Sunday, December 15, 2013

'Massive land grabbing by foreign companies'
By Editor
Tue 29 Oct. 2013, 14:00 CAT

A lot of care needs to be taken by the government when it comes to giving land to transnational corporations. We are lucky that a great part of our land is not in the hands of transnational corporations like it is in some countries of our region. It will be a huge mistake to hand over to these corporations our land rights, the rights that our forefathers defended.

We all know that part of the land that some people and enterprises own today was obtained by unjust means. And as a result of this, landlessness continues to disadvantage many of our people; it deprives them, to a considerable extent, of an important source of economic security; and it forces them, on unequal terms to provide the cheap labour which results in increased profit for those who benefit most from our natural resources.

The issue of land reform is of great importance in determining the future of our country and the well-being of our people. We are grateful that our government has realised this and is not very eager to parcel out land to transnational corporations.

There has to be continuous vigilance about the justice dimensions of the way land is given to transnational corporations.

There are attempts by First Quantum Minerals to be given title deeds to 600 square kilometres of land in North Western Province. The government, especially the President, has been very reluctant to give this title despite heavy lobbying by First Quantum Minerals. A lot of care needs to be taken in dealing with issues of land because land is a national heritage.

In principle, given our democratic society, huge tracts of land like the one First Quantum Minerals is seeking title to should not be parcelled out without public discourse. This should never be done without the issue being publicly debated, democratically decided and widely publicised.

And when it comes to land issues, special consideration should be given to Zambians, especially the people in the rural areas. Land should not be taken away from them. Small farmers should be given the opportunity to own the land they need and they should be offered title deeds to that land.

Those who live on trust lands, the chiefs and the peasants, should be given the opportunity to participate in decisions to parcel out land in their areas and their contributions and concerns should be given serious consideration.

We should never allow a situation where our rural people are dispossessed of their land and turned into labourers on plantations which belong to wealthy individuals, local, foreign or multinational. This apprehension is not far-fetched because we know all too well that numerous countries in the world are victims of such practices. Rural life should be protected and promoted. Economic considerations alone must not determine the direction of our land decisions. The whole social fabric of the present and future Zambia must be considered.

And we make a strong appeal to our chiefs not to betray their people by yielding to pressures of bribes or any such favours in exchange for their offering of land to potential landlords, foreign or local. The future of the people must come first.

In our Christian tradition, the biblical perspective tells us that land is a sacred trust given by God to the people for the benefit of all people. We feel that this perspective should inform the decisions and actions of our leaders and other decision makers so that social justice and concern for the poor will mark every parcelling out of land.

We accordingly share the concerns being raised by Southern Africa Development Community church organisations over land policies and decisions in our region. The criticisms these organisations are making over the way some of our governments have behaved or are behaving are justified. Our church organisations have criticised some governments of our region for betraying the people by allowing mass land grabbing by foreign multinationals. They have singled out national elites and government as the major actors in land grabbing. They feel that lax laws were allowing rich foreign corporations to displace the poor to pave way for mining, game reserves, golf estates and agricultural activities in pursuit of their own profits.

Truly, the poor seem to have lost importance in the eyes of our politicians and other leaders when it comes to dealings with transnational corporations. The interests of transnational corporations seem to be placed ahead of our governments' duties to protect our poor people's land rights.

There is a lot of carelessness, even where corruption is not an issue, when it comes to dealing with transnational corporations seeking land.
There is too much land being given to foreigners who are simply holding it in all sorts of ways for speculative purposes. They are being given huge tracts of land for game ranching, whose contribution to the economy and creation of employment is minimal. And here, the intention of these so-called foreign investors is very clear - it is to hold huge tracts of land at a minimal cost. And game ranching is a good vehicle for this.

There is also the danger of giving mining corporations much more land than their immediate mining needs demand. This may create problems in the medium to long term.

In saying all this, we are not in any way being anti-foreign investment. All we are saying is that we have to be very prudent in the way we parcel out land. We are probably the only continent in the world that is giving out land for free to transnational corporations. Nobody obtains land in this way in Europe or America. We don't think even in Asia land can be obtained in this way.

We seem to have a new scramble for Africa. We need to act more intelligently and break out of the vicious circle of dependence and exploitation imposed on us by the financially powerful; those in command of immense market power and those who dare to fashion the world in their own image.

As Nelson Mandela once observed, "Africa, more than any other continent, has to contend with the consequences of conquest in a denial of its own role in history, including the denial that its people had the capacity to bring about change and progress. It would be a cruel irony if Africa's actions to regenerate the continent were to unleash a new scramble for Africa which, like that of the nineteenth century, plundered the continent's wealth and left it once more the poorer."

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