Imoral land grabs in Zim

A South African national, Dirk Visagie, invested all of his
funds in a 42-hectare peri-urban plot known as Wantage
farm in October 2001, 20 months after the land invasions
The farm, on the outskirts of Chegutu, a town in
Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province, was sold to
Visagie by a government parastatal and was therefore
deemed to be a safe investment. Furthermore, the Minister
of Lands had issued a “certificate of no interest” for the
A month later, however, the Minister of Lands gave an offer
letter for a nearby property to Timothy Madavanhu, the
chairman of the rural district council, and shortly afterwards
Madavanhu arrived to claim Visagie’s property.
Despite the fact that the offer letter was not for Wantage
farm, Madavanhu insisted it was the property he wanted
and he initiated a campaign of harassment and intimidation
that included moving thugs onto the property, breaking into
the Visagie family home and lighting raging veld fires.
After six traumatic years of harassment, Visagie was in 2007
criminally charged for illegally occupying his home but the
charges were eventually withdrawn after he pleaded not
The following year, the regional court of the SADC Tribunal
allowed 77 Zimbabwean farmers, including Visagie, to be
joined to the landmark Campbell case and interim relief was
granted to them to remain on their farms.
In theory, this gave them the protection of the SADC
Tribunal, the highest court in the region, but in practice the
violence and intimidation instigated by Madavanhu
continued and, in some cases, was escalated.
On November 28, 2008, the Tribunal ruled that the farmers
facing eviction could keep their farms because Zimbabwe’s
land reform programme was discriminatory and
undermined the rule of law.
At the SADC Summit in August 2010, the heads of state
resolved to suspend the Tribunal over Zimbabwe’s refusal
to honour its rulings on the land grab campaign. It was
decided that a review of the role functions and terms of
reference of the Tribunal should be undertaken and
concluded within six months.”
In the interim, the court was allowed to continue dealing
with the cases in hand and in December 2010, the Tribunal
ruled that the Zimbabwe government pay US$17 million to
nine victims of organised violence and torture perpetrated
by the army and police.
The following month, January 2011, Visagie was again
criminally charged for illegally occupying State land “without
authority” and was forced to stop all cropping on the farm.
Three months later, in April 2011, the findings of the review,
undertaken by WTI Advisors Ltd, Geneva, an affiliate of the
World Trade Institute, were released. WTIA found that the
Tribunal was correct in its findings, that SADC law should be
supreme over domestic laws and that all decisions made by
it should be binding and enforceable in all member states.
At the SADC Summit in May 2011, following intensive
lobbying by the Zimbabwe government, the Tribunal was
dissolved and the SADC justice ministers and attorney
generals were tasked with reviewing the court’s operation.
They are due to present their recommendations at this
month’s summit on 17 and 18 August.
Earlier this week, judgment day for Visagie arrived and the
Chegutu magistrate pronounced a verdict of guilty. Visagie
was ushered out of court by prison officers and into holding
cells while his lawyer paid the requisite fine.
Ironically, Timothy Mudavanhu, who was the driving force
behind the case, has in the interim applied for permanent
residence in Canada where his daughter and her family live.
Visagie and Andrew Ferreira, a former Zimbabwe Tobacco
Association president, who was also found guilty the same
day, are the last of the 15 SADC Tribunal protected farmers
in the district who had access to their homes. The other 13
were all forced to abandon their homes following intensive
An international campaign has been mounted to prevent the
SADC heads of state from curtailing the powers of the
SADC Tribunal and to ensure that they approve and
implement the recommendations of WTIA’s report.
This would enable the SADC Tribunal to once again function
according to requirements set out in the SADC Treaty and
would ensure that its human rights mandate was retained.
In an agri-alert released this week (on 16 August),
Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) has warned
that the country’s inability to attain self-sufficiency in maize
production is set to get worse.
“Output is less than half of domestic consumption, and
substantial imports will be necessary to meet the
production deficit,” CFU president Charles Taffs said.
“Unless the Zimbabwe government immediately puts in
place policies that boost maize production, the country may
well face starvation,” he warned.
Prior to the farm invasions of 2000, Zimbabwe not only
produced enough maize to feed its people but also had
surpluses to export. In the USA, more than two thirds of the
grain crops are produced in the areas affected by the worst
drought in 50 years.
The FAO reports that this development could result in food
shortages in countries that rely on imports of maize, wheat
and soya beans. Maize is the staple food commodity in


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