Writes: Tjonane Matla
The land issue in the Mountain Kingdom had been a vehement prohibition amongst politicians for the past decades. At first land was seen to have been allocated by Chiefs, a debatable point indeed. The allocation of land in Lesotho was at a later stage entrenched legally in Land Act of 1979 before the revisiting which formed the current Land ACT of 2010 with its amendments.
Around 1973, just before the Land ACT of 1979, of which primarily it was focusing more on the residential and commercial use of land, Chief Leabua Jonathan, in an attempt of appeasing his followers, had passed a policy that land must be a family estate, where it could be inherited, this was done contrary to the practice of allocating land for younger people who could cultivate the land until they got old, and less productive. In the olden days, we should remember that the elderly were fed from the ‘Tsimo-ea-Lira’, communal agricultural fields that were cultivated practically for those without strength or means to plough, being elderly people or travellers passing by.
Ever since the family estate policy, land had not been taken away from anyone who is not utilising it, as compared to the days when land was taken away and reallocated when people either got older or land lied fallow.
As if it was not enough, when one engages in a dialogue with politicians in power about issues surrounding addressing land problems, most often politicians point a finger at the Chiefs. When on the other hand when one engages with the Chiefs, the Chiefs point a finger at the Local Councils. The Local Councils on the other hand seems either not capacitated.
This lack of vision and planning, exhibited by the lack of cohesion, caused the country serious encroachment in the agricultural land, by many different inadvertent developments in different parts of our beloved Lesotho.
The ownership of land is in the wrong hands, some of the people who inherited prime agricultural land are basically either no longer entitled by Lesotho legislation to hold title to land, as they had long found citizenship elsewhere, or while others have no interest at all in agriculture. The biggest question that we should one day ask ourselves, shall be why are we not taking stock of our agricultural land, and run an exercise where we could establish the rightful holders of the land tittle deeds or leases, then find out why they are not utilising their land.
In the later years, the Government of Lesotho introduced Local Government through the ACT of parliament. It is interpreted that it is in that piece of legislation where the exotic forests in different plateaus around the country were stated as communally owned. The issue of communal ownership in Lesotho should be another topic for a different platform in future, but the issue must be what economic value do these forests bring? How much do they contribute in terms of Gross Domestic Product? (GDP)
Taboo, yesteryears hot potato now
Lesotho is experiencing very serious poverty driven by many factors including serious unemployment, probably heavily motivated by poor administrative policies by not only the Government but Basotho at large.
A standard one pupil who has a really good teacher who enjoys storytelling, should be in a position to narrate a story that Basotho were constructing their dwellings on the mountain slopes while the fields lay on the flat land.
This seems not to be the situation now, and it is only now that we can be in a good position to actually re-plan our land use in a way that neither politicians, Chiefs nor their subjects could question the move.
It is high-time that we start engaging with each other on whether the exotic forests that we have in Lesotho, could not be turned into Livestock Commercial Farm Plots? Let the community councils get income from sale of those commercial plots, and earn funds from sale of wood, let the land use be re-planned and let the commercial banks then finance acquisition of these farm plots.
It is the only way scarce money could be available for capital spending of local councils, and it will be the re-birth of the commercialisation of livestock industry in Lesotho, a sector that our beloved country has comparative advantage over exotic forests.
We can no longer sing the same old song of ‘we are a poor nation’. We need to look into what we have, what works and what does not work, what is easier to do and what is difficult. I am sure every Mosotho who gets appointed or elected to a position, do enter office with hope to make a difference. It is not the wish that shall change the situation, but a bold approach of solving a problem and actual implementation of tough decisions and really advocating for changing old ways of doing things, which simply did not work.