Ben Freeth’s Column

Executive Director

There has been extensive media coverage of the Global Compensation Agreement signed by two farming organisations in Zimbabwe with the government of President Mnangagwa. The signing has been a very contentious issue that has generated significant debate on various platforms among dispossessed commercial farmers who lost everything during the violent farm takeovers, which began 20 years ago and still continue. 

Mr Mnangagwa’s government placed the farming organisations under considerable pressure to sign the agreement – and within a very short time frame - stating it was their last chance to receive a compensation offer from the government. A significant number of dispossessed farmers, many of them in dire straits financially, as well as being elderly and in poor health, signed up, despite only seeing a draft agreement as the final document was withheld.

In our opinion piece in SADC Tribunal Rights Watch provides brief background and the legal context amid mounting concern among farmers regarding the agreement, the unfolding government strategy and the implications.
 

THE SADC TRIBUNAL CAMPBELL CASE

Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd et al. v. Republic of Zimbabwe is a landmark test case decided by the SADC Tribunal. It held that the government violated the SADC treaty by denying court access and engaging in racial discrimination in the confiscation of land.

SADC

TRIBUNAL

TIMELINE 

The SADC Tribunal was set up as a regional court to hear disputes between SADC member states and between individuals and states. The Tribunal was a court of last resort for those who had been denied access to justice in their own countries.

COURT CASE: 

COMPENSATION CLAIM 

The Mike Campbell Foundation has initiated a court case which involves a group of dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers taking former South African President Zuma and the SA government to court for participating in the closure of the SADC Tribunal regional court.

COURT CASES JUSTICE & LEGAL ACCOUNTABILITY

The MCF took the courageous decision to use the law to focus on justice and legal accountability and to establish a workable legal foundation for property rights in Zimbabwe in the future. This has included a number of ground-breaking court cases

CONSERVATION  AGRICULTURE TRAINING

We provide practical conservation agriculture training to an average of 144 destitute farm workers and others in their communities each year, teaching them how to feed their families on just 1/16th of a hectare using our free open-pollinated seed.

CONSERVATION AGRICULTURE FIELD DAY

The objective of our latest, well-attended conservation agriculture field day was to showcase our conservation agriculture activities and achievements – despite the ongoing drought conditions - in Harare and the Chegutu district of Zimbabwe. 

OPEN-POLLINATED SEED PROJECT

Our open-pollinated seed project provides free high quality seed that can be replanted each year to destitute farm workers and other needy people in Zimbabwe. In 2017, we distributed more than 4,500 seed packs followed by 8,000 in 2018.

SCHOOL FEES PROJECT

In 2018, we paid school fees for 262 children of destitute farm workers and pastors, as well as tertiary fees for two students. For the first two terms of 2019, we paid school fees for 256 children and two tertiary students.

FOOD CRISIS SOLUTION

Faced with yet another food crisis and economic collapse due to the demise of agriculture, the solution is simple – and this is what the MCF is working towards: Title deeds must be allocated for all agricultural land and title to the commercial farmland must be restored.

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Zim Global Compensation Agreement raises serious concerns

There has been extensive media coverage of the Global Compensation Agreement signed by two farming organisations in Zimbabwe with the government of President Mnangagwa. The signing has been a very contentious issue that has generated significant debate on various platforms among dispossessed commercial farmers who lost everything during the violent farm takeovers, which began 20 years ago and still continue. The govt placed the farming organisations under considerable pressure to sign the agreement – and within a very short time frame, warning that it was their last chance to get compensation.

Activists arrested and abducted ahead of protest

Friday was to be a day of peaceful protest in Zimbabwe against Covid-19 corruption and the poverty and hunger that has descended on the country. But the alliance between Zanu-PF, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and the executive supported by the army and the central intelligence organisation has proved lethal at forcibly dismantling any ability of Zimbabweans to hold any peaceful protest. The breach of the peace is not by protesters but by the ZRP. Thursday saw an attempt to round up known human rights activists and journalists including  ZimLive editor, Mduduzi Mathuthu, whose home was raided and ransacked

SADC lawyers blast Mnangagwa for human rights abuses

The Southern African Development Community–Lawyers Association (SADC-LA), in a statement issued on Tuesday 28 July 2020, noted the deterioration of human rights situation in Zimbabwe and urged authorities to adhere to the rule of law and constitutionalism. The regional lawyers have accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration of creating an environment of fear among citizens through wanton violation of people’s rights. “SADC-LA notes that this status quo and its continued deterioration is a grave violation of human rights, affront to the rule of law and separation of powers doctrine.”

Advocate Fadzayi Mahere speaks on her arrest

Before Advocate Fadzayi Mahere set out with six colleagues on a peaceful protest in Harare on Friday 31 July 2020, she made a telephone call to her trusted long-time mentor, friend and lawyer – David Drury. She told him that they were about to go on a peaceful walking protest in the neighbourhood.also  confirmed that they were walking within the permitted radius, carrying sanitizer and were going to respect social distancing. They carried placards that read: “No Violence,” “I am protesting peacefully,” Babies’ Lives Matter,” “COVID Kills, So does corruption,” “FreeZimbabwe,” “I have a dream,” and “EndHunger”.

Military in streets, protesters arrested

Scores of people were arrested Friday 31 July in Zimbabwe as hundreds of military troops as well as police attempted to thwart an anti-government protest, with streets empty and many people hiding indoors. Those arrested included prominent author Tsitsi Dangarembga and Fadzayi Mahere, spokeswoman of the main opposition MDC Alliance party. Organizers said demonstrators originally planned to protest alleged government corruption but instead targeted the ruling political party, using the hashtag #ZANUPFmustgo.” Tensions are rising in Zimbabwe as the economy implodes and inflation soars above 700 percent.

Inside Zimbabwe’s $3.5bn compensation deal for farmers

Zimbabwe’s Commercial Farmers’ Union president, alongside other former commercial farmers, have signed a deal with the Zimbabwe Government that says a compensation amount of US$3.5 billion will be sought to pay compensation to commercial farmers who had been evicted from their farms during the 20 traumatic years of the farm invasions. On the face of it, it all sounds quite hopeful; except for the fact that the Government doesn’t have the US$3.5 billion to pay out. Zimbabwean commercial farmers, now spread across the globe, are anxious to see the agreement - only a few have so far been allowed to see it…

Zim brands US ambassador ‘a thug’

Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has threatened US Ambassador Brian Nichols with expulsion, amid an intensifying crackdown on opposition and union activists ahead of planned anti-corruption demonstrations on 31 July. Spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa said Nichols was “a thug” who was fomenting unrest by funding protest organisers. The police have published a “wanted list” of 14 prominent critics of the government including trade unionist Peter Mutasa, opposition legislator Job Sikhala and two former ZANU-PF youth leaders. Ongoing arrests were also criticised by Amnesty International and the UN.

Compensation deal under discussion in Zim

Many people will have seen this article in the Telegraph (UK) of 7 July 2020 about the Zimbabwe Government wanting to pay some compensation to dispossessed farmers.  Regrettably, this is premature.  There is no agreement yet; and there is no money in the Zimbabwe Government coffers to pay compensation even if there were an agreement.  The article correctly notes that the government in Harare is currently unable to get international loans, or import enough fuel for its population. Zimbabwe’s white farmers were highly successful, and their productivity formed the bedrock of the southern Africa nation’s economy. 

Cold water poured on Belarus deal to train Zim farmers

Veteran Zimbabwe farmer Ben Freeth poured cold water on a new government plan that’ll see trainers from the former Soviet republic of Belarus train a thousand farmers to till the soil in the former breadbasket of Africa. “Belarus is not known for its agricultural productivity.  “Their climate, soils, crops, pests and diseases and systems of production are different from ours.  It’s difficult to believe how effective they will be in teaching us to farm,” said Freeth, the  executive director of the Mike Campbell Foundation and a former regional executive officer of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, in Zimbabwe.

Latest white-owned farm grabs treacherous

This is an excellent opinion piece in the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper on the latest wave of land grabs targeting white-owned farms. Editor Faith Zaba writes that this “is a heart-rending story about how white farmers with 99-year leases are being given 48 hours to vacate their homes and 90 days to wind up their multi-million-dollar operations. Government has argued that the reduction in farm sizes would boost capacity utilisation of land. However, as she points out, this argument is utterly nonsensical as these farms are highly productive and are among the country’s biggest exporters of agricultural produce.

ZAPU angered by ED seizure of properties

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has angered opposition ZAPU leaders having met with them shortly before the November 2017 coup and early last year where he pledged to return their seized properties. Mnangagwa’s government made a U-turn last week and directed that the assets be transferred to the ruling ZANU-PF party. Nijo Estate, which was handed over to the Agriculture and Rural Development Authority (ARDA), in 1984, four years after independence, is part of ZAPU properties which were confiscated in the 1980s. ZAPU has been petitioning the government to release the properties without success.

Belarus to train and equip Zim farmers

“A huge load of farm machinery is lurching across the Indian Ocean in the bowels of a transport ship bringing with it a supreme irony,” writes Chris Bishop of CNBC Africa. “The shipment is part of a plan by a far off country [Belarus], bent on teaching Zimbabwe – a country that could once teach the world – how to farm. In a US$58 million deal six grain harvesters, 100 tractors, 16 seed drills, five fifth wheel trucks, five semi-trailers are on their way to the ports of Beira in Mozambique and Durban in South Africa. “The aim is to totally mechanize agriculture in Zimbabwe … to cultivate and harvest maize and wheat.”

IMF cuts Zim forecast to -10%

Zimbabwe’s economy will shrink by 10.4% in 2020, worse than the 7.4% estimated just two months ago, the IMF has said in a revised forecast that paints a dire picture for African economies this year. It is the second time the IMF has lowered its estimate for Zimbabwe over the last half year. Before the full impact of COVID-19 became apparent, the Fund had forecast Zimbabwe to see only 0.8% growth this year. The IMF then revised its forecast to 7.4% in April, and now further down to 10.4%. “The outlook for 2020–21 is considerably worse than expected in April and subject to much uncertainty,” the IMF says.

Reticence re promised farmers’ compensation

On Friday 26 June, the Zimbabwe government announced the closure of all mobile cash platforms and the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, causing widespread alarm. This did nothing for the credibility of the promised mid-July unveiling of a US$3.5 billion farm compensation deal for dispossessed farmers. There are several snags. For a start, contrary to what some farmer representatives have been saying, there is no money on the table. The plan is to raise the money abroad, which will not be possible until Zimbabwe has a new IMF programme and a Paris Club (of official donors) debt restructuring agreement, which is some years away.

Stock exchange shut down

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange announced Sunday it suspended trading to comply with a directive issued by the Information Ministry late Friday that the bourse close. It’s the latest in a series of measures the government has implemented to try and stabilize the nation’s currency, it claims. “Despite rhetoric that Zimbabwe is open for business, the country is increasingly closed off, and the regime is struggling to abate the economic crisis,” said Nathan Hayes, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit. “The move to shut the ZSE will limit demand for foreign currency, as investors will not be able to disinvest.”

Motlanthe Commision 2018 election inquiry shameful

The results of the Motlanthe Commission’s inquiry into the 1 August 2018 shootings reveal Zimbabwe’s lack of reform, writes Derek Matyszak in ISS Today. “The commissioners should be hanging their heads in shame…. Mnangagwa remained silent on the question of authorisation, avoiding such awkward questions by moving quickly to establish a commission of inquiry. He appointed seven commissioners who would be required, in part, to investigate his own conduct…. To give the commission a veneer of respectability, four were from outside Zimbabwe. The result was a report tailor-made to Mnangagwa’s requirements….”

Fresh land seizures target productive white farmers

Senior government officials have put in motion plans to grab productive white-owned farms in Mashonaland West, with Provincial Affairs minister Mary Mliswa spearheading the action. Sources in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, water, Climate and Rural Resettlement allege that Temba Mliswa, Norton legislator and brother to the minister is privy to the land seizures. Official documents, corroborated by accounts from government officials, indicate that the state has already made moves to downsize two of the most productive farms in the province, to pave way for senior government officials.

New Patriotic Front party leader is a white Zimbabwean businessman

Dispossessed former rancher, Darryl Collett has emerged to lead Zimbabwe’s newly formed The Patriotic Front party and is set to contest President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the 2023 elections. Collett, a 73-year-old businessman, is former owner of Mjingwe Ranch, a lucrative wildlife ranch in the Bubye Conservancy, Mwenezi district. The newly formed party notes: “True to the party’s multiracial, multi-ethnic approach of uniting Zimbabweans towards finding lasting solutions to the country’s multifaceted crisis, TPF elected a structure which is a blend of races, ethnic groups, youth and experience.”

DA (SA) calls on Ramaphosa to intervene in Zim

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party in South Africa has called on SA President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as the African Union (AU) Chairman, to demand that the Zimbabwean government stops the harassment of members of the opposition and the immediate release of three young women opposition leaders who have been arrested on trumped up charges. Three opposition female leaders, Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were reportedly abducted, sexually abused and dumped in a remote area. They are currently under arrest accused of faking their own abduction.

Zimbabwe’s new German-printed bank notes

Zimbabwe received 60,000kg (60 tonnes) in freshly-printed higher denomination bond notes on 14 May 2020, which the central bank says will go into circulation at the end of the month. They are alleged to have arrived on a Boeing 747-48EF(SCD) cargo plane that flew out of Leipzig in Germany where Giesecke & Devrient, a company that has printed banknotes for Zimbabwe in the past, is based. Giesecke & Devrient stopped printing Zimbabwean banknotes in 2008 after an “official request” from the German government, a reaction to the escalating pre-election political tension in Zimbabwe. 

Africa relies on US$47bn of food imports

AFRICAN countries must urgently boost their agriculture budgets as well as food stockpiles and keep supplies flowing to avert a likely hunger crisis, currently heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic, an African Development Institute (ADI) report warns. It notes that Africa currently relies on more than US$47 billion worth of food imports to supplement domestic supply, and this could increase to US$110 billion by 2025. “Every US$1 billion spent on food imports is equivalent to 670 000 on-farm jobs and 200 000 off-farm jobs exported elsewhere, while millions of Africa’s teeming youths remain unemployed,” the report says.

Horror of abducted women

The brutalizing and sexual assault of three women youth leaders in Zimbabwe by suspected security agents took place just north of South Africa’s border. Where are the protests that their lives matter, where is the condemnation from women’s leagues and civil society human rights activists in our own country? asks Shannon Ebrahim, the Independent Group Foreign Editor. We say we want an end to femicide, the gross abuse of human rights, and gender-based violence, but when this happens across our border, we are conspicuously silent. Our failure to speak up for these women has meant their nightmare continues….

Govt spends millions on vehicles for military chefs

ZIMBABWE’S cash-strapped government has splurged millions of United States dollars on top-of-the-range vehicles, which include Toyota Hilux and Land Cruisers, for senior military officials at a time President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is pleading for an economic bailout package from international financial institutions. Military sources this week revealed that lieutenant-colonels, colonels and brigadier-generals were among officers who benefitted from the vehicle acquisition at a time of growing disquiet within the rank and file of the army over the deteriorating economic environment.

Malawian court condemns Zim ConCourt Ruling on the 2018 Presidential Elections

A Malawian court has ruled that the approach that was taken by the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court in the 2018 Presidential election challenge case was not a good one. It notes that the Zimbabwe case of (Nelson) Chamisa v (Emmerson) Mnangagwa and 24 Others (supra) seems to suggest that as a general rule an election will not be annulled if a breach of the law did not affect the election result. “We have doubts that this would be a good approach, particularly where serious breach of the law is involved. What if the numbers themselves are as a result of an inaccurate counting, intimidation, fraud or corruption?”

Hungary contacts Interpol re Mnangagwa family money laundering

Authorities in Hungary have opened a money-laundering investigation after a company that was two weeks old received a huge payment of US$2 million from Zimbabwe’s government. A ZimLive investigation into the payments has led back to Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose government has been paying for Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) and test kits at inflated prices to companies linked to his family. The companies are Drax International, and Namibia-registered Jaji Investments. Documents from Interpol confirm that the transactions are being investigated as a possible “crime”.

How long can Mnangagwa cling to power?

This exceptional article examines the brutal two-and-a-half year rule of President Mnangagwa, noting that Zimbabweans are “economically and socially worse off under the ‘new’ rulers, routinely intimidated, beaten, tortured and killed, their vote still stolen. During President Mugabe’s 37-year rule, he “brooked no opposition, accepted no compromise [and] tolerated no criticism…. He presided over a corrupt system that had destroyed the economy …. But he did not work alone. He was the figurehead of a brutal system overseen by a small group of political and military elites” that included Mnangagwa, his chief implementer.

UNHR: Mnangagwa govt must stop abductions and torture

UN human rights experts have called on Zimbabwe to immediately end the pattern of disappearances and torture apparently aimed at suppressing protests and dissent. The urgent call comes after three young female opposition activists – member of parliament Joanna Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova – were stopped at a police checkpoint in Harare and subsequently abducted, tortured and sexually assaulted. The three women were going to participate in a peaceful protest organised on 13 May 2020 by the Alliance Youth Assembly of the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change.

Poverty Datum Line stats for April 2020

Zimbabwean economist John Robertson reports that ZimStat, the Zimbabwe government's Department of Statistics, has issued its April 2020 Poverty Datum Line survey, which shows that the cost of providing basic requirements for a family of five came to an average of Z$7 425,81 compared to Z$924,31 in April 2019. Prices of the range of goods and services measured were therefore eight times their level a year earlier. The cost of living in Bulawayo is slightly higher than in Harare, i.e. Z$7,583,36 for Bulawayo and Z$7,223,03 in Harare. Prices increased 77%, but for Matabeleland North, the increases were almost 100%.

Strawberry moon over Lake Kariba by Stuart Young

This beautiful photo of the Strawberry full moon on Friday 5 June, 2020, was captured on the shores of Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe by Stuart Young. June’s full Moon—typically the last full moon of spring or the first of summer in the northern hemisphere, is traditionally called the Strawberry Moon. The name originated with Algonquin tribes in eastern North America who knew it as a signal to gather the ripening fruit of wild strawberries. Alternative European names for this moon include the Honey Moon and the Mead Moon. It has also been called the Rose Moon, given that many roses come to life during this part of the year.

SADC Lawyers Association statement on arrest and detention of Advocate Thabani Mpofu

The Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association has issued a statement condemning the arrest and detention of Zimbabwean Advocate Thabani Mpofu, who is a legal representative for the opposition MDC Alliance leader, Nelson Chamisa. SADC-LA  also condemned “the acute escalation of the harassment and intimidation of lawyers in the SADC region….There remains a sustained trajectory of attacks on the independence of the legal profession in the region,” the Association said. Mpofu is being represented by award-winning lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. Attacks on the judiciary are common in Zimbabwe.

Drax International Covid-19 procurement scam

The controversy in Zimbabwe surrounding the recent awarding of a US$1 million Covid-19 procurement contract for coronavirus equipment and test kits without going to tender to Drax International, whose beneficial owner allegedly has close ties with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son Collins, is indicative of rampant corruption which is pervasive in government circles being fuelled by the political elite, reports the Zimbabwe Independent. Drax, whose beneficial owner is Delish Nguwaya, has no proven track record in the procurement of essential medical goods. Collins Mnangagwa has denied any links with Drax.