A ZIMBABWEAN, who became the face of thousands of white farmers who lost land under President Robert Mugabe’s regime, has hailed a decision by the African Union’s continental rights body to hear his case.
Report by News24
Ben Freeth — whose unsuccessful battle to save the family farm was vividly portrayed in the documentary Mugabe and the White Africa — said the decision by the African Commission was a step toward justice.
Freeth and his now deceased father-in-law Mike Campbell had won a landmark case against Mugabe’s seizures before the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Tribunal.
But the regional court was effectively dissolved by member states after the ruling, prompting Freeth to challenge the 14 countries’ decision before a continent-wide body.
“We believe this will result in significant pressure to ensure that the Sadc Tribunal is allowed to resume operations for the benefit of all victims of injustice and the abuse of power in Southern Africa,” Freeth said in a statement.
The ruling was made at a session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights held in Yamoussoukro, the capital of Ivory Coast last month, but was only recently confirmed to lawyers representing Freeth and his co-plaintiff Luke Thembani.
Freeth lost his property under the controversial land seizure of white-owned farms, supposedly for reallocation to landless blacks, while Thembani’s was auctioned off to service a debt.
The two farmers took their cases to the continental body following a last year’s decision by the Sadc summit to suspend the regional tribunal which had ruled in their favour. Between 2007 and 2010, the Sadc Tribunal ruled on 20 cases that included disputes between citizens and their governments, between companies and governments.
In a series of cases involving dispossessed farmers, the Sadc court held Zimbabwe in breach of regional laws and other
international legal obligations.
The suspension of the tribunal meant individuals in all 14 member states no longer have access to the internationally respected court if denied access to justice in their own countries.
In a test case, Zimbabwe farmers had asked for an order to ensure that the Sadc Tribunal continued functioning. Thembani, a tobacco farmer and cattle rancher in eastern Zimbabwe until 2000 when his farm was auctioned, said he hoped for justice.
“All I want is justice – and in Zimbabwe justice has left me,” Thembani said. Sadc leaders have resolved that a new protocol on the tribunal should be negotiated and its mandate confined to interpreting the Sadc treaty and laws relating to disputes between member states.