IN a desperate bid to survive an unrelenting economic environment, villagers around Harare have resorted to subdividing homesteads and selling off pieces of family land to desperate land seekers from the country’s capital.

The demand for residential stands has escalated in recent times as people seek to buy land and avoid exorbitant monthly rates charged by landlords.

In most low-income  suburbs in Harare, a single room is charged around US$70- US$80 inclusive of rent, water and electricity bills.

The average Zimbabwean is earning around US$100 a month which means little is left for other expenses apart from rentals.

The desperation for land among urban dwellers has been met by an equally desperate need for income among villagers around Harare.

A survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Independent revealed that residents of Seke, Domboshava, Goromonzi, Chihota, and parts of Murehwa are making a killing from subdividing their land and selling it to interested buyers from major cities.

Thomas Yafele, a villager in Goromonzi told the Independent that he subdivided his homestead into three parts and has already sold two pieces of land, earning US$3 800 in the process.

An area the size of 700-800 square meters is being sold for about US$2 000.

The same piece of land costs about US$15 000 in the capital Harare and its environs.

“I would call this a blessing in disguise,” Yafele said.

“Life has been hard for many rural folks to the extent that some have even struggled to raise money for the most basic necessities. So having people willing to buy land from us is a prayer answered for both parties.”

Also benefiting from the sale of land are village headmen and chiefs who are charging an average of US$600 per every transaction which they will in turn split between the two of them.

The money is said to be a facilitation fee meant to have the buyer’s name entered into the village register.

Headman Rodwell Kufandada Musonza from Goromonzi denied the allegations being levelled against his colleagues.

“No land is being sold to anyone so there is no way headmen can be involved in the said transactions,” Musonza said.

Land seekers appear to be content with the extra charges because cumulatively, the amounts they are paying are cheaper than what is being charged for urban residential stands.

“I recently bought a piece of land measuring about 700 square metres in Domboshava for US$1 800. It is a reasonable price considering that I paid US$1 000 and will settle the balance in three months,” said Takudzwa Fusire.

Villagers and headmen seem unbothered by the illegality of their actions.

Rural land falls under the communal land tenure system and is administered under the system of customary land tenure.

Statutes on land and settlement, on the one hand, and those on local customs and tradition, on the other hand, legally constitute a structure that regulates access to land in these areas.

Efforts to get a comment from Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Anxious Masuka were futile. But an official from the ministry said they were aware of these activities.

“We are alive to the fact that some of our traditional leaders are illegally engaging in the sale of communal land. We do not expect this from them because they are custodians of this land,” said the source.

“We are carrying out investigations and perpetrators risk being prosecuted including those that are buying the land. They are also in danger of being evicted without compensation because they do not have title deeds to that land.”

Urban and regional planning analyst Emaculate Ingwani said: “The prevalence of land transactions…presents complex patterns of intended and unintended outcomes as community residents interact with the structure that regulates land transactions under the customary land tenure system. The outcomes are slowly progressing from risks to hazards.”