|7. Dezember 2015
Farm seizure sparks diplomatic tiff between Zimbabwe and Austria
A diplomatic tiff has erupted between Zimbabwe and Austria after one of President Robert Mugabe’s lieutenants seized a farm owned by an Austrian national and even though it is exempted from occupation under an investment protection pact.
Victor Matemadanda, the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), a grouping of the country’s former liberation war fighters, recently grabbed Pavloma Farm in Kwekwe in Midlands province, which is owned and run by Stephan Weinberger, an Austrian national.
Weinberger has filed an urgent chamber application in the High Court through his lawyers Antonio & Dzvetero, seeking an order returning the Austrian national’s occupation and use of his farm, which measures 1 749 hectares.
Court papers seen by African Independent show that Matemadanda moved on Weinberger’s farm in June, chased away his farm workers and took control of operations at the farm and all Weinberger’s efforts to engage the Zimbabwean authorities including law enforcement agents had yielded nothing as the war veteran had caused chaos at the farm.
After Matemadanda occupied his farm, Weinberger charged that the newcomer had made use of the services of his fixed telephone and accrued bills to the tune of $74 for the month of July and $85 in August with varying amounts for the other months. He claimed that an offer letter issued to Matemadanda purportedly giving him entitlement to occupy the farm was defective as it was not issued by the local lands committee as is the norm, but directly from a Harare office.
It is the details in Weinberger’s court application that expose how the Zimbabwean authorities treat foreign investors, as Weinberger claims he was personally invited by Mugabe. During his official visit to Austria the Zimbabwean leader asked him to invest in the southern African country, which he eventually did in 1992.
The Austrian national said he heeded Mugabe’s invitation, purchased Pavlova Farm and established earth moving company Hinckley Engineering in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city.
During Matemadanda’s occupation of his farm, where the Austrian national used to carry out horse breeding and cattle and goat rearing, Weinberger said the former freedom fighter had presided over the death of some of his cattle and goats due to lack of nutrition and water while some trees were being randomly chopped off with some farming implements missing.
“The trailer which has been reported as missing to police on September 1 has not come back which is another case of theft. The Pavlova tractor is being used to transport maize from Bushy Park without the permission of the owner, another case of theft,” reads part of Weinberger’s letter to the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
In a bid to rescue one of its nationals, the Austrian embassy in Pretoria recently dispatched a Verbal Note to the Zimbabwean Ministry of Foreign Affairs protesting the dispossession of Weinberger’s property and his ill-treatment since it was protected under the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippa) between Zimbabwe and Austria.
“It has come to the attention of the embassy that the said property has been occupied without a court or any kind of formal eviction notice. The occupation can therefore be deemed as illegal. It’s Austria’s understanding that enterprises owned by Austrian nationals in Zimbabwe are protected under the Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement, which was signed in Harare on November 10, 2000 and has since been ratified by the Austrian side. Austria would appreciate a clarification on this matter and requests urgent assistance from the competent Zimbabwean authorities towards securing the property rights of the Austrian national in question,” reads part of the Verbal Note seen by African Independent.
Despite several assurances of the illegality of the invasion of his farm, Weinberger said he had resorted to taking the legal route as he had exhausted all diplomatic remedies available to him.
Mugabe’s government and his Zanu-PF supporters began seizing white owned productive farms in 2000 under an often-violent programme, which they claimed was meant to correct historical imbalances.
However, the haphazard land seizures, which have decimated agricultural production in what was once “Africa’s breadbasket”, also saw the occupation of several farms owned by foreign nationals and protected under investment promotion pacts between Zimbabwe and other countries. The seizure of the farms and of foreign-owned enterprises in recent years under a black empowerment programme has raised some questions about the country’s commitment to uphold property rights as well as agreements entered with other countries.
(zimbabwe Mail, Harare)