Another eviction shows farm tenure security is a long way off

Oct 4, 2011

There has been a lot of loose talk recently about various schemes to avail finance to new, post-land reform farmers. Some of the details of a recent/on-going reported eviction of an 'old' white farmer show why security of tenure cannot be counted on as an element in giving financiers confidence to lend money for farming in Zimbabwe in any big way.

According to the website of SW Radio Africa, in the farming community of Beatrice, south of Harare, white farmer Wayne Greaves and his 84 workers were last week all been given notices by the sheriff of court to vacate Enondo B farm by the end of this week. The presiding judge is said to have signed individual eviction letters for each of the workers as well as that for Greaves, perhaps to hammer home the point that they all needed to get out of there. The sheriff is said to have threatened anyone on the farm past this week's deadline with arrest. The people affected, counting the workers extended families, are said to number 450.

The farm has been allocated, under 'the successful land reform programme,' as president Robert Mugabe calls it in his speeches, to 'landless blacks' in the form of married couple Hudson Zhanda and his wife Irene Zhanda. According to the article, the latter is 'said to be a practicing nurse in London for the past 5 years.'

Apparently, Greaves first formally learnt of his pending eviction in February, when he was presented with the ''offer letter'' the Zhandas had received from the government for the farm.

The humanitarian aspects of the story for the soon to be homeless 450 people are clear and horrific. But for our purposes, let's just stick to some of the security of tenure implications of this story, also keeping in mind the sketchy details and the fact that those are from only one side of the parties involved.

When Greaves first learnt of the prospects of eviction at the beginning of the year, he went to explain to the authorities that he had already given up two farms totaling 2500 hectares back in 2002. He was then allowed to stay on Enondo B, and was said to have been given assurances that he would not have to worry about the threat of eviction again. He had 'contributed' plenty to the land reform effort, and presumably he was found to be a productive farmer on Enondo B.

Who did he appeal to? Not to the courts or the lands ministry, but to the provincial governor!

Questions: on what basis does the governor over-ride an offer letter from the lands ministry? Why did the farmer appeal to the governor, rather than to ministry issuing the offer letter? What legal power did the governor's 'assurance' that he could continue farming on Enondo B have? Did the governor discuss the situation with the offer letter-issuing authority, or did he make his assurance unilaterally? If the offer letter is a legal document, can it be countered by an executive/political decision?

As it turns out, the governor's 'assurance' to Greaves wasn't worth all that much if he is now being evicted a few months later. Was his clear lack of any form of what could be regarded as security of tenure because he is an 'old' white farmer? In other words, will the new black farmers about to replace him enjoy any more security of tenure than he did, or are they subject to the same whims? On what basis can these new farmers feel confident that they will not be subject to similar treatment to that experienced by Greaves?

If land reform is for whites to make way for 'landless blacks,' does Greaves previous 'contribution' in 2002 count for nothing? How is it being justified that he was kicked off two farms previously, and is being kicked off the remaining one he has? Has the government/country run out of other land the aspiring new farmers could have been allocated, leaving an established farmer like Greaves to continue being productive?

Even though Greaves was given a reprieve to remain on his farm, which has now turned out to have been temporary, it was on the basis of that farm being 'downsized' to accommodate him and the Zhandas. Apparently this was all formalized and written down.

The poor reporting of the story leaves out many important details it would be necessary to know about exactly what transpired, but apparently one of the Zhandas, perhaps unhappy about having to share with Greaves, took him to court to sue to be allowed to take over the entire farm.

For the court fight Greaves got affidavits of support to keep his assigned portion of the farm from the provincial governor, the provincial administrator, the War Veterans Association chairman and the chief lands officer. Later, written support of the lands ministry was sought and granted. Despite all this the High Court ruled that Greaves be evicted in the seven days that will be up this week. An example of the poor journalism around the story is that it is not explained how the matter reached the High Court so fast, and why the court ruled to evict despite all the arguments it would seem would favor Greaves being allowed to stay on and coexist with the Zhandas as his new farming neighbors.

A report on the ZimEye website suggests the Zhandas are well connected (ZANU-PF) politically. Although this is now a legal matter, many times in the past we have seen how politics very much has had a strong influence on what were ostensibly purely legal matters. While this matter seemed to reach the High Court and produce a favorable judgment for the complainant in record time, there are many other cases where complainants belonging to the ''wrong'' political camp have not been given an audience years after seeking address.  

It is interesting too, that in presenting his case against eviction before the High Court, Greaves sought the support of the chairman of the War Veterans Association. Why should this come into a land dispute at all? Suppose the new farmer doesn't get along with this important fellow? Why should that be an important determinant of a farmer's feeling of security on his land? If the War Veterans were an important part of implementing farm invasions ten years ago, do they not now, in what should be the productivity phase of the exercise, have as much prospect of negatively interfering with the whole process of agricultural recovery?

Even with the very many holes in the story that prevent a full understanding of what happened here and why, what we do have is enough to show that 'security of land tenure' is a very long way off in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe Review


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