Land court challenge exposes top security chiefs

April 13, 2021

A Greek farming family has dragged the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) commander, Phillip Valerio Sibanda, and the police commissioner, Godwin Matanga to the High Court, demanding that they be evicted from land they allegedly invaded after the 2017 army-assisted power takeover.

Staff Reporter

The farm being contested is held under Bilateral Investments Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA).

The first court challenge was in 2019 when the army and police invaded the property in question.

Current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, replaced the late Robert Mugabe in November 2017 with the help of Sibanda’s predecessor, Constantino Chiwenga—now a vice president—and the army following intense power struggles within the ruling Zanu PF.

The court challenge is coming at a time Chiwenga is reportedly sponsoring a bill to compulsorily acquire remaining BIPPA farms in Zimbabwe.

The BIPPAS, which are mostly owned by foreign nationals and companies, are supposed to be protected from nationalisation.

The acquisition bill is a constitutional amendment that critics say is meant to benefit a powerful clique in government that helped remove Mugabe.

Matanga and Sibanda—both veterans of Zimbabwe’s war against colonialism—already own other farms acquired during the accelerated farm acquisition programme that forced out an estimated 6,000 commercial white farmers to make way for thousands of landless blacks.

The power elite, though, grabbed most of the prime land and violated the one-family-one-farm principle under the fast programme.

At his death two years ago, Mugabe was reported to have acquired more than 20 farms for himself.  

The constitutional amendment would strike out Statutory Instrument 62 of 2020 that guarantees freehold title deeds for farms covered by the BIPPAS.

Under the fast track land redistribution programme that started in 2000, numerous BIPPA properties were invaded, causing an international uproar as the Mugabe establishment was accused of gross violation of property rights.

In court papers filed last week on Friday (9 April 2021), Andreas, Peter and Shaun Livaditakis—all Zimbabweans of Greek extraction—said the two security commanders invaded their Goede Hoop Farm l(Good Hope Farm) located in Mazowe in 2018.

There were attempts to take over the farm from 2006, despite the Greek family having ceded their other plots owned under the Bigbury Farms (Pvt) Ltd entity for resettlement purposes.

“Sometime in 2018, the 1st (Matanga) and 2nd (Sibanda) respondents stormed the farm and told me that I needed to leave the farm as the farm was now theirs. I showed them the proof that I was in lawful occupation but they would have none of that,” read part of the application.

He added: “The 1st and 2nd respondents then gave me copies of their offer letters some two months after they stormed the farm. I then noted that the two documents are not really offer letters per se but mere letters written by the 4th respondent (the late lands minister Perrance Shiri) to the 1st and 2nd respondents confirming the allocations of the applicants’ farm.”

The Greek farmers want the court to order eviction of Sibanda and Matanga from the land and return the farm to them since they legally acquired it in 2001.

“The Goede Hoop Farm is protected under a Bilateral Investments Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA). What it means is that even though the farm is now state land, it falls under BIPPA and is protected accordingly,” submitted the farmers at the High Court.

The matter is yet to be heard in court. Sibanda and Matanga are also yet to respond.

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