Farmers seek Sadc protection

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The Southern African Commercial Farmers’ Alliance last week filed an urgent application to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) seeking an order to reinstate the Sadc Tribunal arguing the decision to suspend it stifled white farmers’ bid to reclaim land grabbed from them by the Zimbabwean government.

The farmers’ organisation is demanding that the suspension of hearing of new cases involving Zimbabwean farmers who lost their land during the country’s land reform programme, be lifted.

Jeremy Gauntlett, a leading South African advocate, filed the urgent application on behalf of dispossessed Chegutu commercial farmer William Michael Campbell of Mount Carmel Farm and his company, Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd.

In October 2007, after exhausting all legal remedies under domestic jurisdiction, Campbell filed a case with the tribunal contesting the acquisition of his farm which had been transferred legally in 1999 with a “certificate of no interest” from the government.

In March 2008, 77 additional farmers were granted leave to intervene. Interim relief similar to that given to Campbell on December 13 2007 was granted to 74 of the farmers since three were no longer residing on their farms.

Eight months later, on November 28 2008, the tribunal ruled the land reform programme was racist and unlawful and that government had violated the Sadc Treaty by attempting to seize the 77 white-owned commercial farms.

In response, then Lands and Land Reform minister Didymus Mutasa said the government would not recognise the ruling.

In August last year at the two-day Sadc summit in Windhoek, Namibia, the heads of state decided “that a review of the role, functions and terms of reference of the Sadc Tribunal should be undertaken and concluded within six months”.

But the terms of the judges presiding over the Sadc Tribunal were not renewed resulting in the tribunal disbanding pending the outcome of the review.

Responding to widespread criticism, Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Salamao claimed the tribunal had not been suspended and that it could “deal with those cases at hand” although it “could not entertain any new cases”.

The regional farmers’ organisation is now challenging the suspension of the tribunal set up in 1992.

Sadc leaders, the council of ministers of the regional bloc and the Zimbabwe government are cited as first, second and third respondents, respectively.