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Securing rights to land that is neither formally registered nor held under pure custom is an issue of global significance, affecting shelter and the economic well-being of vulnerable groups. Initial work shows that, in the continuum between customary and formalised tenure, as well as perpetuating customary land tenure practices individuals may also derive security from non-title registers such as rates registers. This project contributes to a general quest to establish hybrid land tenure solutions by seeking to understand the use of generic registers and how they may provide key benefits of title registration prior to the introduction of formal title.

How can unregistered rights be made more secure, for example land rights purchased in predominantly Communal Areas?

Method and data

The purpose of this research project builds upon these prior findings by investigating the following questions: are generic registers able to provide key benefits of title registration prior to the introduction of formal title? and what (if any) customary ceremonies/procedures continue to be used in parallel with these generic registers?

The specific objectives are as follows:

  1. To ascertain what records are kept in rates and headmen's registers and whether these records are sufficient to offer the key benefits of title registration or if they could be enhanced.
  2. To find, from users, what benefits they perceive non-title registers to offer and whether those registers have delivered any benefits (e.g. in proving rights against a competing claim).
  3. To find what investment (if any) is still made in customary securities in parallel with non-title registers.

A field trip to Zimbabwe took place in the latter half of 2012 to conduct field inspections and semi-structured interviews, and an article is at an advanced stage.


  • University of Otago Research Grant for 2012, $8923 for project “Hybrid solutions to securing land rights: between customary and formal land tenure”.
  • School of Surveying PBRF funding $9000 for the same project.

Selected publications and outcomes

Goodwin, D.P. (2013) “Whatever it takes: strategies by communal land right-holders in Zimbabwe for enhancing tenure security”. Africa. 83(1): 164-187.

Goodwin D.P. and Strack, M. (2017) “Tenuous Foundations: Historical Lessons for Modern Land Agreements.” New Zealand Surveyor (304): 2-28.

Goodwin, D. P. (2004). "Key aspects of community-level tenure conversion for economically blocked land with customary links." FAO Land reform, Land settlement and Cooperatives 2004(1): 120 - 130.

Drummond, J., & Goodwin, D. P., (1998). "Community family tenure - An Examination of Scotland's Crofting and Zimbabwe's Communal Area Tenure." Survey Review 34(270): 482-500.

Törhönen, M., & Goodwin, D. P., (1998). "Would a Registry Map hang comfortably in a round, mud hut? A register of title for Zimbabwe's communal areas: Philosophical and Technical Considerations." Australian Surveyor 43(2).

People Involved

David Goodwin

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