Black farm thieves should use the land or lose it in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe judge tells owners of former white farms to use land or risking losing it
Ruling could be turning point for white farmers seeking to regain land
By Peta Thornycroft, Johannesburg5:36PM GMT 04 Mar 2014
A judge in Zimbabwe has told President Robert Mugabe’s supporters who were given white farmers’ land that they should use it or facing losing it.
Judge Nicholas Mathonsi made his remarks in the Harare High Court as he denied an appeal by a member of the ruling Zanu-PF party against an earlier decision to allow Heather Guild, an evicted farmer, back on to a small part of her land.
The decision could mark a turning point in the long struggle by white farmers to be handed back their farms.
They were seized – often violently – under government orders in a so-called fast-track land reform programme that began in 2000.
In a seven-page judgment, Judge Mathonsi described failure to use land given out under the programme as “scandalous”.
He said: “The policy on land reform is not recreational, neither is it designed to accord beneficiaries some pastime. It is meant to benefit those willing and able to utilise land.
“One cannot be allowed to hold on to large tracts of land they are not using simply to baby-sit an inflated ego.
“If a beneficiary is not using the land that is a breach of the conditions upon which that land is offered. It should therefore be withdrawn and given to more deserving candidates.”
In his ruling Judge Mathonsi said the lands ministry could now withdraw its offer of Ms Guild’s farm to Fungai Chaeruika saying he had “breached” his contract by not using the land.
He also ordered Mr Chaeruika, a prominent provincial supporter of Mr Mugabe, to pay costs of the case.
Mr Chaeruik was given Ms Guild’s farm, Mapeta, in the hot and humid Burma Valley district by Mr Mugabe’s government at the height of the land invasions.
Ms Guild, like thousands of other evicted white farmers, fought in the courts to keep her 1,200-acre farm, which she bought after Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980.
Former farmers in the area say that Mr Chaeruika, who also took over several other farms, use just an acre of Ms Guild’d property. They say that local farm workers lost their jobs after she was forced out and supported her efforts to get her property back.
Ms Guild approached Joseph Msika, the late former Zimbabwe vice-president, seeking permission to stay on a portion of her land, and was eventually given an official letter from the government saying she could return home. She resumed vegetable cultivation and employed about 150 workers.
A former farmer in the district close to Ms Guild’s farm said: “Chaeruika was furious, and he went to the High Court to overturn Heather’s permission to stay on the farm. This took three years, and Judge Mathonsi has now ruled against him.”
A solicitor in Harare who has represented many farmers in their efforts to stay on their land said: “This was an extraordinary judgment. We don’t know if this means something or it is just one of those things, an exception to the rule, but a lot depends on it.”
He said many were wondering whether the judgment would be taken to the Supreme Court on appeal. “At least those workers will keep their jobs for the moment,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s economy crashed after 2000 when the production of tobacco, the main foreign currency earner, crashed as white farmers were forced of their land. By 2008, the Zimbabwe dollar was worthless and the economy ground to a halt.
Tens of thousands of small-scale farmers have since begun to grow tobacco on some confiscated white-owned land, but many of the most productive commercial farms prior to 2000 remain fallow.
Zimbabwe, once a net a food exporter now regularly relies on Western donors, including Britain, to feed the population.