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Home » October 2011

Urban LandMark explores the dynamics of local land management arrangements in Maputo's peri-urban areas

Our approach

Our study used both qualitative and quantitative data sources, which consist of survey material collected from 568 households located in two peri-urban sites in Maputo - Hulene B and Luis Cabral.

We used the national census of 2007 as the basis of determining our sample size. According to the census, Luis Cabral has a total population of 33 800 people and 6 953 households. We surveyed 257 households in Luis Cabral. Hulene B has a total population of 45 390 and 8 416 households, out of which we selected 311 households for our survey. Our sample size in both sites is 27% and representative of the population.

Survey data was complemented with key informant interviews held with municipal officials, secretarios de bairros, officials at the National Directorate of Geography and Cadastre (DINAGECA) and ward secretaries.

Our rationale for the selection of the sites was to understand whether there are any differences in local land and management practices between these bairros, and whether perceptions of land security differed.

Although they are both located in the suburbs of Maputo city, Luis Cabral was established as a settlement for workers from the Maputo harbour, and has a longer history of urban settlement than Hulene B. Hulene B is a more recently established bairro, housing internally displaced people from the civil war and floods.

In the area where we worked, many households lived on a rubbish dumpsite, in potentially hazardous conditions. While the majority of the plots in Luis Cabral have been surveyed, have wider roads and are generally better planned, Hulene B is largely unplanned. According to the Secretario de Bairro in Hulene B, only one third of the area has been surveyed.

Having an area surveyed is important, as it allows for the provision of municipal infrastructure such as roads, water and sewers. It is also an essential step towards registering land in the national cadastre - a prerequisite to getting land title.

Despite the differences between the two neighbourhoods, the study found no variations in the nature of land ownership and tenure. In both settlements, the vast majority of households do not have formal title. Most land is acquired through mechanisms that are outside the formal land registration system. We expected Luis Cabral, a more established neighbourhood with greater infrastructure investment, to have more formalised land tenure and ownership patterns than Hulene B, but the results for both neighbourhoods were the same.

Official land registration procedures

At Mozambique's independence the state nationalised land, giving power for assigning land concessions in urban areas to town councils. Shortly after independence, a 17-year civil war broke out which pushed rural populations to Maputo, creating huge unplanned settlements on the city's periphery.

One of the key urban questions for the government after the end of the war and the signing of the peace agreement in 1992 was how to address the growing land pressure in cities. With returning exiles, internally displaced populations, 'native' urban populations and investors all staking a claim on urban land, there was a need to provide a legal framework that prevented land conflicts between a diverse array of stakeholders.

Although the ownership of land by individuals and corporations is illegal in Mozambique, there are provisions in the law for the long-term use and occupation of land through the DUAT - roughly translated as the Land Usage Title Document - issued by municipal authorities in urban areas and the National Directorate of Geography and Cadastre in the Ministry of Agriculture in rural areas.

The document is transferable, and is provided on condition that the holder develops the land within five years for Mozambican nationals and residents and within two years for non-nationals. The DUAT can be withdrawn from the holder if they fail to adhere to these provisions. Once a DUAT holder has developed the land, they can apply for a Titulo that provides them ownership of the structures and any developments on the land for a period between 49 and 99 years.

Acquiring the DUAT is a long bureaucratic process, requiring the applicant to go to different government departments and through 64 steps in the process before getting land and property registered.

At each stage the applicant encounters different problems: delays in the processing of registrations, a lack of capacity in government departments and a lack of information. This, coupled with the cost of travel to municipal offices, payments to notaries and the general application fees necessary for registration, mean that the DUAT is out of reach for the majority of urban households.

There are also other problems not related to cost that make the DUAT difficult to obtain; for a DUAT to be issued, the parcel of land has to be in the municipal cadastre where the location and number of the parcel is registered. With the exception of 'cement town' in Maputo, few sites are registered in the cadastre.

According to a municipal official we interviewed at the Department of Planning, about 800 000 households out of a population of 1.1 million people in the city do not possess a DUAT.

For households without a DUAT, the declaracao offers an official means for recognising a land occupant, and is a prerequisite to obtaining a DUAT. The declaracao is issued by the Secretario de Bairro, a local leader who, since 2003 when Law 8/2003 (the Law of Local Organs) established the secretario, has been an official appointed by the municipality. Although the figure is appointed not elected, they are often political and linked to governing party Frelimo. In fact in Luis Cabral, the party head quarters and the secretario's offices are one and the same.

For many households in peri-urban areas, the declaracao is the only document that links their name to a particular space in the city. Although it is not a title deed, it is recognised by banks, the municipality and employers to obtain a loan (for example), or verify to potential employers that an individual is bona fide.

To issue a declaracao, the Secretario de Bairro works together with a local leadership structure. Typically, a bairro is divided into areas comprising 50 households which are registered and managed by the chefe de quarteirao who is responsible for managing the households in his/her area, ensuring that they are accurately registered, resolving conflicts and providing the secretario with information on land occupancy.

Below the chefe de quarteirao is the chefe de block who is responsible for 25 households. These are further subdivided into areas of 10 households known as dez casas, managed by the chefe de dez casas. At each of these levels, local data on household occupancy, plot and house numbers are collected and verified. These are reported to the chefe de quarteirao who captures them manually into a register. All the data collected by the chefes de quarteirao is consolidated in another register held by the Secretario de Bairro. With the exception of the Secretario de Bairro, other local leaders are volunteers who are not paid for the work they do and do not work for the municipality.

Our findings

Our findings challenge conventional understanding of the formal and informal sector in African cities.

First, informal systems are not always the chaotic mess they are perceived to be. Our research finds that there exists a sophisticated system of land registration, regulation and management in peri-urban areas where households do not have formal land title.

Secondly, although much of the land is accessed and secured verbally or through agreements with social networks, state agents are often critical to lending credibility to informal practices. It is not just that these spheres of authority overlap at given points in the process; they produce hybridised practices - melding both official and unofficial processes. Thus, the official and unofficial processes collapse into each other, producing new land practices in the city.

Thirdly, despite the fact that few households in the study areas have formal title to land or documentation - less than 3% of households claimed to have a DUAT, and only 30% had a declaracao - the majority of households (68%) reported that their sense of rights to place were strong because the local land practices had social legitimacy.

Moreover, if households' investments in their properties are a sign of their sense of security in a place, then households in both neighbourhoods seem to feel relatively secure - 72% of those surveyed had made housing improvements since they had moved in.

These findings tell an important story of the significance of local land practices in creating opportunities for urban dwellers to secure land rights in the absence of an accessible and affordable formal system. And the findings not only shed light on our understanding of how urban territory is carved up and managed; they underscore the ways in which we conceptualise African cities, with implications for both urban theory and practice.