White commercial farmers in Zimbabwe who were dispossesssed of their farmlands have launched a new international lawsuit against President Robert Mugabe and his government “to seek justice and compensation” for the loss of their farms and livelihoods.
The bid, in part, also seeks to stop “the on-going farm seizures which are ravaging the economy”.
Represented by South African civil rights group, AfriForum, the farmers have notified President Robert Mugabe of their intention to approach the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to pressure the Zimbabwean government to compensate them for their loss.
“On August 16 and 17, 2017 formal notice to initiate proceedings were served by the farmers’ legal team on President Robert Mugabe, three of his ministers and the Zimbabwean government collectively under the Southern African Community Development Community (SADC) Finance and Investment Protocol.
“The three ministers are the Minister of State in the Office of the President, the Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Douglas Mombeshora, and the Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa,” said Ben Freeth, Spokesman for SADC Tribunal Rights Watch, Zimbabwe.
In 2000, President Mugabe launched the land reform programme and seized farms from the white commercial farmers.
The process which was spearheaded by war veterans turned fatal as some of the farmers who were resisting eviction from their properties were targeted and killed.
Addressing this year’s National Heroes Day main celebrations in Harare, Mugabe said his foot soldiers who were behind some of the killings would not face prosecution.
The farmers, among them, David Connolly who lost his Centenary Farm in Matabeleland South to Mugabe’s aide Ray Ndhlukula, want the government to compensate them.
“All I want to do is to be allowed to farm on our family farm and live in my home,” said Conolly.
“If the Zimbabwe Government doesn’t want to allow me to do this then it must pay fair compensation for the loss of my farm and my life’s work.”
The SADC Protocol, which came into force in April 2010, allows all investors legal protection which include the right to prompt, adequate and effective compensation in respect of investments that are expropriated, and to fair and equitable treatment, including protection against denial of justice (Article 5 and Article 6 of Annexure 1 to the Finance and Investment Protocol, respectively.)
In the case of investors who have had their investments taken from them in violation of the Protocol, the first step is to settle such investment disputes through dialogue. If that fails after six months, an international arbitration process can be initiated to give an award against the errant government.
At the SADC Summit in 2012, the SADC Heads of State decided to close the doors of the Tribunal to the region’s citizens, preventing citizens from seeking justice when they were denied the same in their own countries.
The SADC Heads of State resolved that a new Protocol on the Tribunal should be negotiated and its mandate confined to interpretation of the SADC Treaty and Protocols relating to disputes between Member States.