Traditionally, land in Lesotho was owned by the King and managed by the Chiefs who therefore played a role in land allocation from the sovereign, to the general populace. The land was allocated in parcels, mainly for agriculture and the size of a site or field was measured by counting the number of footsteps where each foot step was considered to be a metre. In the later years, measuring tapes and trundle wheels were used.
Trundle Wheel used to measure land
Land Allocation is one of Local Government’s main functions through community councils (Schedule II of the Local Government Act, 1997). This means that land allocation is no longer among the mandates of the Chiefs; their responsibility is now legally limited to the day to day governance of villages. The Land Use and Settlement Planning (LUSP) process commenced in Lesotho in 2009. Planning itself became a decentralized function alongside these other changes, so small cohorts of Assistant Physical Planners (APPs) were placed in each of the ten districts.
The LUSP process aimed at creating tools to help Councils on land allocation, and to enhance orderly growth and development of human settlement. However, population recovery and growth in the last decade has led to unplanned and haphazard development in high sensitive areas, or in such a way as to compromise agricultural production and food security. The LUSP process empowered communities, Councils and APPs with knowledge, skills and a responsibility to engage. It also created the possibility that the trundle wheel would disappear with APPs trained in digital mapping and ArcGIS.
However, there seems to be some difficulty from the public in adapting to and embracing the LUSP process changes. This was despite a big effort at public sensitization within the process. Rural areas are still often facing issues of haphazard residential development, the proof of the process having been uneven. There are still Chiefs who use their traditional position of community leadership to allocate land, and citizens who immediately (and illegally) proceed to build houses. Rural residents are used to transforming their land use with the immediacy that they always had. With the pressure of Lesotho’s large urban population growth, it is not justifiable to allow this to happen outside each town as it is environmentally unsustainable. Having said that, the scope for community councils to acquire land, upon which an assistant area planner could design sustainable and serviceable housing, means that the supply of well planned housing options is too limited to meet the demand. Government is not funding Community Councils to the extent that this would be effective.
The problem isn’t one that is confined to rural places. In some cases, the Land Administration Authority even participates in the supply “solution” as a land agent. It creates subdivisions and grants leases at city edges. For example, a large scale development at Mazenod occured. Driven by the Millennium Challenge Fund this focussed on output rather than quality. Schemes at this site did not have any formal planning input in how they are designed, circumvent the planning process set down in law.
The LUSP process is responsible for the improvement of working relations between chiefs and councils.
Haphazard Buildings at the edge of an urban area
It is therefore, the responsibility of assistant physical planners to ensure the development of well planned and functional rural settlement; taking into consideration the economic and population growth rates, including the over-spill of demand for housing from cities and towns. A planner has to be aware about what is happening in their area of work and take action where necessary. We have all allowed our ArcGIS skills to deplete, licenses to expire and the infrastructure to make maps to be put to other uses. OpenStreetMap couldn’t have come too soon, for at least we have the evidence of what got built, where and with what infrastructure. Maybe this time the trundle wheel will really disappear.
Mapping the country is the first step in providing the case that the environment cannot sustain the present development patterns.