Zimbabwe: White farmers appeal to Sadc

Zimbabwe Independent (Harare) | 12 October 2007

Zimbabwe: White Farmers Appeal to Sadc

Augustine Mukaro

THE last remaining white commercial farmers have appealed to the regional Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Tribunal in an effort to stop government from expropriating their properties.

Government, using Constitutional Amendment No 17, which effectively nationalised all land, and the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act served all remaining white farmers with eviction notices. The majority of the notices, which have since expired, gave farmers a 90-day grace period to wrap up businesses and vacate the property from the day of receiving the notice. Failure to comply attracts a two-year jail term or fine or both if found guilty. The latest wave of evictions is set to derail Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono’s recovery plan since most of the affected farmers had benefited from the Agriculture Sector Production Enhancement Facility (Aspef).

Over the past two weeks, government has stepped up the enforcements of the eviction notices, arresting, detaining and harassing farmers.

Eleven of the remaining white farmers in the Chegutu area were yesterday dragged to court to answer charges of breaching the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act through defying a government eviction order. Two others were arrested in Karoi a fortnight ago.

The owner of Grand Parade was forced off his farm by the military and is yet to gain access to the property despite getting a court order allowing him to remain on the farm until the finalisation of the case. A host of other white farmers are under siege from the marauding war veterans, militia and uniformed forces throughout the country. The farmers have accused Zanu PF top politicians of grabbing one farm after another and running down the infrastructure at farms in the process.

"Top politicians and the military are the main perpetrators of the latest wave of evictions," one farmer said. "Chiredzi South MP retired Brig-General Kalisto Gwanetsa gave one of the last remaining cane farmers in Chiredzi 14 days to leave his property. The farmer is currently vacating."

Another farmer said in Karoi the military led by a Colonel Mukadlha invaded Grand Parade taking over irrigation equipment and a newly planted tobacco crop.

"Over the past five days the military have denied the farmer access to the property and have pitched their tent in the tobacco field," the farmer said.

Justice for Agriculture chairman John Worswick said the farmers last week appealed to the Sadc Tribunal to stop the planned evictions.

"Sadc tribunal has teeth if it makes a ruling on the case," Worswick said. "The ruling is enforceable in the country because Zimbabwe is a signatory to the tribunal." He said the farmers have been failing to get a fair hearing in the heavily politicised and subverted local courts, forcing them to opt for the regional tribunal. Worswick said farmers were also considering approaching the African Commission.

This becomes the second appeal to an international body after more than 11 Dutch farmers evicted during the emotive land reform programme took Zimbabwe to the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The Dutch farmers argue that their properties were protected under a bilateral investment treaty in which Harare promised to pay compensation to Dutch nationals in disputes arising out of any investments in Zimbabwe. The final hearing of the case has been set for October 29 to November 1 in Paris.

Zimbabwe has Bippa agreements with several EU countries, four of them ratified by President Robert Mugabe. More than 400 displaced farmers were protected under these agreements. The trade pact requires government to protect the investments and properties of other countries from arbitrary expropriation.

If the farmers win their cases, it could open the floodgates to similar claims in international courts by white farmers of different nationalities whose businesses were protected under Bippa agreements but were still expropriated without compensation.

Farmers’ lawyer David Drury said there was no case warranting putting the farmers on trial and he would be seeking the case to be heard in the Supreme Court.

"The farmers are making some constitutional points which have to be addressed by the Supreme Court which is the constitutional court," Drury said. "One of the points is that the law discriminates on the basis of race because only white farmers are targeted and also the issues of compensation and property rights."

The case has since been thrown out. The trial of the farmers will start on October 31 until December 31.

Fuente: AllAfrica.com