Is Zimbabwe attending SADC meetings and summits under false pretences?

As the siege conditions facing Zimbabwe's few remaining commercial farmers escalate, the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) and Justice for Agriculture (JAG) are being inundated with calls for assistance from farmers and their families across the country.

To date more than 100 farmers have been targeted for fast-track eviction and others are being forced off their land.  The CFU estimates that the value of the crops in the ground under threat is about £70 million.

Hermanus (Manie) Grove of Innogo Ranch in Kwekwe, who is protected by the SADC Tribunal ruling of 28 November 2008, was arrested last week and remanded in custody.  His trial was scheduled to continue on Tuesday.

The person involved in this latest take-over attempt is the same man responsible for the serious beating of Grove on a previous occasion.

Andrew Herbst [40th and 41st applicant in the SADC Tribunal case] was summoned to the magistrate’s court in Karoi at the beginning of last week for a Thursday hearing.

Since Herbst could not find a lawyer available to defend him, his own lawyer, David Drury, who wasinvolved elsewhere, requested a remand but was only allowed four hours.

The trial began that afternoon with no legal representation and was completed very quickly.  Herbst was found guilty of being on his land illegally and given seven days to remove his belongings.

He was also given a suspended jail sentence of six months and barred from entering his farm for five years.

Scores of other white farmers have cases pending in magistrates’ courts around the country.

It has been learnt that hours after the recent incarceration of a number of farmers who had taken their cases to the SADC Tribunal in Windhoek, a meeting was held at the Rukawo Motel Chegutu on 6 February.

It was convened by newly appointed Zimbabwean Attorney General Johannes Tomana to discuss ways of fast tracking the prosecution of white farmers who had not vacated their land.  Tomana is a known supporter of Zanu-PF and a beneficiary of land in the Banket area.

With him were officials from the Ministry of Lands, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, prosecutors, magistrates and other officials as well as members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

In a memo regarding the meeting it was reported that Chief Magistrate Herbert Mandeya advised his fellow magistrates that "the SADC Tribunal ruling must be disregarded."  He told magistrates to refer land cases to the Supreme Court.

At the end of the meeting, the participants agreed "that the recent SADC Tribunal ruling shall not have any bearing on our courts on matters to do with land."

It was also agreed "that lands officers together with law enforcement agencies must do everything in their power to assist in the eviction of former commercial farmers who are refusing to vacate gazetted farms…"

The meeting concluded with the agreement "that cases pending trial in the court should be finalised by the 21 February 2009."

Since that time the police have issued numerous court summonses to remaining white commercial farmers across the country.  No trials have to date been concluded except that of Herbst, who lost.

Farmers face up to two years’ imprisonment if found guilty of remaining on their farms and in their homes "illegally".

In many districts invasions continue on land where farmers are still battling to produce crops for a country that is currently needing food aid for well over half the population.  White farmers have lost occupation of more than 95 percent of their former land holdings so far.

The latest World Food Program estimate of people needing food aid is seven million out of a population that independent analysts believe could be as low as eight million.  The newly released unemployment figure is 94 percent.

January’s Urban Food Security Assessment released this month by Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) reports that urban hunger has deepened across Zimbabwe during the past three years.  The United Nations has launched a US$500 million appeal to rescue Zimbabwe from its "grave

humanitarian crisis"

In Article III 3.1 [a] of the Global Political Agreement, brokered by the South African government, the parties agreed "to give priority to the restoration of economic stability and growth in Zimbabwe."

This includes "working together on a full and comprehensive economic programme . which will urgently address the issue of production, food security, poverty and unemployment…"

In section 3.1 [b], the parties agree "to create conditions that would ensure the 2008/2009 agricultural season is productive."

Despite this, the unity government appears unable to reverse the trend and to bring about a return to respect of the SADC Treaty and the ruling of the SADC Tribunal.

The SADC Tribunal ruling of 28 November 2008 found the laws under which farmers in Zimbabwe are being prosecuted "in breach of Article 4[c]" of the SADC Treaty.

SADC, through the SADC Tribunal, directed the Zimbabwe Government  "to take all necessary measures, through its agents, to protect the possession, occupation and ownership of the lands of applicants…..and to take all appropriate measures to ensure that no action is taken, pursuant to

Amendment 17, directly or indirectly, whether by its agents or by others, to evict from, or interfere with, the peaceful residence on, and of those farms by, the applicants.."

Chief Magistrate Mandeya cites "Section III [b] of the Constitution of Zimbabwe that provides that treaties entered into by Zimbabwe cannot form part of our law unless they go through Parliament."

However, the SADC Treaty became part of domestic law in 1992 when it was signed by President Mugabe.  It was only in 1993 that Parliament brought in Section III [b], which required that future treaties be endorsed by Parliament.

If we follow the Zimbabwean government’s logic and the SADC Treaty is not part of domestic law, then is Zimbabwe part of SADC?  Or has Zimbabwe been attending SADC meetings and summits under false pretences?

Ben Freeth for SADC Tribunal Rights Watch.

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