Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

High court judge fights president’s wife for farm!

Posted by CM on February 4, 2009

Oh boy, if this reportedly brewing legal confrontation is ever allowed to see the light of day, it will surely be an epic battle.

Ruthless dictator’s wife sees a farm she likes, makes the usual moves on it (she has done this before), reportedly eying it for her son. Slight complication: farm owner is not someone who can be characterised in the racial-ideological terms of the times, but is actually a judge of the high court appointed to it by the marauding woman’s own husband, the country’s sitting despot!

Here is the story so far:

HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) — A Zimbabwe High Court judge is trying to take the country’s first lady to court, accusing her of using political muscle to wrest from him a farm he was given during the land seizures.

The matter has not been given a date, however, amid reports that other judges have been refusing to hear it.

High Court Judge Ben Hlatshwayo is suing a company owned by Grace Mugabe, wife of President Robert Mugabe, for grabbing Gwina Farm in Banket, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Harare. The farm is near Mugabe’s rural home.

The judge said he acquired the farm in December 2002 as part of President Mugabe’s controversial land grabs, in which Mugabe took land from white commercial farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans.

In an affidavit, filed at the High Court in Harare, the judge said the “unlawful conduct” by Grace Mugabe’s company, Gushungo Holdings, amounted to spoilation — or taking of the farm by force.

He said emissaries of the first lady have been visiting the farm frequently and issuing instructions to workers, according to court documents.

“There is clearly no lawful basis for such interference, which conduct, by its very nature, amounts to spoliation,” Hlatshwayo wrote in the papers.

Lands and Resettlement Minister Didymus Mutasa said the judge had been given alternative land as compensation for the farm that Grace Mugabe wants to have. Mutasa opposes the judge’s affidavit.

Hlatshwayo said he had been operating his farm in “quiet, undisturbed, peaceful possession, occupation and production” since it was allocated to him.

(http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/02/04/zimbabwe.mugabe/index.html)

Oh boy, oh boy, what a can of worms we are opening up here! Phew, where  does one even start?!

The woman has notoriously muscled other people off their farm before. This latest move would confirm her as a “multiple farm owner,” which her husband has repeatedly said was un-acceptable greed and which he has claimed his widely-condemned land reform effort was partly meant to correct. Hypocrisy!

Is this the state of land tenure in Zimbabwe today? Can some person see a piece of land s/he likes, walk over to it, order the occupier off and take it over on a whim because she is the spouse of the president or some other official? Is this how things now officially “work” in Zimbabwe in regards to land tenure? Is this a sign of the ‘achievements’ of the land ‘revolution?’

Why should anyone, Zimbabwean or foreigner, make any serious investment in farming (or really anything else) with this shocking example of insecurity of land tenure?

As for the judge in question here, he got his farm in similar circumstances to those under which he risks losing it, an almost poetic kind of justice. He can justly claim that in his case the previous white owner lost it (and he gained it) under a broad, deliberate and now legalised government thrust to settle Zimbabwe’s long-festering ‘land question,’ but for a high court judge, that seems a rather thin argument.

Zimbabwe’s judges are considered hopelessly compromised by the system of patronage Mugabe has perfected in his time in power. A the economy has contracted and become more dysfunctional every year, being a member of the favoured elite has been an important survival strategy. One is entitled to perks one would simply not be able to otherwise access or afford:free or subsidised fuel, a fine house, one or more new vehicles every few years and for the super-elite, a farm to play around with during one’s spare time.

But there is a cost for being in this elite circle: You do as you are told and you don’t make waves. You also understand that you are not ‘entitled’ to anything. Everything you have is by the favour and generosity of His Excellency.

So when H.E. wants you to move to make way for his wife, you don’t ask questions, you move. And you especially don’t attempt to fight her in the courts! Are you crazy?

All these years the Mugabe-appointed judges have been accused of being thoroughly compromised by the many ‘perks’ that have come their way, such as farms.  And indeed, there have been very few politically-sensitive cases which have not been ruled in the government’s favour in recent years, if they come to court at all (delaying the hearing of sensitive and unwinnable cases forever being another oft-used tactic.)

And this judge seriously expects that his colleagues in such a judiciary would ever contemplate touching this red-hot case with a ten foot pole, let alone rule in his favour? Dream on!

Now that the bare facts have come to light, with the about-to-be dispossessed judge clearly and unwisely showing his unhappiness at what is about to happen, his misery is just about to begin. His first mistake was not to immediately surrender the farm to Grace, grinning broadly and sheepishly volunteering, “Abuse me any way you want madame.” This is what he would have been expected to do, and I have no doubt that most of his colleagues are shaking their heads in disbelief at how he has refused to play by the un-written but clearly understood rules of patronage. After all in this case he was offered the consolation price of another (read  “much less attractive”) farm! It wasn’t as if he was going to be put out on the street.

Now that he has made the mistake of crossing this line by merely expressing unhappiness about his pending dispossession, I predict the poor judge is doomed. Can he keep his job? No; more fundamentally and importantly, can the poor chap survive, can he live?

Stay tuned for the next commentary on this exciting developing story of what happens when a monster starts to feed on itself.

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One Response to “High court judge fights president’s wife for farm!”

  1. funkynubian said

    Sounds like a man with a death wish by all accounts. Maybe this dubious GNU agreement might save him from the embarrassment that would have surely followed his “folly” here

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