BULAWAYO – The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved judgement in an appeal brought by Zanu PF secretary for administration Obert Mpofu and his wife, Sikhanyisiwe, challenging their eviction from a farm they occupied in Nyamandlovu.
Lawyers for Esidakeni Estate’s owners accused Mpofu of using “might” to evict them after arriving with an offer letter from the lands ministry last December.
The government said it had compulsorily acquired the farm for resettlement, but the acquisition is being challenged at the High Court by rights lawyer Sipho Malunga and his business partners Zephaniah Dlamini and Charles Moyo. The trio bought Kershelmar Farms, the company which owns Esidakeni, from a relocating white farmer in 2017.
Following a hearing lasting just under an hour at the Bulawayo High Court, where the apex court is on circuit, Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza and Justices Lavender Makoni and Samuel Kudya reserved judgement.
Advocate Sindiso Siziba appeared for Mpofu while Advocate Thabani Mpofu argued for Malunga and his partners.
Mpofu, who owns several other farms, appealed to the Supreme Court in December last year after the High Court gave him 48 hours to vacate the former dairy farm, and not to interfere with farming activities.
In his appeal, Mpofu argued that Malunga, Dlamini and Moyo had no claim to the 554-hectare property after the government gazetted it for compulsory acquisition in November 2020 under section 72 of Zimbabwe’s constitution.
The law allows the government to compulsorily acquire agricultural land without compensation except for improvements, but Malunga and his partners say this is not applicable to indigenous people but specifically targeting white land owners.
Advocate Mpofu said the lawfulness of the acquisition would be argued in the main matter at the High Court, arguing that the issue before the Supreme Court was whether Mpofu should be allowed to resort to “self help”.
“The present appeal simply means that appellants (Mpofu and wife) believe that they have the right to resort to self help and that when they do so, they must never be called out by the court,” Mpofu argued.
Without a court order, Mpofu said vigilantes sent by the former mines minister occupied the farm on December 3 last year and began ploughing the fields a day later.
He added: “The vigilante group forcibly chased respondent’s employees from the farm, prohibited them from doing any work, took away all access and thereby imperilled the prospects of respondents’ crops. All this happened in December 2021. All this happened 41 years after the country’s independence. None of this had to happen…
“The court cannot countenance such conduct without at the same time countenancing a total breakdown in the rule of law.”
Advocate Mpofu earlier said the court should throw out the appeal because it fell foul of the Supreme Court rules which require appeals to state the date of the judgement being appealed. The notice of appeal stated the date of Justice Evangelista Kabasa’s judgement as December 23, when it was delivered on December 20. The judges will rule on the preliminary point in their judgement.