ADVOCACY group, the Sadc Tribunal Rights Watch (STRW) has called the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing for the settling of US debts incurred before February 22, 2019 in the local currency, theft.

The Supreme Court judgment, handed down on 20 January 2020, gives anyone who owes US dollars prior to February 22, 2019, the authority to settle the debt at a 1:1 parity in Zimbabwe dollars.

“Supreme Court debt judgment is theft by conversion… This judgment, handed down on 20 January 2020, gives anyone who owes US dollars prior to February 2019, the authority to effectively pay 5 US cents for every dollar they owe. This, unequivocally, is theft by conversion,” STRW, in a statement said.

“The Zimbabwe dollar has on average been trading at US$1:ZW$16 on the Interbank market and over 1:20 on the parallel market. Consequently, creditors will be getting ZW dollars that are far weaker than they were in February 2019.”

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STRW’s spokesperson, Ben Freeth said with this ruling farmers and others, who had prior payment agreements which government had failed to settle, would now receive those payments at a 95% discounted amount.

“The amount that they receive will diminish even further as the controversial ZW dollar continues to lose value,” he explained.

Freeth said that the organisation was also extremely worried about the continuing failure of the Zimbabwe government to resolve the land issue by re-establishing the rule of law and individual property rights.

“To date, less than one percent of the compensation bill has been settled,” he said.

Freeth was referring to the compensation meant for white farmers who lost their land during the land reform programme in 2000 that saw government forcibly take land to redistribute to blacks.

However, the redistribution of the land has largely been done to senior government officials and members of the ruling party, Zanu PF.

For example, in an interview published by our sister paper, Zimbabwe Independent, dated May 20, 2019 according to the Commercial Farmers’ Union, full compensation to white farmers would cost the government US$10 billion.

But, through this Supreme Court ruling, this US$10 billion can now be settled with US$562,74 million eroding the value by nearly 18 times.

STRW said government needed to respect the rule of law as per the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (Zidera) and compensate farmers fairly according to the Sadc Tribunal judgments, the rule of law and international precedents, guidelines and norms.

“In the event that the Zimbabwe government cannot find the tens of billions of dollars of compensation required, Sadc Tribunal Rights Watch calls on the government to restore private property rights and the land market.,” STRW said.

“This will resurrect billions of dollars of dead capital and give commercial farmers the wherewithal to invest — with full individual property rights — so that food production, employment and forex generation can once again take place in Zimbabwe.”