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Property and Power in Zimbabwe's Communal Lands: Implications for Agrarian Reform in the 1990's

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Cousins, Ben
Date: 1993
Agency: Centre for Applied Social Sciences, University of Zimbabwe, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe
Series: CASS Occasional Paper--NRM Series
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/3706
Sector: Grazing
Land Tenure & Use
Region: Africa
Subject(s): property rights
land tenure and use
common pool resources
Abstract: "An understanding of the social relations of production and exchange in the communal farming sector is critical to assessments of options for agrarian reform. Recent survey research has indicated that this sector is deeply differentiated, but few in-depth analyses exist of the political economy of rural production or of processes of differentiation. Differentiation is here viewed from the perspective of a reproduction/ accumulation problematic, and access to land is identified as a critical constraint on a small layer of would-be rural accumulators. Access is constrained by the current version of 'communal tenure', understood as a structure of property relations overdetermined by local and nonlocal political processes. The 'new institutionalist economics' view of property regimes as bundles of rights and duties, together with the results of recent historical research on land tenure in Zimbabwe, helps us understand 'communal tenure' as historically variable rules of access and control subject to power plays by interested groups of actors. Marxist and neo-Marxist theories of property in non-capitalist and capitalist societies help us to situate these power plays in the context of the political economy of capitalist development in Zimbabwe. This perspective is illustrated using case study material from Mondoro Communal Land. Agrarian reform policy needs to recognize the twoedged nature of 'communal tenure'. In the absence of decisive interventions the ambiguities inherent in the current property regime will increasingly be manipulated by elites and emergent rural accumulators to their own advantage. The crisis of reproduction for the rural majority will continue to deepen. But the potential also exists for a democratic and egalitarian communal property regime, within the framework of expanded access to the national land base. Discourses of 'differentiation' and 'democracy' need to complement the currently dominant discourses of 'community' and 'development', informing the practices of both rural producers and state and non-government bodies."

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