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Zim ruling ‘puts new spin on SA land reform’

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal ruling that fair compensation be paid to Zimbabwean farmers evicted from their farms holds implications for South Africa, organised agriculture said on Tuesday.

Ernst Janovsky, Absa agribusiness general manager, told the Mail & Guardian Online: ”It puts a whole new spin on the Expropriation Bill. There must be fair compensation for land now.

”We’ll probably see farmers starting to invest again because they now know they will be guaranteed fair compensation for their land.”

Denied access to Zimbabwe’s courts, 77 farmers evicted under Zimbabwe’s land-reform programme instead turned to the SADC tribunal.

It found that the violation of their right to court access breached the SADC treaty. It instructed the Zimbabwean government to protect them, prevent their eviction and make sure their operations were not hampered.

It also ordered the government to fully compensate those farmers whose land had already been taken from them.

The Zimbabwean government rejected the ruling and said it would not reverse the land-reform exercise.

”Important implications for the growing land problem in South Africa are the stipulated principles relating to compensation, accountability, reasonableness, non-racialism and accessibility to the legal system,”said Agri SA deputy president Theo De Jager.

De Jager drew a parallel to the principles Agri SA was testing before the South African Human Rights Commission, after a complaint was brought against the Commission for the Restitution of Land Rights for allegedly steamrollering farm owners into accepting sub-market value land offers.

He was convinced the Expropriation Bill, temporarily withdrawn in September after objections, would not pass the test if subjected to the principles laid down by the SADC tribunal in its ruling.

”The strong viewpoint adopted by five judges of the tribunal creates the expectation that the principles of a constitutional state and fair compensation would also be maintained when it comes to land reform and a future expropriation dispensation in South Africa,” he said.

”Access to the tribunal and the upholding of its decision will hold insurance for South African land owners.”

Agri SA advised owners not to offer their land voluntarily as willing sellers in the land-claims process before implementation practices were brought in line with official government policy and constitutional principles.

De Jager claimed land owners, subject to claims within the restitution process, were being pressured to accept offers of up to 40% below the recommendation of the state’s own valuators.

This was happening particularly in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

Delays of up to a year between the time these offers were made and their payment forced many land owners to accept a second or even a third downward-adjusted offer simply to escape financial ruin, he charged.

”Agri SA, however, continues to support the national objectives around land reform, provided that it takes place within the framework of the Constitution and land-reform legislation and is implemented on an inclusive and equitable basis,” said De Jager.

He said South Africa’s farming community was waiting for SADC to ensure that the Zimbabwean government applied the principles of justice and fair compensation for land abuses and rejected racism, as stipulated in the tribunal’s judgment.

Agri SA viewed the tribunal ruling as a victory over African pessimism, distorted ideology and abuse of power.

The Land Claims Commission was not available to comment.

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