28 January 2013

Namibia: Grape Farmers Return to Plots

TEN small-scale grape farmers along the Orange River, who had been evicted from State-owned vineyard plots and houses, scored a major victory on Thursday when the High Court rescinded their evictions and ordered that they may return to the plots.

The ruling was made after the farmers' lawyer, Richard Metcalfe, appealed against the judgement the High Court granted against the farmers in September last year.

The farmers are Annelli Shithingona, Ester Kadhidhi, Risto Nambase, David Shikongo, Tomas Haitembo, Applonia Hausiku, Simon Olavi, Augustinus Haith, Erna Josob and Josop Frederick

Metcalfe argued that the default judgement was erroneously sought and granted in the absence of his clients, as the summons instituting the proceedings were not served on them, apart from Haitembo who refused the sign his summons.

Because of this, Metcalfe contended, his clients failed to file a notice of intention to defend the judgement.

The farmers were ecstatic about the court ruling.

"We feel relief. I am glad justice has prevailed," Haith said.

Swapo Party regional coordinator Mathew Mumbala, who had called on Agriculture Minister John Mutorwa to stop the process when the evictions were executed, also welcomed the court ruling.

"This is a lesson to the ministers who did not want to listen to the regional leadership. They must not only listen to their directors and permanent secretaries," Mumbala remarked.

BolandThe government obtained eviction orders against the farmers after it had terminated a lease agreement with them, claiming they had breached several conditions of the agreement.

The standoff between the ministry and the farmers stemmed from the farmers' refusal to sell their produce through a government-appointed service provider, Cool Fresh Namibia. It is understood that the government appointed Cool Fresh Namibia with the backing of the former permanent secretary of the Agriculture Ministry, Andrew Ndishihi, without discussing it with the farmers.

Eviction threats against the farmers started in 2010 when they started selling their grapes to a Dutch-based buyer instead of to Cool Fresh Namibia. The farmers claimed that they earned less by selling grapes through the middleman.

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