By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
5 June 2014
The Supreme Court has this week upheld the ZANU PF seizure of a German owned farm in Mashonaland Central, stating that the government does not need to honour an international protection agreement on the property.
The property, Frogmore Farm, is covered under a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) between Germany and Zimbabwe. The farm was previously owned by the Forrester Estate group, an agricultural company run by the German Von Pezold family. The family used to be the largest German investor in Zimbabwe, with multiple agricultural properties across the country.
But since the launch of the land grab campaign by ZANU PF, the Von Pezolds repeatedly faced land invasions and threats of violence on their properties. The family eventually approached an international Investments Dispute tribunal to arbitrate in the case against the Zimbabwe government.
Frogmore Farm was seized by ZANU PF member Lovemore Makunun’unu in 2007, after receiving an offer letter from the state. The legal owners secured an eviction order for Makunun’unu in 2009, on the basis that the land was BIPPA protected, an agreement that stipulates that any acquisition by Zimbabwe be fully compensated for.
Makunun’unu appealed this and, after a lengthy process, the Supreme Court on Monday quashed the High Court order and declared the ZANU PF member the legal owner of the property, dismissing the BIPPA and the compensation needed.
Lawyer Tapson Dzvetero, who represented Makunun’unu, reportedly welcomed the court order as a “positive move in favour of beneficiaries of the land reform programme who were allocated offer letters in respect of farms covered under BIPPA.”
“The agreement does not affect the legality of the acquisition of these properties in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Those beneficiaries remain entitled to their properties under the land reform programme,” the lawyer was quoted by the Herald newspaper as saying.
The ruling backs up recent comments by Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who dismissed claims that BIPPA protected investments in Zimbabwe were safe from seizure. He told Parliament last week that government would only have to compensate the investor, despite no compensation being made to date for seized assets.
“Under the BIPPAs, government is not prevented from compulsory acquisition of assets. It is required to pay compensation,” Chinamasa said.
His comments, and this week’s court ruling, are both at odds with a ZANU PF politburo directive made last month, with the body stating that BIPPA protected land in the Save Valley Conservancy would be protected.
Former Chegutu farmer Ben Freeth, one of the many victims of the land grab campaign, told SW Radio Africa that this confusion was hampering any economic recovery efforts. He said the doublespeak was indicative of “the breakdown of the rule of law in Zimbabwe,” which was preventing investment.
“We need investment and the only way that is going to happen is if the people who are investing know that their money is safe,” Freeth said.
He added: “When the rules are constantly changing, and when people like the Von Pezolds lose court challenges, despite legal documents like BIPPAs, it makes it all very uncertain. And what investors are seeking is clarity.”