via ZANU PF minister slammed for ‘blatant lies’ about land grabs | SW Radio Africa by Alex Bell on Wednesday, October 16, 2013
A ZANU PF government minister has been heavily criticised for ‘blatantly lying’ about the land grab campaign, after insisting that no South African citizens were affected.
Deputy Finance Minister Samuel Undenge was responding to concerns raised by a South African government minister currently visiting Zimbabwe on an investment mission. The South African minister, Elizabeth Thabethe, said Zimbabwe had to address concerns about businesses and farms being seized.
But Undenge denied such incidents have happened, saying there were “no cases of South Africans who have lost farms,” adding: “If you have any specific cases of farmers who lost their land during the reform programme bring them to our attention and we will be more than happy to respond and give the necessary information.”
The minister’s comments have been dismissed as ‘blatant lies’ by a South African civil rights group, which has for years been representing its farming compatriots affected by the land grabs in Zimbabwe. AfriForum’s CEO Kallie Kriel told SW Radio Africa that “more than 400 South Africans have lost their farms.”
“It’s a blatant lie to say no one has lost their land. It’s hundreds of people who have lost their land and many of them have been arrested and detained and charged by the Zimbabwe government,” Kriel said.
He added: “Unfortunately there has been no support from the South African government, apart from sending officials sometimes to appear in those court cases. So what we would really expect from the South African government is to take a strong stance.”
Kriel singled out the landmark Crawford von Abo legal case, which saw South African businessman Von Abo take the government to court for failing to protect his interests in Zimbabwe. The Constitutional Court in 2009 upheld a High Court judgement which ruled the South African government should have offered Von Abo the necessary protection against the land grabs which left him penniless.
Von Abo is just one of the hundreds of South Africans affect by the land seizures, which have been ongoing for over a decade. South African born Dirk Visagie and his wife Heidi are another example, after they were forced to pack up their belongings and leave their Chegutu farm in 2012. The eviction followed a court ruling that Dirk was guilty of remaining on the property, which had been singled out for invasion by a ZANU PF official called Timothy Madavanhu.
In 2011, ZANU PF youths in Nyazura evicted two South African farmers, Koos Smith of De Rust farm and Tienie van Rensburg of Rueben farm, giving them an hour’s notice to pack up their belongings and leave.
Other South African’s affected by the land grabs include Louis Fick who lost his Chinoyi farm after a series of invasions, as well as Philip and Ellen Hapelt from Grasslands Farm in Somabhula, who were also kicked off their property in 2010.
The land grabs after 2009 violate a bilateral investment protection agreement (BIPPA) that was signed by South Africa and Zimbabwe that same year. The BIPPA was ratified in 2010 and is meant to offer South African investors some kind of protection. But in the case of the farms, this never happened.
A regional SADC Tribunal ruling in 2008 that declared the land grab campaign unlawful, was also supposed to protect the South Africans and other farmers in Zimbabwe. But that court ruling was repeatedly ignored and eventually the court was suspended by SADC leaders, who refused to take action against Zimbabwe’s contempt of court.
Former Chegutu farmer Ben Freeth, who is now the spokesperson of the SADC Tribunal Rights Watch group, said Wednesday that the lies about the land grab are a “desperate” attempt to attract much needed investment. He said that a list currently being compiled to counter Minister Undenge’s comments, suggests that there are at least 500 South African farmers who lost land in Zimbabwe.
“The ZANU PF government is in a position where they realise that the country cannot move forward unless there is investment. So this is a desperate attempt to woo investors with a lie,” Freeth said.