Zimbabwe white farmers whose farms were confiscated by President Robert Mugabe’s government have welcomed a tribunal ruling ordering the government to stop its land seizure policy. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) backs the tribunal, which is based in Namibia’s capital Windhoek. A white Zimbabwean farmer had petitioned the court to stop Mugabe’s government from confiscating his family farm, claiming he had exhausted his legal options in Zimbabwe.
Some political analysts believe the ruling would set a dangerous precedence in the government’s land seizure policy, which could potentially cause chaos in Zimbabwe. John Makumbe is a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe. From the capital, Harare, he tells reporter Peter Clottey the court’s ruling brings good tidings to Zimbabwe’s white farmers.
“This is a very welcome development because it ensures that there would be justice for people whose lands were taken by the Zimbabwe government compulsorily. It places Zimbabwe in a difficult position because Zimbabwe is a member of SADC and it would like SADC to uphold the land reform process, which Zimbabwe embarked upon in 2000. And this first test case really has set a very dangerous precedence for Zimbabwe, but it is a welcome decision by the tribunal because it actually falls within the ambit of justice,” Makumbe opined.
He said it would be unlikely that President Mugabe’s government would refuse to abide by the court’s ruling.
“I think they would have no choice but to abide by it. And I think they are in a stickler of a position because if they do not abide by it, they would have problems within the SADC region. As members of SADC community, they would have to explain why they violated the ruling of the SADC tribunal. The tribunal sits in Namibia, but it is not a Namibian tribunal. It’s a SADC tribunal,” he said.
Makumbe said the court ruling paves the way for other farmers whose farms were confiscated to go back to court to seek redress.
“There are scores and thousands of white commercial farmers who lost their lands to the Zimbabwe government through the farm invasions, the land grab activities by the war veterans. They are likely to use this case as precedence, and they are likely to approach the tribunal as well as ask it to look at their cases. And they are likely to demand that the tribunal should rule in their favor as well. And that would not go down well with the Zimbabwe government,” Makumbe pointed out.
He said the Zimbabwe government could resolve the controversial land reform crisis by returning the seized lands to the commercial farmers.
“It can be resolved if the verdict of the court in Zimbabwe upholds that under the Land Acquisition Act, the Zimbabwe government has a right to take lands which under utilized or which is need for resettlement of landless people or which is necessary for security purposes, and that is what the law says. But when they invaded the farms, they did it on a political platform, and they invaded which is didn’t qualify in that order,” he noted.