An Air Tanzania plane was seized at Johannesburg's airport on Friday over an outstanding compensation claim
An Air Tanzania plane was seized at Johannesburg's airport on Friday over an outstanding compensation claim AFP / PASCAL PAVANI

South Africa has impounded a plane belonging to Tanzania's national carrier over a farmer's $33-million compensation claim for his land which the Tanzanian government nationalised decades ago, a lawyer said Sunday.

The Air Tanzania aircraft was seized on Friday at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport after it landed during a scheduled flight from Tanzanian economic capital Dar-es Salaam.

Lawyer Roger Wakefield of Werksmans Attorneys said the seizure followed an order granted by the High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

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 $33 million in compensation in the 1990s -- but the government only paid $20 million.

The outstanding balance of $16 million has accrued interest over the decades and now stands at $33 million, according to the lawyer who specialises in cross-border disputes.

The farmer has been fighting for years to get the outstanding amount.

He was then declared a prohibited immigrant in Tanzania on what his lawyer called "baseless grounds", and he now lives in another East African country.

The farmer approached lawyers in South Africa, which is party to an international convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitration awards, in a bid to secure the remaining money.

"Literally after decades of broken promises, promises to pay, acknowledging the indebtedness, the plaintiff was left with no option, he came to me," Wakefield told AFP.

He said the plane was seized "to certify a long outstanding debt to the plaintiff which the government of Tanzania has always acknowledged was owing but they just breached their undertaking".

"The only way that the aircraft can now be released is if they pay the debt or if they put up security for the claim."

Tanzania's transport ministry said in a statement that "the plane was prevented from taking off by a decision of the High Court of Gauteng, Johannesburg".

It said the Tanzanian government was working to secure the release of the plane so it can "resume its flights as usual".

The seized Airbus jet is valued at around $90 million, according to Wakefield.