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Cape Town - In a move unprecedented since Zimbabwe’s ruinous land invasions began 14 years ago, a judge has handed down a message to supporters of President Robert Mugabe who who were given white farmers’ land – use it or lose it.
Judge Nicholas Mathonsi described failure to use expropriated land as “scandalous”. He told the Harare High Court that evicted farmer Heather Guild deserved her land back as she used it more productively than Fungai Chaeruika, who was given her farm in eastern Zimbabwe.
He was given the farm Mapeta, in the Burma Valley district, by Mugabe’s government at the height of land invasions, which began in 2000.
Guild, like thousands of other evicted white farmers, put up a dogged fight to keep her 490-hectare farm, which she bought after independence in 1980.
Neither she nor her lawyers would comment on the case this week.
Former farmers in the area say Chaeruika, who took over several other farms, utilised just one hectare of Mapeta.
They say local workers who lost their jobs after Guild was forced out, and the poor community around her vegetable farm, had decided to support her efforts to get her property back.
Guild approached former vice-president Joseph Msika, seeking permission to stay on a small piece of her land, and was eventually given an official letter which said she could return. She did and re-employed about 150 workers.
A former local farmer said: “Chaeruika was furious, and he went to the High Court to overturn Heather’s permission to stay on the farm. This took three years and Judge Mathonsi has now ruled against him.”
In a judgment late last week Judge Mathonsi said: “The policy on land reform is not recreational, neither is it designed to accord beneficiaries some pastime. It is meant to benefit those willing and able to utilise land. One cannot be allowed to hold on to large tracts of land they are not using, simply to babysit an inflated ego.
“If a beneficiary is not using the land, that is a breach of the conditions upon which that land is offered. It should, therefore, be withdrawn and given to more deserving candidates.”
Judge Mathonsi said the land ministry could withdraw its offer of Guild’s farm to Chaeruika, saying he had “breached” his contract by not using the land.
He ordered Chaeruika to pay the costs of the case.
A solicitor in Harare who has represented many farmers in their efforts to stay on their land, said on Tuesday: “This was an extraordinary judgment.
“We don’t know if this means something or it is just one of those things, an exception to the rule, but a lot depends on it.”
He said many were wondering whether the judgment would be appealed in the Supreme Court.
“At least those workers will keep their jobs for the moment.”
Independent Foreign Service