SA ConCourt ruling

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The Zimbabwe land seizures: In black and white

Wille Spies |

08 July 2013

Wille Spies on the farmers' struggle for justice and the recent ConCourt ruling

Fiela's story

In the lobby of my office in Centurion is a coffee table book.

Its title: "Visions of Zimbabwe". Inside is a note, hand-written by Louis Fick, who over the years has become a close friend. "A view of Zimbabwe - thank you for everything, from Louis, Lisette, Louis II and Thea".

On the cover is a close-up of a zebra - brown eyes, head, body. The carefully arranged black and white zebra stripes - which had become synonymous with wildlife in Africa - dominate the entire front cover of this view of Zimbabwe.

Africa is a mystic continent - the one place where black and white have co-existed for centuries. Just like those stripes on the zebra. The stripes never blended into grey - they continue to co-exist in a picture which has come to symbolize the unique nature of the very continent we live on.

"Is a zebra white with black stripes, or is it black with white stripes?" This was the trick question our fathers would pop over their shoulders during those long drives in the game park, making us wonder and argue over it for hours. Perhaps Africa used to be white with black stripes during the colonial era. But ever since the advent of Uhuru - the era of freedom and democratization - things have changed.

Fiela was such an African zebra. Fiela was barely two days old when a game ranger brought him to the home of Wynand and Linda Hart, the childless owners of a game farm in Kadoma, Zimbabwe.

At two days of age the umbilical cord was barely even dry, but the cruel laws of nature had determined that he would not be strong enough to survive life with the herd. He was abandoned by his mother, but thanks to the game ranger, Fiela would find a home with the Harts.

Fiela shared the farmyard with the dogs. He never believed that he was a zebra. While he played with the dogs in the yard, he regarded himself better than they were - he was bigger than the dogs and he did not bark like them. He was part of the Hart family.

Wynand Hart operated a successful game farm where trophy hunters from Europe came to add to their collections. When Wynand and his guests would sit around the campfire at night, Fiela would join them and listen to the stories Wynand and the game rangers would tell the guests. If he recognized the stories, he would sniff and wander off to graze on the other side of the lawn.

Wynand was no land baron. The game farm was the only property he possessed and he had just paid off the mortgage bond on the land after the Zimbabwean Government had issued a so-called "certificate of no interest" regarding the farm. In August 2001, only 18 months after the first land invasion in Zimbabwe, a police Land Rover with members of the so-called land committee of the Kadoma district arrived on Wynand's farm. He was informed that he had to leave the farm as the new settlers would take possession of the land on the Monday. Wynand had guests from Spain on the farm at the time.

That Monday, two seven ton trucks with settlers, which included convicts, members of the feared Fifth Brigade of the Zimbabwean Army in civilian clothes, and a member of the Intelligence Service (IOC), arrived on the farm.

Violence threatened, and Ben Freeth, who used to represent the Commercial Farmers' Union at the time, succeeded in contacting the Spanish Ambassador. The Ambassador succeeded in having an order issued to the police to ensure that the Spaniards were brought to safety. The police, however, never responded to various calls made by Linda for help and protection.

Eventually Wynand and Linda were allowed to take their guests and a few essential personal belongings out of the house, and leave in two vehicles. In those terrifying moments of evacuation they could only fit the dogs in one Land Cruiser.

When they were ready to leave, the strangest thing happened. Fiela came running. He forced his huge zebra body into the Land Cruiser. This had never happened before, but Fiela was determined: he wanted to be taken along.

"No, Fiela, there is no space," Wynand and Linda had to tell him. "We will come and fetch you later." But Fiela pleaded as only a terrified zebra can. When the two vehicles containing their personal belongings and the horrified Spaniards left the farmyard, Fiela followed them down the road, and later along the fence until the Land Cruiser was out of sight.

Wynand's brother-in-law, Jos, and his family were staying in a separate homestead on the farm, and the arrangement was that Wynand would make a plan to move Fiela and the animals to another place. However, shortly afterwards Jos and his family were instructed to leave in the same manner. Three days later when Jos arrived at the gate to pick Fiela up, he was greeted by the tragic sight of a freshly-slaughtered hide of a young zebra tied to the gate of the farm that had belonged to Wynand Hart.

***

"For the right or wrong reasons, or a combination of both, Africa has come to be known particularly by the western world as the dark continent, a continent which has little regard for human rights, the rule of law and good governance."

These were the words of South Africa's Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in his explanation of the unanimous decision of South Africa's highest court against Zimbabwe.

"...lawful judgments are not to be evaded with impunity by any State or person in the global village," he continued.

***

On 27 June 2013, exactly five years after President Robert Mugabe was re-elected during a bloody and rigged election, the Constitutional Court determined that the Zimbabwean farmers, assisted by AfriForum, had the right to proceed with the sale in execution of Zimbabwean property in order to recover a punitive cost order issued by the SADC Tribunal against Zimbabwe in June 2009.

Ben Freeth's father-in-law, the late Mike Campbell, succeeded in November 2008 with an action against the Zimbabwean Government before the SADC Tribunal in Windhoek. The Tribunal, which consisted of five judges from various Southern African states, ruled in November 2008 that the Zimbabwean land reform process was illegal and racist, and that Mr Campbell and the other 77 farmers who became involved in the process should either be left alone or be compensated for the expropriation of their assets.

When the Zimbabwean Government merely continued its land grab process, Wynand Hart, John Stanton and Louis Fick approached AfriForum in August 2009 for assistance.

On 23 February 2010 the decision by the Tribunal was registered in the North Gauteng High Court and in March 2010 the Sherriff in Cape Town attached a property of the Zimbabwean Government, located in Salisbury Road, Kenilworth in Cape Town, in order to execute a punitive cost order by the Tribunal. The Constitutional Court expanded Common Law to give recognition to the registration and enforcement of judgements by international courts on human rights violations. The judgement means that for the first time in international legal history, there will be a legal sale of a property belonging to a state found guilty of gross human rights violations.

During a tea-break in the argument before the Constitutional Court earlier this year, John Stanton, Louis Fick, Wynand Hart and I were looking at the symbolic representation of the struggle for freedom in the court's lobby. We looked at the Portuguese motto from the struggle, which is now a red neon light mounted against the wall. "A luta continua," it reads. "The looting continues," John jokes, and we all laugh.

No, says Wynand, "the struggle continues," and we go back into the court.

Wynand Hart is currently the convenor of the South African Initiative, a joint initiative by AfriForum and the Zimbabwean Commercial Farmers' Union, which assists and unites South African citizens who have lost their land in Zimbabwe.  The initiative is on Facebook "Hope for Farmers" and interested parties may e-mail them at hope4farmers@gmail.com

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