September 12, 2002

ZIMBABWE: New Laws to Aid Mugabe Land Grab

President Robert Mugabe's government is to rush new laws through Zimbabwe's Parliament that will make it easier to seize white-owned land. It would increase the penalty for farmers who disobeyed eviction orders, the country's state press reported on Thursday, September 12.

The newspaper The Herald said Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa notified Parliament a day earlier that he would introduce a bill that would remove legal requirements that had slowed down the process of land seizures. A drive last month to force over 3000 white farmers off their property was only partially successful because state officials bungled the orders and were overturned by the courts. Last week Chinamasa admitted there had "not been full compliance" with the issue of 90-day eviction orders. However, he warned that "no farmer should take any comfort from failure or oversight by government officials" because he would introduce laws that remove the legal protection for property owners. The Herald said Chinamasa gave notice he would ask Parliament to lift legal requirements to allow his proposed amendments be discussed first by ministerial committees and by his legal committee.

The current law obliges the government to reissue eviction orders which give the farmers affected another 90 days in which to wind up their affairs. The new law would give the farmer with a reissued order only five days, the Herald said.

Most of the 3000 eviction orders issued last month were nullified by a high court order which ruled that they had to be served on both the owner and any financial institution holding a bond on the property at the same time. In terms of Chinamasa's proposed amendments, the government would be able to serve them on the financial institution at any time.

The current law said the government had to prove in court that the land it wanted to seize was "suitable for agricultural resettlement". The amendments would do away with the clause. The amendments would also increase the fine for non-compliance with an eviction order in five times.

The government has said it intends seizing 11 million hectares of white-owned land and claims it would leave the white commercial farming sector of 4500 families with 200000 hectares.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean High Court has ruled that a magistrate cannot set as a bail condition the eviction of a farmer arrested for defying a Section 8 notice. In his ruling Justice Lawrence Kamocha said magistrates did not have the powers to do so, as it was "wrong in law to impose such a condition".

Hundreds of farmers have in the past four weeks been arrested for defying eviction notices. A number who have been granted bail have been ordered by magistrates not to return to their farms. But Justice Kamocha upheld an application by farmers to have that condition removed. He was ruling in the case in which 10 commercial farmers appealed to the High Court to have their bail conditions revised. "They were aggrieved by that condition and appealed to this court," said Justice Kamocha. "Quite clearly the magistrates did not have the power in law to impose such conditions which can only be imposed on people who have been convicted. The appellants have not been convicted."

State counsel Elizabeth Ziyambi had argued that a magistrate had the discretion to impose any condition in a bail application. "I did not understand the state counsel to suggest that the magistrate has a licence to impose conditions which are contrary to the law," Kamocha said. Heads of argument by lawyers representing the farmers pointed to political pressure that had been brought to bear on magistrates. (SAPA / ZIMBABWE INDEPENDENT)

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