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BREAKING : Zimbabwean farmers lodge R1.9 billion claim against South African government for Mugabe’s violent land seizures

BREAKING : Zimbabwean farmers lodge R1.9 billion claim against South African government for Mugabe’s violent land seizures

Ben Freeth’s house went up in flames during land seizures

South Africa set to pay the price for its complicity in incapacitating the SADC Tribunal

MXOLISI NCUBE

PRETORIA – A group of Zimbabwean farmers and farming businesses took the South African government to court Thursday, demanding nearly R2billion in compensation for damages allegedly suffered because of South Africa’s complicity in the dissolution of the Tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) a few years ago.

Assisted by civil rights initiative AfriForum, the 25 farmers, who include Ben Freeth and Mike Campbell – both hounded out of their productive farms by the Zanu (PF)-led Zimbabwean government during the chaotic land seizures that began in 2000, issued summons on the South African government and the President Thursday, demanding a R1.9 billion compensation.

Willie Spies, the legal representative of AfriForum, who lodged papers at the Pretoria High Court, hoped this would be the final phase of what has been a protracted legal struggle for justice in Zimbabwe.

This follows a unanimous ruling by South Africa’s Constitutional Court on December 11, 2018, that former President Jacob Zuma had acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally by participating in the process to dissolve the SADC Tribunal. 

The SADC Tribunal had found in November 2008 that the Zimbabwean government acted unlawfully and in a racist manner by confiscating white farmers’ land without compensation. It was also found that the expropriated farmers were entitled to fair compensation for the damages they had suffered as a result of the confiscation of their properties. 

A view of Freeth’s house, which went up in smoke when war veterans landed on his farm

In 2009, the Tribunal ruled the Zimbabwean government should return the property of Luke Tembani, a black commercial farmer, which had been declared confiscable by the Zimbabwean Land Bank. Zimbabwe ignored the Tribunal’s finding in that regard as well.  

Zimbabwe’s then President Robert Mugabe then convinced the leaders of all the states in the SADC region to dissolve the Tribunal, actively supported by Zuma and then South African Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.

AfriForum has been supporting the Zimbabwean farmers since 2009, as they struggled to enforce the findings of the now-defunct SADC court.

“With the Constitutional Court’s finding that the South African government had acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally, the causa petendi for the damages claim against the South African government was completed,” read a statement from AfriForum.

“Luke Tembani and 19 other farmers, together with the companies through which they operated their farming activities, now claim damages that they had suffered at the hands of the South African government.” 

Mike Campbell Foundation’s spokesperson, Ben Freeth, expressed hope that the matter would finally be resolved.

“We are delighted to be part of the ongoing struggle for justice in Zimbabwe after everyone has suffered so much,” said Freeth.

“We thank God that we have got this far and encourage others to take heart and not give up. We also thank AfriForum for all their help and our amazing legal team for sticking with us and believing in seeking justice when so often all seemed lost.”

The struggle for justice in the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe began in the year 2000 when Zanu (PF) unleashed liberation war veterans and party supporters on an orgy of violence against predominantly white commercial farmers, seizing their land and killing at least five of them in the mass-scale destruction of property, crops and livestock.

Initially the Zimbabwean courts upheld the rule of law but after they themselves were invaded, judges who had stood up to the Mugabe government were dubbed “politically incorrect” and forced out of office, while the courts were staffed with Zanu (PF) apologists.

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