The Pan African Land Hearings could be a model for future dialogue

The location of the hearings in Southern Africa was sobering, said Oxfam’s Marc Wegerif, as 2013 marks the Centenary of the 1913 Land Act. The outcomes of that process are still to be addressed: inequitable land distribution where the communities are subsisting on poor, marginalised land while investors and commercial farmers benefit from the large-scale farming activities on the region’s most fertile lands. The impact on livelihoods, economic and political stability have been causing concern among the state, investors and communities in the Southern African region. Recent events in Zimbabwe bear testimony to some of the consequences of the failure by stakeholders to equitably share in the costs and benefits of land investments.

A second observation was that the hearings provided a way to discuss the equitable sharing of costs and benefits of large scale investments among stakeholders. It was felt to be important to have a level playing field where stakeholders could express themselves in a language and form of their choice. The use of poetry and music amid sighs, tears and hugs in the Land Hearing showed that the current formal processes of consultation and representation are not only flawed, but pose serious obstacles, and marginalise those without the means to communicate formally.

In conclusion, besides allowing the various stakeholders to share a platform, the Land Hearings illustrated what could be done with the resources and spaces that are in place while more responsive platforms are under consideration.  The successful hosting of this event highlighted the urgent need for more engagements that might produce outcomes that secure livelihoods and protect the interests of present and future generations.

This post is a slightly edited version of one that first appeared on the PLAAS blog.