On 24 March 2023, the High Court of Zambia, granted an interim injunction in a case where the Petitioners are challenging the taking over of their customary land and allocating it to a company owned and managed by individuals from Norway. The Court restrained the company from carrying out the complained farming activities to protect the Petitioners from losing their interest in the land and the irreparable damage likely to the land and the environment due to the company’s farming activities.
“The Court’s intervention has provided a huge relief to us, pending the determination of the main matter,” said one of the Petitioners. “It has been extremely tormenting watching the cultivating and levelling of the land within 20 meters from our home, drilling boreholes, constructing water reservoirs in the middle of the field, digging trenches and placing centre pivots on our ancestral land. I wish the 1st and 2nd Respondent and their agents stop harassing and threatening us and isolating community members from our lawyers.”
“The ruling gives some respite to the Serenje community against unscrupulous investors who time and again have deemed themselves above the law and the Zambia Environmental Management Agency,” said Anneke Meerkotter, Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre. “While the matter is far from over, the Court’s granting of an injunction provide an important and urgent remedy where land and environmental rights are at stake.”
The Petitioners are represented by Mr Clavel Sianondo and Mrs M.S. Tembo of Malambo and Company and Mr B Siachitema of Lusitu Chambers and supported by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre in collaboration with the Zambia Land Alliance.
In 2015, a Norwegian commercial farmer (2nd Respondent) approached the 1st and 2nd Petitioners and told them that the 2nd Respondent owned the land upon which the 1st and 2nd Petitioners were residing. In March 2015, an employee of the 2nd Respondent handed the 1st Petitioner a Contract of Tenancy, which included several stipulations that regulated how the Petitioners could continue living on the land. The 1st Petitioner refused to sign the contract because no independent party was present to explain the document’s contents.
After the Petitioners refused to voluntarily relocate, the commercial farmer undertook to forcibly remove them from the land. In 2016, the farmer cleared the Petitioners’ land, destroyed their crops, uprooted trees, destroyed a house, created a road, and blocked access to the remaining fields. Unable to access their fields, the petitioners experience worsening poverty and food insecurity. The commercial farming activities in the area affect the quality of the petitioners’ drinking water and health. The petitioners’ freedom of movement has also been affected by the commercial farmer who has restricted their ability to access resources from the forest or the main road.
When the petitioners approached the Serenje District Council, they learned that the State allocated their land in 2002 despite the fact that local residents would be affected by the investment project.
The 1st and 2nd Petitioners, supported by SALC, assert that the actions by the commercial farmer and the State violated their constitutional rights, including the rights to dignity, life, freedom from inhuman treatment, freedom from discrimination, freedom of movement, and protection of privacy of the home and other property. The petitioners argue that removing their land without compensation has denied them constitutional protections for customary land and privileges.
On 26 September 2018, the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) ordered the company to cease farming activities on the land, restricting the cultivation of soybeans and other agricultural crops, land and vegetation clearing, land levelling, dust-generating, constructing of roads, and demolition of settlements on the property. On 15 November 2018, the Serenje Subordinate Court convicted and fined the company for failure to prepare and submit an Environmental Impact Assessment Report and for implementing a project without approval.
Disturbingly, from September 2022, the company restarted cultivation and land levelling, reaching the Petitioners’ homes.
ISSUED BY THE SOUTHERN AFRICA LITIGATION CENTRE