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Another SADC-protected farmer found guilty of farming and forced off his land on the eve of the SADC Summit

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                                                                FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

SADC Tribunal Rights Watch

17 August 2012

 

Zimbabwe:  Another SADC-protected farmer found guilty of farming

and forced off his land on the eve of the SADC Summit

 

On the eve of the official opening of the 32nd Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) warning of serious international food shortages and price surges, another Zimbabwean farmer has been found guilty of farming and ordered to vacate his home.

 

                A South African national, Dirk Visagie, invested all of his funds in a 42-hectare peri-urban plot known as Wantage farm in October 2001, 20 months after the land invasions began.

 

The farm, on the outskirts of Chegutu, a town in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province, was sold to Visagie by a government parastatal and was therefore deemed to be a safe investment.  Furthermore, the Minister of Lands had issued a “certificate of no interest” for the property. 

 

A month later, however, the Minister of Lands gave an offer letter for a nearby property to Timothy Madavanhu, the chairman of the rural district council, and shortly afterwards Madavanhu arrived to claim Visagie’s property.

 

Despite the fact that the offer letter was not for Wantage farm, Madavanhu insisted it was the property he wanted and he initiated a campaign of harassment and intimidation that included moving thugs onto the property, breaking into the Visagie family home and lighting raging veld fires.

 

After six traumatic years of harassment, Visagie was in 2007 criminally charged for illegally occupying his home but the charges were eventually withdrawn after he pleaded not guilty.

 

The following year, the regional court of the SADC Tribunal allowed 77 Zimbabwean farmers, including Visagie, to be joined to the landmark Campbell case and interim relief was granted to them to remain on their farms. 

 

In theory, this gave them the protection of the SADC Tribunal, the highest court in the region, but in practice the violence and intimidation instigated by Madavanhu continued and, in some cases, was escalated.

 

On November 28, 2008, the Tribunal ruled that the farmers facing eviction could keep their farms because Zimbabwe’s land reform programme was discriminatory and undermined the rule of law.

At the SADC Summit in August 2010, the heads of state resolved to suspend the Tribunal over Zimbabwe’s refusal to honour its rulings on the land grab campaign.  It was decided that a review of the role functions and terms of reference of the Tribunal should be undertaken and concluded within six months.”

In the interim, the court was allowed to continue dealing with the cases in hand and in December 2010, the Tribunal ruled that the Zimbabwe government pay US$17 million to nine victims of organised violence and torture perpetrated by the army and police.[i]

                The following month, January 2011, Visagie was again criminally charged for illegally occupying State land “without authority” and was forced to stop all cropping on the farm.

 

Three months later, in April 2011, the findings of the review, undertaken by WTI Advisors Ltd, Geneva, an affiliate of the World Trade Institute, were released.  WTIA found that the Tribunal was correct in its findings, that SADC law should be supreme over domestic laws and that all decisions made by it should be binding and enforceable in all member states.

 

At the SADC Summit in May 2011, following intensive lobbying by the Zimbabwe government, the Tribunal was dissolved and the SADC justice ministers and attorney generals were tasked with reviewing the court’s operation.

 

They are due to present their recommendations at this month’s summit on 17 and 18 August.

 

Earlier this week, judgment day for Visagie arrived and the Chegutu magistrate pronounced a verdict of guilty.  Visagie was ushered out of court by prison officers and into holding cells while his lawyer paid the requisite fine.

 

Ironically, Timothy Mudavanhu, who was the driving force behind the case, has in the interim applied for permanent residence in Canada where his daughter and her family live. 

 

Visagie and Andrew Ferreira, a former Zimbabwe Tobacco Association president, who was also found guilty the same day, are the last of the 15 SADC Tribunal protected farmers in the district who had access to their homes.  The other 13 were all forced to abandon their homes following intensive intimidation.

 

                An international campaign has been mounted to prevent the SADC heads of state from curtailing the powers of the SADC Tribunal and to ensure that they approve and implement the recommendations of WTIA’s report.

 

This would enable the SADC Tribunal to once again function according to requirements set out in the SADC Treaty and would ensure that its human rights mandate was retained.

 

In an agri-alert released this week (on 16 August), Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) has warned that the country’s inability to attain self-sufficiency in maize production is set to get worse.

 

“Output is less than half of domestic consumption, and substantial imports will be necessary to meet the production deficit,” CFU president Charles Taffs said. 

 

“Unless the Zimbabwe government immediately puts in place policies that boost maize production, the country may well face starvation,” he warned.

 

Prior to the farm invasions of 2000, Zimbabwe not only produced enough maize to feed its people but also had surpluses to export.  In the USA, more than two thirds of the grain crops are produced in the areas affected by the worst drought in 50 years. 

 

The FAO reports that this development could result in food shortages in countries that rely on imports of maize, wheat and soya beans.  Maize is the staple food commodity in Zimbabwe.

ENDS

Submitted by / For further information:

 

Ben Freeth

SADC Tribunal Rights Watch

Zimbabwe

Cell:  +263 773 929 138 

E-mail:  [email protected]  

 

 

For additional information:

 

For further information on the SADC Tribunal and the campaign, visit:

http://www.osisa.org/law/regional/last-week-save-sadc-tribunal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i]Government of Zimbabwe Undermining the Rule of Law, Violating Treaty – SADC Tribunal – December 2010: Case of Gondo and 8 others vs the Government of Zimbabwe Case No. SADC (T) 05/2008.

http://www.africa.fnst-freiheit.org/news/government-of-zimbabwe-undermining-the-rule-of-law-violating-treaty-2013-sadc-tribunal

 

 

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