By Catherine Sasman
“We did not walk out; we excused ourselves as the Government of Zimbabwe,” said Zimbabwe Ambassador to Namibia, Chipo Zindoga at a press briefing yesterday afternoon.
The embassy called the briefing after the legal team left the courtroom of the Supreme Court where the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal was conducting a hearing on an urgent application to have the Zimbabwe Government declared in breach of an interim order granted by the tribunal in December last year. The order stipulated that the Zimbabwe Government should take no steps, or permit no steps to be taken, directly or indirectly, whether by its agents or by orders, to evict from or interfere with the “peaceful residence” on and beneficial use of the farms occupied by the applicants, their employees and the families of such employees.
Legal representative of the Zimbabwe Government, Deputy Attorney General of that country Prince Machaya, had asked the court if it would allow the government time to supplement their responses to the urgent application.
Tribunal Judge President Luis Mondlane, however, decided to continue with the hearing, after which Machaya excused himself and his legal team, with Zindoga and her entourage leading the way out of the courtroom.
Zindoga yesterday said Machaya sought clarification of the basis upon which the tribunal wished to hear the application of the alleged non-compliance when it had already permitted the Zimbabwe Government to be heard on the main case of Mike Campbell (first applicant), William Campbell (second applicant) and another 77 Zimbabwean commercial farmers who are challenging Zimbabwe’s land reform programme.
The applicants are arguing that the programme’s method of implementation is in violation of the applicants’ rights provided for in the SADC Treaty and Protocol.
The applicants also contend that the land acquisition process is racist and illegal under a number of legal instruments, including the African Union
Zindoga said Machaya drew attention to the facts that the usual procedure
would have been for the tribunal to hear the urgent application of non-compliance first, so that if the Government was found by the tribunal not to have complied with the interim orders, then it would be directed to comply before it could be heard on the matter. He sought a short adjournment of one hour for further instructions from the Zimbabwean Government. Instead, he was granted 30 minutes.
“It should be brought to mind that if the Zimbabwe Government did not respect the rule of law, the white commercial farmers who have dragged the Government to court, would not have been at the contested farms.
Government is dealing with the alleged violations of the rule of law,” Zindoga maintained.
She said 30 “criminal elements who acted on their own accord, and assaulted the Campbells” had been apprehended.
“The land question is an emotive and sensitive issue. No one should be fooled that the land reform programme will be reversed. The land issue is irreversible,” Zindoga said.
She added that the applicants are “working in cahoots with their kith and kin to politicise the SADC Tribunal”, using the case to injure the sovereign interests of Zimbabwe, and to “push the illegal regime change agenda” on Zimbabwe.
After the departure of the Zimbabwean legal team, legal representative of the Campbells and the 77 commercial farmers, Jeremy Gauntlett, continued to argue that Zimbabwe Government was in contempt with the orders of the tribunal, citing numerous accounts where some of the applicants and their family members have been harassed and tortured with the purpose of forcing them to withdraw the case against the Zimbabwe Government.
Freeth had sustained serious injuries to his head, with fears that he might lose his right eye. His mother-in-law was also severely beaten, with a burning ember allegedly put in her mouth. Another elderly man had his hand broken.
Legal counsel for the applicants exhibited large colour photographs of injuries sustained by applicant Ben Freeth and other members of his family.
Gauntlett suggested that there was a “large State fingerprint” on the atrocities committed against some of the applicants, and asked for further interim protection of the applicants while the tribunal is devising its judgment on the main Campbell case. Judge President Mondlane said all parties would be informed of the tribunal’s judgment in due time.