The SADC Tribunal Friday dealt a deadly blow to Zimbabwean government’s chaotic and violent land reform, which it said was racially motivated and violated the country’s international treaties on the rule of law and respect of human rights.
Delivering judgement in the Zimbabwean land case, the five-panel Tribunal also ordered the cash-strapped Zimbabwe to pay compensation to white commercial farmers whose properties, including land, were expropriated by the state, latest by 30 June next year.
In an 80-page judgement, the Windhoek-based Tribunal said the Zimbabwean government’s land reform programme discriminated against white people, adding that it was in violation of Article 6 of the SADC Treaty.
Justice Louis Mondhlane said that constitutional Amendment 17, put in place in 2005 to clear the way for compulsory acquisition of land in Zimbabwe, had resulted in expropriation targeting only white farmers.
“Its effects make it discriminatory because targeted agricultural land are all owned by white farmers,” Mondhlane said.
“Respondent (Zimbabwe) has discriminated against applicant (white commercial farmers) on the basis of race and by doing that violated its obligations under Article 6 of the SADC Treaty,” Mondhlane said.
The Tribunal also ordered the Zimbabwean government, which is managing an economy mired in financial crisis, to pay for the expropriated land.
The Zimbabwean government had argued in the case that monetary compensation to dispossessed white commercial farmers is the responsibility of the British government, Zimbabwe’s former colonial master, which reneged on an agreement to fund the country’s land reform programme.
Under the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, Britain agreed to fund the country’s land reform programme and to compensate white commercial farmers.
“It is the expropriating state that pays compensation…respondent should shoulder responsibility and pay compensation to the farmers,” Mondhlane said, adding that Harare should not use its domestic laws to ‘avoid obligations to international treaties.’
Mondhlane said that white commercial farmers had a clear legal title to their application.
About 77 white commercial farmers had applied to the regional court seeking to halt Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.
The Zimbabwean government had argued in the court case that the regional court did not have jurisdiction to rule on Zimbabwe’s domestic laws.
Zimbabwe also argued that white commercial farmers had not fully exhausted local judicial remedies.
But the Tribunal maintained that it has jurisdiction over the application and said that Constitutional Amendment 17 effectively barred white commercial farmers from seeking recourse through local courts.
The court also ordered the Zimbabwean government to take steps to protect possession and ownership of the commercial farm owners properties.