HARARE – Three farmers seeking to evict former president Robert Mugabe’s widow from a farm in Mazowe must wait until his estate is registered before pursuing the matter, the Harare High Court ruled on Monday.
The High Court ruling came amid attempts by the displaced farmers to forcibly evict Grace Mugabe even before the matter was finalised in court.
Adonia Makombe, Shaungwe Hungwe and Nyika Chifamba in February this year won a challenge against their eviction from Teviotdale farm in Mazowe to pave way for Mugabe’s occupation back in 2009.
Mugabe, his wife and their company Gushungo Holdings (Private) Limited lodged an appeal at the Supreme Court which is pending.
In October, the three farmers applied to the High Court to execute the High Court order pending the outcome of the Mugabes’ appeal. They wanted to reclaim the seized plots and evict the late president’s widow.
But Justice Owen Tagu on Monday said the court would allow the Mugabes’ application to substitute the late president with the executor of his estate who is yet to be appointed.
He ordered the matter struck off the roll.
Justice Tagu said: “In my view it is permissible for a deceased person to be substituted by another party… I do not agree with counsel for the applicants (farmers) that the court cannot take judicial notice of the passing of a former head of state given that his passing was widely announced and some days of mourning were actually declared. His passing is public knowledge.
“Secondly, since the other party intends to make a chamber application for substitution the court agrees with counsel for the first (Gushungo Holdings), second (Robert Mugabe) and third respondents (Grace Mugabe) that given the time lapse from the burial of the second respondent it is not feasible that the executor who is to substitute the second respondent could have been appointed by now.
“I further agree that the removal of the matter from the roll pending appointment of executor will not prejudice the applicants because the matter can still be heard as soon as the necessary processes have been completed.”
The three were evicted from Teviotdale Farm to pave way for Mugabe’s family company, Gushungo Holdings (Private) Limited, back in 2009.
The three farmers had cited as respondents Gushungo Holdings, Mugabe and his wife, Lands minister Perrance Shiri, former Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema, police commissioner-general Godwin Matanga, and police chief superintendents only identified as Nhubu and Kunene.
The ministers and police officers did not oppose the application – a signal that the government is not fighting to protect Grace Mugabe’s claim to the farm.
The three farmers told the court that they grabbed Lot 1A Teviotdale Farm in Mazowe District of Mashonaland Central Province at the height of the land reform programme in 2000 and were given government offer letters in 2009 before being kicked out by police on Mugabe’s orders in 2009.
They won a High Court order to kick out the Mugabes and their company, and payment of $25,000 in damages in February.
At the Supreme Court, the Mugabes have tendered a special plea to the application, arguing that a debt or a cause of action expires after three years in terms of Section 15 (a) of the Prescription Act and cannot be pursued beyond this period.
“The plaintiffs by their own admission, were evicted in 2009. Their claim should have been brought within three years. It is submitted that the plaintiffs’ claim is prescribed and should be dismissed with costs,” the Mugabes argue.
They further argue that the application fails to disclose a cause of action against the defendants.
“It is categorically stated in the declaration that the State owns the land in question, and it is the State that evicted them. The defendants can then not be called upon to answer for actions that were performed by the State as the owner of the land,” they said.
At the weekend, pictures emerged of Grace Mugabe confronting agents of the farmers who have already returned to the disputed farm even before the court process is exhausted.
Grace Mugabe built a children’s orphanage at the farm, where Gushungo Holdings also conducts farming activities.