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Besieged farmers team up to block land grab

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A NUMBER of prominent indigenous farmers whose farms have been targeted for takeover by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration in what observers insist is an illegal and unconstitutional move are plotting a class action lawsuit to block the widely condemned land grab.

MOSES MATENGA

The NewsHawks has established that consultations have been taking place in the last few days between part of the targeted prominent farmers and some of the country’s biggest legal brains over the class action.

The government has been persisting with its acquisition of land from black farmers who bought farms and put them into full productive capacity.

Individual farmers who spoke to The NewsHawks confirmed the development this week, saying the class action was now in motion and the lawsuit will soon be processed, adding that some of the farmers will not want their names mentioned the class action for fear of a backlash.

“We are considering a class-action and this will include some of the farmers to be affected and some who were affected before,” a source close to the matter said this week.

It could not be immediately established which lawyers the farmers will be working with,  but it emerged a strong team of lawyers will put together the papers to sue the government on the matter.

Lawyers said the class action suit makes better logic than individual cases.

“It’s like where we have a community with a same grievance, for instance in this case where the government would want to compulsorily acquire their land, whether ancestral or bought, they can go by way of a class action instead of suing individually,” prominent lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara said.

“The result will now not only be limited to an individual but the remedy will be for all the other interested parties. It also saves costs and avoids the possibility of conflicting judgements because if they sue individually their matter may be heard by different judges who may end up then holding different views that will be conflicting with colleagues so that will bring uncertainty to law on all those other issues.”

Constitutional law expert Professor Lovemore Madhuku said: “It is where one person can go to court representing a particular group of people who are not necessarily named in the same category or same situation.

“It’s like you want to represent a group of children and you cannot name all of them but you will be alone and say what I am doing is not for myself but everyone in that particular situation.”

The action will also seek to present the case of indigenous farmers affected even during the days of the late former president Robert Mugabe where those holding different views with him where punished by having land taken away from them.

The class action plot comes as the Supreme Court on Monday blocked the government from seizing a Mazowe farm owned by exiled former minister Jonathan Moyo and his wife Beatrice.

Justices George Chiweshe, Chinembiri Bhunu and Joseph Musakwa, on appeal, overturned a High Court ruling dismissing Moyo’s urgent application for an interdict against the Lands minister and an occupant who had occupied a section of the farm since October 2020.

“Until a final decision relating to the rights of the parties can be made by this court under case number HC 290/20, or the return date of this application, whichever happens sooner, the state of occupation by applicants in respect of the remainder of Patterson Farm in Mazowe shall not be interfered with by the respondents, its employees or assigns,” the interim order read in part.

High Court judge Justice Esther Muremba had dismissed Moyo’s application, prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court.

Muremba said Moyo’s wife Beatrice, who filed the founding affidavit, had no legal standing in the matter because the offer letter was issued to the husband.

Several indigenous landowners whose land has been targeted by the government include Frederick Mutanda, Nicholas Vingirai, Tawanda Nyambirai, Sam Ruturi, Afaras Gwaradzimba, Francis Zimuto, Wonder Matsaira, Chris Tande, Phineas Hwata, Nyasha Makuvise, Onias Gumbo, Max Chisvo, Tendai Kandawasvika, Chris Goromonzi and Siphosami Malunga who is in partnership with Zephaniah Dhlamini and Charles Moyo.

The locals are being forced to relinquish land for compensation and join the US$3.5 billion facility extended to white former commercial farmers, most of whom were displaced during the violent land reform programme since 2000.

Under Statutory Instrument 62 of 2020, the government is empowered to take over farms from indigenous farmers and pay compensation. Farmers are however doubtful of the government’s capacity to compensate them for compulsorily acquired land.

The government recently wrote to some of the indigenous farmers opening negotiations amid doubt that they have the money required to compensate them after proper evaluation.

“They have written to make an offer on some of the properties. They have made an offer to buy land, but I am not convinced they have the money. I need to be convinced before I say yes. I need to be convinced whether they have the money and there is also the issue of valuation. We are not happy with the valuation they have,” one of the farmers said last week.

“The government has no money and needs money to spend on more pressing issues rather than to spend money on someone who doesn’t want it. They should just give me my farm back and use the money for other things. Why offer money when they need it for more pressing issues?”

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