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August 17, 2010

White Zimbabwe Farmers say Politics Trumps Justice at SADC Summit

by Joe DeCapua

Southern African leaders leaders have given themselves another six months to review a 2008 tribunal ruling on Zimbabwe land reform.  The decision not to act came at this week’s Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Windhoek, Namibia. A SADC tribunal had ruled that nearly 80 white Zimbabwe farmers had their land unfairly taken from them due to their race.

John Worsely-Worswick, chief executive officer of the Justice for Agriculture Trust (JAG) in Zimbabwe, says he considers the SADC tribunal a human rights court.

“We’re very, very concerned,” he says, “because as far as we’re concerned this is overdue already in terms of action being taken.”

President Robert Mugabe has ignored the ruling, saying it failed to take into account a 1979 agreement with Britain about land reform following independence. The tribunal has found the government to be in contempt three times.

“The farmers that went there (tribunal) for protection and the farm workers…have not been protected at all,” he says.

Business as usual?

Worsely-Worswick says the decision to have a six month review of the tribunal ruling comes as no surprise.

“This has been the case for a long time with the Mugabe regime,” he says, “And it’s a case of always politics versus the law.  In the country here it’s always been the politics that have ruled….  And now for the first time we’ve seen the same effect, political effect, in a regional court.”

He says even if SADC leaders agree to enforce the ruling, things cannot return to the way they were prior to the farm seizures.

“We are not against land reform at all.  One has got to understand though that what we witnessed in the last 10 years here in Zimbabwe is not land reform at all….  It’s destroyed agriculture in the country and even communal area agriculture.  So certainly carrying on with the status quo is not a way forward,” he says.

The JAG leader says a “new way forward” must be found and “a just solution for all.”

Agriculture was king

He describes Zimbabwe as an agriculture driven based economy.  “We don’t see a way forward driven by either mining or tourism.  Certainly that’s not going to create the stability that’s required in terms of employment in the country…food security and also the foreign currency security that’s required,” he says.

He’s calling for a “de-politicized level playing field.”

“Issues with regard to tenure of the land, the title to the land, and we have a historical injustice dating back a hundred years on that front....  These issues need to be dealt with in the national interest and in the interest of citizens of Zimbabwe without political effect,” he says.

Recently, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program said despite agricultural improvements in the country, nearly 1.7 million Zimbabweans will still need food aid over the next year.

Worsely-Worswick says agriculture has suffered greatly in recent years.

“Most of production has dropped by 80 percent.  The only area that hasn’t dropped was really on cotton production and that’s because it lends itself to smallholder production.  And then for the first time we’ve seen a reversal slightly in the level of tobacco production,” he says.