Camponeses’ Realities: Their Experiences and Perceptions of the 1997 Land Law

Rural Communities have their own sets of laws rooted in their particular culture, environment, traditions and history that are separate from national laws. Lack of education, years of  wartime political oppression and violence, and government-enforced cooperative ventures  during the 1970’s have created a deep  feeling of  suspicion among rural small-scale farmers for all government laws and programs. This conception has been reinforced by the fact that historically communities have only been made aware of their negative rights – what they will be penalized for.  As a result, rural communities tend to function more as small, self-governing nations, or “kingdoms” than as components of the greater state of Mozambique. But because the 1997 land law protects communities’ rights to land and is able to fit comfortably into each community’s particular local custom and culture, communities are  perhaps for the first time beginning to embrace a state law as their own and incorporate it into the governance of their villages.  This has the effect of  drawing small-scale rural farmers in isolated communities  up into the greater state legal system. Therefore, I argue that the 1997 land law is helping to facilitate nation building in Mozambique. The War of Destabilization and the accompanying violence, political division, mass displacement of villages, and government efforts to silence free speech have had a lasting impact on rural communities; communities reported that before learning and needing to use the 1997 land law local cooperation and unity had not existed for many years. However, because the land law mandates that communities have the responsibility to protect and manage their natural resources and also to be consulted as a body before any land transaction with an outside investor can be made, communities are finding it necessary to hold community meetings. During these meetings they discuss resource management strategies and community needs to petition for  in exchange for land during consultations. In sum, I found that use of the land law is helping communities to learn to unite and work together, thereby strengthening civil society. Communities overwhelmingly expressed their desire for outside investors to come to their areas as well as an extreme willingness to part with community lands in exchange for development and jobs. However, the consultation process during such land transactions must be very closely mediated to insure that rural communities, still inexperienced at negotiating on a bureaucratic plane, are not taken advantage of. The propensity for consultations to be swayed more towards the investor’s advantage is exacerbated by corruption and ignorance on the part of low level local officials, specifically the Chef de Posto and the Presidente de Localidade. I found that in rural areas these officials had little to no awareness of the 1997 land law and were the key factors in the failure of communities’ attempts to protect their land tenure rights.  More education for these officials is necessary to ensure adherence to the law.