.

However, like so many of their fellow citizens, they took adversity on the chin and made their home in these parlous conditions. Since they had no option, they learned to live with the little that was at their disposal and their forebearers are buried there. Chilonga is their home but 41 years after their country got independence, they are being forced to move again. In February 2021, the government issued a statutory decree, ordering them to depart permanently from their home. The storm clouds had been gathering for some time, but they never imagined their government would go ahead and push them out.

On 26 February 2021, the government issued a statutory decree, SI50/2021 announcing the order for their departure. Every person in the area was “ordered to depart permanently with all of his or her property from the said land by the date of publication of [the] notice …” read section 3 of SI50/2021. They learned that they were making way for a dairy company that intended to use the land to grow grass (Lucerne Grass) for its cows. The company is called Dendairy and is based in the Midlands Province, far away from the Chilonga community. The men who came, according to members of the community, claimed that they had authority from the office of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The irony of the Chilonga people’s predicament is not lost on many Zimbabweans and all those that have followed the contentious issue of land in Zimbabwe from afar. The company that was earmarked to take over the land of the Chilonga community, Dendairy was founded by the Coetzee family, which owns a thriving dairy farming business. The displacement of the Chilonga community, therefore, represents the very opposite of what happened during the Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP), championed by Zanu PF under the late Robert Mugabe in the 2000s.

Further Reading


  1. Alex Magaisa, [1], Big Saturday Read (BSR), Published: 13 March, 2021, Accessed: 19 March, 2021