Understanding property ownership under title, cession

Owning an immovable property, especially a family home, is a dream for many people. Even investors generally consider properties as secure long term investments.

The most common arrangements for holding rights to land in Zimbabwe are deed of grant, deed of transfer, cession, sectional title, holding shares in a company that owns a block of units or properties.

This article focusses on title deeds and cession.

Deed of grant

Based on ML Mhishi’s book, “The Law and Practice of Conveyancing in Zimbabwe,” land originally belonged to the State held under a Certificate of State title. There was no title to that land and there was no private ownership.

Originally title is thus a grant from the State through a deed of grant for example to a local authority or land developer. A local authority or land developer may then subdivide the land and transfer ownership to individual buyers through a deed of transfer.

Deed of transfer

A deed of transfer or title deed is a legal document which identifies the lawful registered owner and is issued by the Deeds Registry in Harare or Bulawayo. It gives absolute real right of ownership of the land.

A deeds search will show the following information, inter alia:

The deed number and the date of registration.

Details of the registered owner(s).

Full property description and extent (area).

Any outstanding mortgage bonds.

Any caveats, servitudes, conditions restricting transfer.

For a property with title deeds, a conveyancer, upon payment of his fees, facilitates change of ownership through a deed of transfer, at the Deeds Registry.


This represents a personal not real right. A local authority such as City of Harare or land developer can sell a property to a buyer for transfer after some time. A council can sell land and require the buyer to make certain improvements or rent-to- buy it.

Transfer takes place only after the conditions are met. There are many such houses in high density suburbs in Zimbabwe, including Harare and Chitungwiza. Some houses are owned by council and tenants are simply renting.

A land developer who holds a permit can sell land whilst still developing the land. The developer will only transfer the subdivided land through a deed of transfer to each buyer, upon meeting town planning requirements and obtaining a certificate of compliance from council.

When the buyer and the land developer enter into an agreement of sale the buyer acquires personal rights through a cession.

A property currently held under an agreement of sale or cession, if subsequently sold, will be held under cession by the new “owner” and cession documents, not title, at the land developer or local authority have to be updated accordingly. When deeds of transfer are eventually processed they will be in the name of the latest owner.


Title deeds prove the absolute legal ownership of immovable property and are difficult to challenge. Cessions can be subject to disputes, double selling, etc.

Lenders prefer properties with title deeds for collateral.

Properties held under cession fetch less as buyers prefer those with title deeds.

Properties under cession can cause inheritance problems in deceased estates.

This simplified article is for general information purposes only. One on how to acquire title deeds for properties held under cession to follow.–herald.c.zw

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