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Why a farmer is riding from Zimbabwe to Windhoek on a horse

In 2009, the SADC Tribunal ordered Zimbabwe to give farms it had expropriated in its catastrophic land grabs since 2000, back to the farmers. The Zimbabwean government under Robert Mugabe, ignored the order.
In 2011, following a campaign by Mugabe, the SADC Tribunal was suspended.
SADC drew up a new protocol, signed in 2014, which limited the Tribunal to dealing with disputes between member states.
President Zuma’s role in signing the new Protocol, which prevents SADC citizens from seeking redress for human rights violations, has been declared unconstitutional.
When Ben Freeth headed west on horseback from the derelict Mount Carmel farm near Chegutu in Zimbabwe on 28 November, he had to lay low. For about 800km, Freeth avoided roads and stuck to the bush, following game paths where he could, while scouting the drought-stricken land for water and grazing for his horse, Tsedeq.

It was only after he crossed the border into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip at the Kazungula border post that he could relax, stop fearing attack from forces despatched by the Zimbabwean government, and publicise the reason for his slow journey to Windhoek – a bid to have the suspended Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal re-established.

Staying off the beaten path was not due to paranoia. Freeth is familiar with Zimbabwe’s state-sponsored violence. In 2008 he, together with his in-laws Mike and Angela Campbell, were tied up on their farm by war veterans acting on behalf of former tyrannical president Robert Mugabe. They were driven into the bush, beaten and tortured. Freeth, who had built a house on his in-laws’ land and helped run what was the most successful mango exporting farm in the country, suffered a fractured skull as a result.

The abduction and torture happened two weeks before the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal was due to hear a case brought by Mike Campbell, later joined by 77 other applicants, against the Republic of Zimbabwe. The case, which Freeth attended bandaged, battered, and in a wheelchair, challenged the harassment, forced eviction of farmers, and seizure of farms instituted by Mugabe in 2000.

In its unanimous decision on 28 November 2008, the Tribunal ordered Mugabe’s government to protect “possession, occupation and ownership” of all the applicants’ farms, except for two, who had already been forcibly evicted. The state was ordered to pay them compensation.

Mugabe ignored the Tribunal’s ruling. Freeth and his family, including his children, and the Campbells, suffered increasing harassment and threats as they continued to run their farm, until their homes, and those of the farm workers, were burnt down by war veterans eight months later. Freeth’s home was burnt down on 30 August 2009, with the Campbell’s home suffering the same fate two days later.

The disbandment of the SADC Tribunal
Mugabe’s refusal to abide by the Tribunal ruling, with former South African president Jacob Zuma as a willing ally, and his subsequent successful campaign to suspend the Tribunal at the SADC Summit in 2011, has led Freeth to take the approximately 2,000km journey to Windhoek, where the SADC Secretariat sits at the city’s Turnhalle.

The Summit had effectively disbanded the Tribunal by deciding not to reappoint the judges whose term of office was ending in 2010, nor replace those whose term of office would end in 2011.

“Instead of the SADC Summit acting to ensure that Zimbabwe complied with the SADC Tribunal judgments, it sided with Zimbabwe which had begun a diplomatic attack on the Tribunal employing very weak legal arguments alleging that the SADC Tribunal was not lawfully established,” wrote Moses Retselisitsoe Phooko and Mkhululi Nyathi in the De Jure Law Journal.

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