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04 Jun 2009 17:49
Zimbabwe on Thursday urged a regional court not to step into a dispute with a black farmer who has accused the government of wrongly seizing his land.
Luke Tembani became one of Zimbabwe’s first black commercial farmers shortly after independence in 1980, but faced eviction on May 21 this year after the national agricultural bank sold his farm to recoup a loan.
Tembani has asked the tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to allow him to keep his land, saying the bank had reneged on a deal to allow him to sell part of his farm to settle the loan.
A lawyer for the government argued that the tribunal should not rule in the case because Tembani still had legal options in Zimbabwe to settle his case.
“The applicant did not explore all legal avenues in Zimbabwe before turning to this tribunal,” argued Zimbabwe’s deputy attorney general Prince Machaya.
Tembani had taken a loan more than a decade ago from the Agricultural Bank of Zimbabwe (ABZ) to expand his farm operations.
According to court documents, he defaulted on part of his repayments when interest rates soared in 1997 as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis unfolded.
Documents filed with the tribunal stated that the bank had sold the farm in 2000, without any court hearings, even though Tembani was still living on it.
The tribunal reserved judgement in the case, and set no date for a ruling. But the court ordered the government to allow Tembani to stay on his land until a decision is made.
The problems with Tembani’s land emerged as Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was embarking on a violent and often chaotic scheme to resettle black farmers on white-owned lands.
The SADC tribunal in November ruled against the land reforms, saying 78 white farmers could keep their land because the scheme amounted to racial discrimination.
Mugabe’s government rejected the ruling, but the new unity government says it wants to resolve the problems on the farms.
The white farmers are returning to the court on Friday seeking a way to force Zimbabwe to honour the judges’ ruling.
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