20 March 2018

Zimbabwe: Shiri Opposes Eviction of German Farmer, Judge Agrees Property Protected Under Bippa

A Chiredzi-based German farmer has been saved from eviction after a High Court judge ruled that the land in dispute was not for acquisition as it was protected under the Bilateral Investment Protection and Agreement (BIPPA).

The 80 hectares farm, Chiredzi Wildlife Investments, is owned by Jeffrey Howard Sommer, a German national who runs a wildlife sanctuary there and has been engaged in six-year battle with Gilbert Nyasha over the ownership of the property.

Early this month, Justice Amy Tsanga heard that Nyasha invaded the farm in 2012 and claimed he had been issued with an offer letter by the minister of lands.

However, the new minister, Perrance Shiri, argued that Nyasha could not be a holder of a genuine offer letter when another beneficiary, Sommer, had already been allocated the same farm.

In his affidavit opposing the eviction of Sommer, Shiri said the move, if carried out, would be detrimental as the German had invested heavily on the land and is in the lucrative business of crocodile farming.

The minister said the property was also protected because Zimbabwe had a BIPPA arrangement with Germany. Some of the countries covered by BIPPA are Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia and Switzerland.

"The second respondent, being the minister responsible for land allocations, averred that the applicant (Nyasha) was offered an offer letter when another beneficiary had already been allocated the same farm," Justice Tsanga said.

"Furthermore, he averred that the applicant had already been issued with a notice of intention to withdraw the said offer letter. Significantly, he emphasised that the applicant cannot be the holder of a valid offer letter under these circumstances and specifically suggested that the proposed solution is to grant him an alternative piece of land. He equally highlighted the fact that the first respondent has invested heavily on the land and is in the business of crocodile farming," the judge added.

In court, Nyasha maintained that he was the rightful owner of the farm and argued that bilateral agreements cannot take precedence over his offer letter.

However, Judge Tsanga dismissed Nyasha's application ruling that it was not a proper case for granting eviction.

"This does not appear to be proper case for eviction on the basis of an offer letter given the relevant authority's standpoint on the offer letter that is in applicant's possession. Assuming that the minister was incorrect that an offer letter had been granted to someone else, there is no doubt that the facts averred equally point clearly to the fact that there was an on-going concern at the time that is affected by bilateral agreements.

"It cannot be for the courts to simply dismiss or ignore the executive's policy and directives in protecting certain lands from acquisition. The applicant has no basis for seeking the eviction of the current occupier as the first respondent is not unlawfully on the land. I, therefore, find application to lack merit," Justice Tsanga ruled before dismissing the application with costs.

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