Farmers slam ludicrous' court decision to nullify SADC tribunal ruling

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Justice for Agriculture (JAG) has slammed as ludicrous' the High Court's decision to nullify the SADC Tribunal ruling which said the country's white farmers have clear legal title to their land.

The Zimbabwe High Court ruling on Tuesday came after Chegutu farmer Richard Etheredge took the President of the Senate, Edna Madzongwe, to court, seeking to have her removed from his Stockdale Farm.  She was allocated' his farm by the government under the land reform programme. But High Court Judge Anne-Mary Gowora dismissed the order sought by Etheredge with costs, in a ruling that dealt with, among other issues, the applicability of the decisions of the SADC Tribunal to Zimbabwe. Justice Gowora ruled that the Tribunal's decisions and rulings do not apply and cannot be enforced in Zimbabwe, unless Parliament ratifies the protocol that set up the tribunal. 

 
JAG's John Worsley-Worswick on Wednesday called the High Court's ruling a true reflection on the complete breakdown of governance and adherence to the rule of law that exists in Zimbabwe now. He argued the ruling is clearly an attempt by the government to fast-track land seizures, and explained the UN Security Council should now get involved.
 
If SADC turns a blind eye to its laws being flouted, then this will fast become an international issue, Worsley-Worswick explained. It should then be taken to the UN security council who need to make sure that law returns to Zimbabwe. 
 
SADC meanwhile has remained completely silent about the resurgence of land invasions, and the Tribunal is yet to comment on the nullification of its ruling. Tribunal President Justice Luis Mondlane, last year ruled that Zimbabwe's white farmers had a clear legal title to remain on their farms and ordered the Zimbabwe government to take all measures to protect the possessions and ownership of the farmers' land. Mondlane also ruled that those who lost their farms during the land reform programme should receive fair compensation from the government. 
 
No actions may be taken by insurgents and others to interfere with or disturb the peaceful activities of [the farmers], Mondlane said in his ruling.
 
This ruling in favour of the 78 farmers who filed the test case came as a victory for those still being threatened with land seizures, as the ruling was meant to protect them all against eviction and invasions in the future.
 
However, the ruling itself has long since been ignored in Zimbabwe with a recent wave of fresh invasions that have already seen almost 80 farms being seized and more than 100 farmers facing prosecution. At the same time at least 50 farms are confirmed to be under siege by lawless thugs – with the farm owners facing possible violent eviction. 
 
The offensive against the farmers started just days before Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as Prime Minister last month and pressure on farmers to vacate their land has been increasing ever since. Many farmers have now been forced into hiding as the campaign continues – a clear violation of the unity deal between the MDC and ZANU PF, which calls for the return of the rule of law and also says that farmers should be encouraged to produce food.
 
Mugabe meanwhile has condoned the continued invasions, declaring during an address to supporters at his lavish birthday celebration on Saturday that the land seizures would continue. Reports suggest that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai confronted Mugabe about the comments during a meeting on Monday, but so far no assurances have been made by the government that the campaign against the farmers will be dealt with. The Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Dr Herbert Murerwa, has instead dismissed the reports that fresh farm invasions are in fact taking place. Dr Murerwa was speaking to Zimbabwe's Sunday Mail and said the ministry had not received any reports of farm invasions. He reportedly argued that if there were any invasions in the country, the ministry would gather the necessary facts before resolving the issues.
 
Mugabe himself has also dismissed the SADC Tribunal's influence and protection of farmers, declaring during his birthday speech that SADC had no right to interfere with Zimbabwean land issues. 
 By Alex Bell

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