Picture: 123RF/Jaromír Chalabala
Picture: 123RF/Jaromír Chalabala

Nairobi — An SA court on Wednesday ordered the release of an Air Tanzania jet after it was impounded over a farmer’s $33m compensation claim, says Tanzania’s government.

The Air Tanzania aircraft was seized in August at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport after it landed on a flight from the Tanzanian economic capital Dar-es Salaam.

The seizure related to a case dating back to the 1980s from a farmer who for years has sought compensation for a Tanzanian government nationalisation of his private farm.

Tanzanian foreign minister Palamagamba Kabudi said the SA court impounded the plane on August 21 in a special procedure, without hearing the Tanzanian government’s side.

“The judgment [by which the seizure was ordered] was cancelled after the court heard our arguments,” Kabudi said at a media conference.

The aircraft landed on Wednesday evening at Dar-es Salaam airport, where several ministers were waiting, according to images broadcast on local television.

“This is a victory for Tanzania and the judge has concluded that the South African judiciary is not competent to order such [a] seizure,” deputy foreign minister Damas Ndumbaro said.

Lawyer Roger Wakefield, representing the farmer, said the initial seizure followed an order granted by the high court in Johannesburg.

In the 1980s, Tanzania’s government nationalised a massive, privately owned bean and seed farm, seizing everything including equipment, 250 cars and 12 small planes.

The Namibian-born Tanzanian farm owner, who the lawyer refused to name, was awarded $33m in compensation in the 1990s, but the government only paid $20m.

The outstanding balance of $16m has accrued interest over the decades and now stands at $33m, according to the lawyer.

The farmer has been fighting for decades to get the outstanding amount and had approached SA lawyers in a bid to get payment.

The farmer was declared a prohibited immigrant in Tanzania on what his lawyer called “baseless grounds”. He has since been living in another East African country.