By Erik Hagen
For a long time, it appeared that the 3000 Tanzanian farmers at Wazo Hill, north of Tanzania’s biggest city Dar es Salaam, had to be thrown out of the area they are living on.
The peasants in Boko village are living on a piece of land that they say has been owned by their families for generations. But in the 1990s the, when the Norwegian cement company Scancem expanded its areas down towards the small village, conflict broke out.
Norwatch visited the area in 2007 and with several of the farmers, who said that they had property rights over the area, according to Tanzanian customary law. In February 2008, Norwatch issued a report on the land conflict.
On 6 February 2008, the case between the company and the peasants was supposed to be heard by the Tanzanian Court of Appeals. But the case was never tried because the company complained that the peasants’ appeal was invalid. According to the company’s lawyers, the appeal contained a document with an erroneous date. The disputed document had been written by the High Court.
The Court of Appeals therefore returned the case to the High Court, which was to make a decision as to whether the technical error in the document could justify a rejection of the appeal. To the peasants’ disappointment, the High Court rejected the peasants’ possibility to appeal, even though the technical error had been made by the court itself.
But the soap opera with regard to the technicalities has now been temporarily suspended. The Court of Appeals judge, Justice Kimaro, overruled the High Court’s decision in October 2008 and thus accepted that the case still can be brought up before the Court of Appeals. The date has not yet been decided.
“I do not see how the court can exonerate itself from the blame and throw it entirely on the applicants”, Justice Kimaro said .
Kimaro said that it would be highly unjust if the peasants were not given the chance to appeal because of this error in the document, particularly since it was just as much the mistake of the High Court as of the peasants’ lawyers.
“Our clients are happy with this decision. They now have an opportunity to stay on the land while their case is being adjudicated upon by merits”, the farmer’s lawyer, Mabere Marando, told Norwatch.
So far, the Scancem factory has had the support of the court system. In 2006 the High Court ruled that the company’s demands for the property were legitimate and said that the farmers were trespassing. The company has a document of ownership of the land from 1993, a document that the farmers claim the company obtained in an incorrect manner.
The managing director of Scancem’s Tanzanian subsidiary TPCC did not want to talk to Norwatch. He said Norwatch’s previous coverage of the story has been incorrect and hung up when Norwatch tried to get a clarification as to what was incorrect in the coverage.
“I do not want to speak to you, because what you wrote last time was far from the factually correct”, Hvassing said on telephone.