Zim judge blasts SADC court over white farmer ruling

A top Zimbabwe judge has said a regional court had no jurisdiction to rule that 78 white farmers could keep land lost to Harare’s land-reform scheme, state media reported on Tuesday.

The tribunal ”lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the application”, the Herald newspaper said, citing deputy chief Justice Luke Malaba addressing the opening of the 2009 session of the Bulawayo High Court.

Malaba said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal, which ruled last November in favour of the farmers, had heard the matter prior to all legal avenues under national law being exhausted.

The farmers had appeals pending in the country’s Supreme Court when they approached the tribunal for recourse, he said.

”The applicants had not exhausted all remedies provided under … the Constitution of Zimbabwe, as the Supreme Court was still to make a determination of the matters raised by the application when the tribunal took the case up,” Malaba said.

The Namibia-based SADC court ruled that the farmers can keep their farms because Zimbabwe’s land-reform scheme discriminated against them.

It ruled that the Zimbabwe government had violated the treaty governing the 15-nation regional bloc by trying to seize the white-owned farms.

The verdict was the first major ruling by the court since it first convened in April 2007.

Eight years ago Zimbabwe began seizing white-owned farms to resettle them with landless black people, but the chaotic programme was plagued by deadly violence and some farms ended up in the hands of cronies of Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe.

Three of the farmers had already been kicked off their land before the SADC court ruling. The others had been allowed to keep their farms, but some reportedly are fending off new expropriation orders.

The SADC tribunal was created as part of a peer-review mechanism within the organisation. It aims to ensure the objectives of SADC’s founding treaty, including human rights and property rights, are upheld. — Sapa-AFP

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