THE dispute over the Triangle Ranch in Masvingo turned ugly this week with the foreign affairs department accusing the minister of lands of resettling A2 farmers on the property without following “proper procedures”.
Newzimbabwe.com reported last week on the eviction with “immediate effect” of the farmers from a part of the sugar cane ranch which was acquired from Tongaat Hulett and subdivided into various plots for the resettlement of 174 A2 farmers.
On Wednesday, the Lowveld Sugar Cane Growers Association, mostly diaspora returnees, children of liberation war heroes and poor people, filed an urgent chamber application for an interdict. The association is part of the Hippo Valley Farmers Association-the broader group which represents the 290 farmers issued with the offer letters by Minister Douglas Mombeshora in April this year.
The hearing started on Thursday and will continue on Friday after lawyers from the foreign affairs said they needed time to file opposing papers because they needed to obtain affidavits from Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi and the Permanent Secretary Joey Bimha. Only the lands ministry had filed opposing papers by Thursday.
The matter is being heard by High Court judge Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo. The farmers are being represented by Mberi and Associates while the foreign affairs department is represented by Mumbengegwi and Partners.
The farmers made the urgent application to stop their immediate eviction pending another application to the Administrative Court which opens next month.
In his eviction order, minister Mombershora said the farmers should “cease all or any operations” and leave the property “immediately” because the “purpose for withdrawal outweighs the representations” made by the applicants.
But the farmers argue that they should be allowed to harvest their sugar cane while government must compensate them.
A member of the association told Newzimbabwe.com that during the brief appearance on Thursday, officials from the foreign affairs were “clearly unhappy” with the urgent application, labelling the evictees “enemies of the state”.
The spokesperson said the government officials felt that the farmers should have waited for the administrative court case.
She added, “We are now being labelled enemies of the state but we went to the High Court because Mombeshora said we should leave immediately. But how can we just leave after we have invested in our plots and do so without compensation?”
A government lawyer told Newzimbabwe.com that their argument is that Mombeshora resettled the farmers without following “proper procedures” hence the minister was put under pressure to evict the farmers “immediately”. The lawyers said, as such, the farmers have no case because they occupied the property due to the minister’s “error”.
The spokesman for the farmers said they had been told to claim compensation from the original owners of the farm, something she said was ridiculous.
She added, “But how can we claim compensation from Tongaat Hulett when we did not get the offer letters from them?”
She said while the lands ministry was offering alternative land, there was no guarantee yet that that was a genuine offer and that they would be compensated and allowed to harvest their sugar cane which is now one and half meters high.
Tongaat Hullet, whose core businesses are sugar, starch and property management is listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange.
The Triangle Ranch is covered under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA), hence the ministry of foreign affairs involvement. Agreements under BIPPA require that government pay fair compensation in currency of the former owner’s choice for both land and improvements. Zimbabwe and South Africa signed the BIPPA deal in 2010.
South African president Jacob Zuma was in Zimbabwe recently.
A source said the government had been put under pressure to honour its obligations under the BIPPA arrangement hence the speed with which it moved to evict the farmers.
A farmer who spoke to Newzimbabwe.com last week said government had been put under pressure by “senior sugar business people” and that large sums of money had exchanged hands.