Land: Mugabe strips whites of rights

WHAT country in the world would want to evict an elderly double amputee commercial farmer from his only home and livelihood on the basis of the colour of his skin, after the Chief Justice says he could not hear the case because it would be illegal for the court to hear it?

Ben Freeth

The answer, not surprisingly, is Zimbabwe.

On July 9 in Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court (ConCourt), William Stander, yet another traumatised white commercial farmer, was told by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku that approaching the court was illegal.

“We cannot allow a person to approach this court and ask it to break the law,” he said.

Stander, an elderly disabled farmer who earlier in his career lost both legs while trying to retrieve stolen cattle, had refused to vacate his home on his farm, Benjani Ranch (Lot 18 of Nuanetsi Ranch) in the dry, drought-prone southern lowveld Mwenezi district.

The farm had been allocated to the local district administrator (DA), Stanley Chamisa (60) and his son, Watson (27) to bolster the patronage system that all dictatorial and increasingly unpopular regimes rely on to stay in power.

On October 27 last year, Chamisa and his son, accompanied by two police details, drove to Stander’s homestead in order to seize the farm. There was a verbal exchange during which the DA used insulting, abusive language and then punched Stander, causing neck and arm injuries.

Unusually, in February this year the local magistrate convicted Chamisa of assault, but he escaped a three-month jail sentence by opting to pay a paltry US$80 fine.

During the ConCourt hearing, Stander argued that evicting him from his farm and depriving him of his only home and source of livelihood infringed on his rights and contradicted Section 83 of Zimbabwe’s constitution. This section of the new constitution guarantees the rights of persons with disabilities.

Stander’s lawyers argued that: “In the circumstances, seeking to evict a person who has not been paid compensation to enable him to secure alternative accommodation renders him homeless, takes away his dignity and violates his right not to be treated in an inhuman and degrading way.”

After listening to submissions by both parties, the full ConCourt bench led by Chidyausiku concluded: “The application is dismissed as being without merit and reasons for judgment will be made available in due course.”

Background on beneficiaries
At this point, it would be useful to provide readers with some background on the land-grab, the full constitutional bench and Chamisa.

In November 2010, an online publication reported that a select group of President Robert Mugabe’s ruling elite and other party loyalists were in control of about five million hectares of Zimbabwe’s most profitable land.

The report was compiled after a three-month investigation into the corrupt land-grab scheme which Mugabe has always insisted was for the benefit of the nation. The report claimed that, contrary to Mugabe’s claims, a “new, well-connected black elite of about 2 200 people controlled close to half of the most profitable land seized from about 4 100 commercial farmers”.

Supreme and High Court judges were listed as being among the prominent beneficiaries of expropriated farms.

Control of the courts
The stage was set for a potentially violent struggle when Mugabe decided he needed to control the courts in February 2001, a year into the violent government-sponsored land invasions.

Patrick Chinamasa, at that stage Minister of Justice, attempted to dismiss the then (white) Chief Justice Antony Gubbay, who refused to sanction the unruly invasions of white-owned farms, the oppression of political opponents and the official flouting of the rule of law. The perception was that he wanted to replace him with someone more compliant.

In November 2010, Chidyausiku dismissed an application for a moratorium on ongoing farm invasions, essentially giving land seizures the green light.

The situation we are faced with now is that there are no rights left if you are a white farmer or a farm worker on a white-owned farm. Many people tried to herald the new constitution adopted last year as a great triumph for human rights, but there is no constitutional democracy on earth that enshrines laws that go against every human rights charter ever written.

A fundamental aspect of the rule of law is having the right to be at least heard.

In Zimbabwe this is effectively illegal for a white farmer, as Stander has learnt. The great sadness is that the democrats campaigned to let this deeply-flawed constitution through — and Zimbabwe is now bound to it.

Ironically, urged by both Zanu PF, who strategically manipulated the process to their benefit, and the MDC, who believed they could change unacceptable clauses when they came to power, the people of Zimbabwe effectively voted the rule of law out.

The net result of the new constitution and this ConCourt ruling is that Stander is left with no home, no farm and no recourse to justice. The ConCourt is the highest court in the land and the Sadc’s highly respected Sadc Tribunal, the regional human rights court to which individuals had access, was suspended in 2011 and then closed down the following year by Sadc heads of state at the instigation of Zimbabwe.

This was in the wake of judgments against Mugabe’s government, notably the illegality of the farm invasions and the landmark judgment of January 2011 in which the Sadc Tribunal awarded damages of nearly US$17 million to nine Zimbabwean torture victims.

The victims suffered bullet wounds, beatings and even paralysis as a result of the physical violence at the hands of the police and soldiers during the early 2000s.

Latest threats
In line with the mass clearances of the white farmers over the last 14 years, Mugabe vowed earlier this month to remove the last whites from the land.

“I have been given a list of 35 white farmers in Mashonaland West alone (a province that used to have nearly a thousand white farmers) — and in just a few districts that have been audited. We say no to whites owning our land and they should go … There is a concern that this area (Makonde) still has many whites on farms,” he said.

Speaking in the vernacular, Mugabe continued: “… We should not be lax when dealing with whites especially when it comes to our land. If there are some who are leasing out land to others, we will be going around the districts to fish you out.”

Mugabe’s rhetorical question regarding Zimbabwe’s white commercial farmers and the implication that they are of no use to the country is not borne out by the reality on the ground.

In January this year, news agencies Sapa and AFP reported that “around one million poor Zimbabweans faced hunger after the UN World Food Program (WFP) announced it was cutting food rations due to a cash crunch”.

Tompson Phiri, WFP spokesperson in Zimbabwe, warned that at least 2,2 million people — a quarter of the country’s rural population — would need food aid until the next harvest.

In January 2004, four years into the ongoing farm invasions, Inter Press Service reported that approximately 100 exiled white Zimbabwean farmers in Zambia were helping the country break a crippling food shortage that saw millions rely on food aid the previous season.

More than eight years later, in June 2012, the Zimbabwean reported that the bulk of 300 000 tonnes of maize being imported from Zambia by Zimbabwe — at significant cost to the cash-strapped Zanu PF government — for distribution to hungry rural people was coming from former white commercial farmers evicted during the 2000 land invasions and now living in Zambia.

The crime of white farmers
Is being a person of a different colour to the majority a crime anywhere else in the world? Do citizens of other countries deprived of their homes and livelihoods because of their colour get denied both a hearing in their courts and compensation for their loss?

If people who are discriminated against on the basis of their colour in other countries get international court judgments in their favour as we have via the Sadc Tribunal, does the international community remain mute and inert when those judgments are treated with contempt?

As South Africa’s highly respected Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett SC commented: “If there is not enough will, domestic or foreign, to require a government to comply with the rule of law, the courts are an empty shell.”

I wonder today where all the world’s anti-apartheid campaigners who campaigned so effectively against black discrimination have gone.

Why are these people silent with regards to the discrimination against white people in Zimbabwe who are now denied access to up to 95% of their former commercial farm land?

And in Zimbabwe today how is that European Union ambassador Dell’Ariccia can describe the country as “normal, peaceful and democratic”, and accuse civil society and the political opposition parties of being “anchored in the past”? Human rights defenders are justified in demanding that the EU recalls him.

This got me wondering. What would people internationally have said of Dell’Ariccia if he had commented that Germany was “normal, peaceful and democratic” during the discrimination of the Nazi era; or that South Africa was “normal, peaceful and democratic” during apartheid?

Freeth is a dispossessed white Zimbabwean farmer who is now with the Sadc Tribunal Rights Watch Zimbabwe.