Gweru farmer takes land seizure fight to Supreme Court

HARARE – A Gweru farmer, whose farm was seized by the government, has lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court after the High Court dropped her challenge while claiming the case was too political to be handled by courts of law.

High Court judge, Munamato Mutevedzi recently abandoned Frances Mary Bowers’ case in which she was suing the Lands Ministry for repossessing her land.

The judge cited “lack of jurisdiction” before dropping the matter.

A determined Bowers has now sought redress in the apex court.

In her Supreme Court application, Bowers said Mutevedzi erred in failing to consider her grounds she avers were justifiable.

“The question of the constitutional validity of the acquisition of applicants’ land having been raised by the application and that question being at law justifiable, the court aquo erred in declining jurisdiction to relate to the matter.

“The court aquo erred in not holding that the sufficiency of the grounds upon which its constitutional review jurisdiction can be invoked in the contemplation of sections 16 A and 16B of the former constitution a substantive issue,” she said.

Bowers also argued the High Court judge erred in concluding and doing so in limine litis (at the threshold of litigation), that agricultural land belonging to indigenous Zimbabweans could be acquired without compensation under the constitutional programme of land reform.

“The court aquo erred in not coming to the conclusion that the potential availability of the remedy of compensation does not detract from the right of a subject of the state to seek more appropriate relief and that at any rate, section 295 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013 cannot be an answer to the validity of a process undertaken under the repealed constitution,” she said.

Bowers wants the acquisition by the state of subdivision J and K of Mnyami Farm, Gweru declared invalid and set aside.

She also wants respondents and all those “claiming occupation through them be and are hereby immediately evicted from subdivision K and K of Mnyami Farm, Gweru”.

In his judgement, Mutevedzi said courts have no jurisdiction to hear cases involving seizure of land from Zimbabweans by the government as the matters are political rather than legal.

“The question whether agricultural land owned by an indigenous Zimbabwean can be expropriated under the land reform programme is a political rather than a legal question,” Mutevedzi had ruled.

“An applicant, who is unhappy about the expropriation of his/hers/its land solely on the basis of being an indigenous Zimbabwean has no remedy in the court of law because the courts are, in no uncertain terms, prescribed from adjudicating such disputes.

“That factor, like many others which fall outside the remit of SI 6B (2) (a), speaks to the conduct and circumstances of the farm owner.”

Bowers had argued it was unlawful for the government to take her farm because she is a Zimbabwean.

The farmer mounted a court application together with Bernadette Costas, who was acting in her capacity as the executor dative of the estate of Vernon Bower.

Lands Minister Anxious Masuka, together with seven other farmers namely Margie Siziba, Collins Shirichena, Nyasha Manyakara, Tendai Munedzi, Pearson Ndoro, Emmanuel Matizanadzo and Tariro Elford Moyo were cited as respondents.

In her application, Bowers said she and her husband had purchased a piece of land in Gweru soon after independence in 1981.

However, in pursuit of its land reform initiative, the government acquired the farm in 2005.

Lands Ministry Permanent Secretary, John Bhasera challenged the application, arguing that the acquisition of the farm could not be reversed by an application to a court of law as the title of the farm was vested in the State.

Bhasera said the High Court had no authority to determine the application citing the SI.

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