|Mugabe-Friendly Judges Rule
Zimbabwe Land Takeovers Legal
From Jan Lamprecht
ZIMBABWE'S Supreme Court on Tuesday declared the government's controversial land-grabs to be legal, but the sole independent judge on the bench condemned the ruling and said the court should be "abolished". Farm union officials immediately advised farmers under pressure from state-backed squatters to abandon their hopes of winning protection from the courts.
"There is no further avenue of appeal for the union," said Colin Cloete, president of the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), 85% of whose 4,200 members are due to have their land seized by Mugabe's regime.
"Members are therefore advised that, given the stark reality on the ground and in the courts, the most fruitful short-term solutions to immediate problems are more likely to be achieved through discussion with the government officials directing the (land seizure) exercise on the ground." Copies of a judgement issued on Tuesday said that a majority of four judges -- who were recently appointed by President Robert Mugabe - had decided that the government had re-established the rule of law on the country's white-owned farms and had implemented a proper programme of land reform.
Chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said the government's land reform programme was a matter of "social justice and not, strictly speaking, a legal issue."
However, Judge Ahmed Ebrahim, the fifth member of the bench, said it was "impossible" to state that the rule of law had been restored on the country's white-owned farms, or that there was a land reform programme. "It is not the function of the courts to support the government of the day," he said in his dissenting judgment.
"The court's duty is to the law and the law alone. They may never subvert the law. To act otherwise would create huge uncertainty in the law," he said.
"This would truly deserve the epithet that was once attributed to the short-lived Rhodesia and Nyasaland court of appeal (1953-63), that it should be abolished under the lotteries suppression act."
The majority ruling was the first full endorsement of a government strategy which has drawn international condemnation over the wholesale deprivation of property rights, harassment and attacks against farmers. It overturns an order given last year by the previous Supreme Court bench, led by internationally-respected former chief justice Anthony Gubbay, which declared that Mugabe's "fast track land reform programme" was chaotic and illegal.
Gubbay resigned under threat of violence by Mugabe's militias, and Mugabe appointed Chidyausiku in his place.
Another three judges were appointed in addition to the four existing senior judges on the bench.
When the land case was heard in September, Chidyausiku sidelined all but one of the senior judges -- Ebrahim -- and used the three new judges to hear the matter with him.
They dismissed charges by the farmers' union that the government had failed to restore the rule of law on the country's stricken commercial farms where 39 farm workers and nine white farmers have been murdered since February last year when state-backed militias began their sometimes violent invasions of over 2 000 white-owned farms.
It also dismissed the farmers' appeal for police to be held in contempt of court for refusing to carry out previous orders to evict squatters and for failing to protect them from violence and lawlessness.
The court also said that a law passed by Parliament earlier this year to stop courts from ordering the eviction of squatters from white-owned land, complied with the constitution.
However, Ebrahim said that the state lawyers were "repeating the arguments previously rejected by this court" under Gubbay. "All the points were carefully considered and that court came to the conclusion it did."
"Haphazard squatting cannot form part of a lawful programme of land reform. It is not lawful for any occupier to be on the land at all, let alone cut down trees, build homes, till land, graze their cattle. It is a criminal offence."
"It is impossible to accept that the rule of law has been restored." The Commercial Farmers' Union, of whose members stand to be stripped of their land, said it was studying the ruling.
However, advocate Adrian de Bourbon who represented the CFU said the ruling was "an expectedsetback" but "it's definitely the end of the road. The government announced about two weeks ago it was appealing for international aid to alleviate imminent famine.
At the same time, Mugabe issued a decree that allowed the regime to order white farmers off their land in 90 days and to sidestep the involvement of the courts.
Recent reports have revealed that senior government officials, including police commissioner Augustine Chihuri, have been given "special orders" from the Agriculture Ministry to allow them to take over farms. - Sapa