Monday, 21 January 2008

Zimbabwe: White farmers mull joint legal challenge against Mugabe

Zimbabwe: White farmers mull joint legal challenge against Mugabe

by Simplicious Chirinda

HARARE – Dispossessed white farmers say they are mulling a joint legal challenge to President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reforms, emboldened by a regional tribunal’s encouraging handling of a Zimbabwean farmer’s appeal against seizure of his land.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal last December barred Mugabe’s government from evicting William Michael Campbell from his farm pending a ruling on an application by the white farmer challenging the legality of Harare’s programme to seize white land for redistribution to landless blacks.

Campbell first appealed against seizure of his property at Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court last March but resorted to the Tribunal after what his lawyers said was “unreasonable delay” by the country’s highest court in dealing with his case.

The Namibia-based Tribunal is expected to deliver its final ruling on the matter this month.

Justice for Agriculture (JAG), a pressure group for white farmers, said a joint application by dispossessed farmers would help bring to finality all land disputes between farmers and Mugabe’s government.

“We are looking at different ways in which we can have these cases brought to finality and one of them is to mount a joint application,” said JAG leader, John Worswick.

“We want to see how the recent ruling by the SADC Tribunal in favour of Michael Campbell can be spread to other farmers,” he added.

The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU), the main representative body for white Zimbabwean farmers, said its members met in Harare last week to look at the possibility of mounting a joint application to the Supreme Court which could also be taken up to the regional Tribunal.

"We met as a think-tank and we are putting before our members these suggestions so that they can consider if they want to take that route,” CFU president Trevor Gifford.

Mugabe’s controversial farm seizures have resulted in the majority of the about 4 000 white farmers being forcibly ejected from their properties without being paid compensation for the land, which the government has refused to pay for saying it was stolen from blacks in the first place.

The government has compensated some farmers for developments on the land such as dams and farm buildings and say it is committed to compensating all farmers for such improvements.

Land redistribution, that Mugabe says was necessary to correct a colonial land ownership system that reserved the best land for whites and banished blacks to poor soils, is blamed for plunging Zimbabwe into food shortages after Harare failed to support black villagers resettled on former white farms with inputs to maintain production.

In his application before the Tribunal, Campbell wants the regional body to find Harare in breach of its obligations as a member of SADC after it signed into law Constitution of Amendment No. 17 two years ago.

The constitutional amendment allows the Harare government to seize farmland without compensation and bars courts from hearing appeals from dispossessed white farmers.

The white farmer also said in papers filed with the regional body that Mugabe’s land reforms were racist and illegal under the SADC treaty adding that Article 6 of the SADC treaty bars member states from discriminating against any person on the grounds of gender, religion, race, ethnic origin and culture.

Zimbabwe is a signatory to the SADC treaty.

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