Zim farmers fight expropriation in regional tribunal

A tribunal began hearing an appeal on Wednesday by 77 white Zimbabweans against orders to expropriate their farms, but with the chief plaintiff absent after an assault by suspected pro-government militias.

Jeremy Gauntlett, who represented the Zimbabwean farmers at the hearing in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, told the five judges of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal the expropriations were unconstitutional, discriminatory and contravened the 14-nation bloc’s founding treaty.

“The treaty says that SADC member states shall not discriminate against any person on grounds of gender, religion, political views, race, ethnic origin, culture, ill-health or disability,” Gauntlett said.

“My clients are not against land reform if done according to the law, but what the Zimbabwean government did was to simply publish lists of the names of farms and took the farms away the next day, giving them to government officials, not even to deserving black farmers.”

Gauntlett told the judges that several of his clients, including 76-year-old chief applicant Michael Campbell, had been assaulted in violence that has followed disputed elections in Zimbabwe.

Campbell was unable to travel to Namibia after he and his wife, Angela, were severely beaten last month on his farm in Zimbabwe’s Chegutu district. Although police say the assaults were the work of common criminals, the victims believe they were attacked by supporters of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

Campbell was represented by his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, who was injured in the same attack and arrived in a wheelchair with his head bandaged.

“I am better now after a brain operation where a blood clot was removed,” a pale Freeth said.

Zimbabwe Deputy Attorney General Prince Machaya told the hearing that the SADC treaty was merely “a set of guidelines for member states” and the expropriations were necessary as almost half of the fertile land in the former British colony was “in the hands of white settlers” at independence in 1980.

He also denied that Mugabe’s controversial land reforms, which have so far seen about 4 000 farms taken over by the state, had only affected white people.

“It was unavoidable that some white farmers were affected, but also 21 black farmers between 2000 and 2006, [who lost their farms]”, Machaya stated.

Although the government has offered compensation for the farm buildings, the landowners say the levels represent only a tiny fraction of their true value.

The hearing continues on Thursday.—Sapa-AFP

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