AG wants tough action against white farmers

HARARE - Zimbabwe's Attorney General Johannes Tomana has urged tough action against white commercial farmers defying orders to stop working their fields, and warned provincial courts against referring the evicted farmers’ appeals to the Supreme Court.

The government’s top lawyer said Zimbabwe’s highest court was clogged with “frivolous appeals” by defiant white farmers, and warned that he will be taking swift action to ensure noone continues to break the law.

About 300 evicted white farmers remain on their properties, resisting eviction orders and intimidation by armed militants occupying their land, awaiting the appeal process.

Mugabe has earmarked 95 percent of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

“If you do not have an offer letter coming from that ministry which is government’s arm for authorising occupation, you will be committing an offence in terms of Section 3 of the Gazetted Land Consequential Provisions Act which makes it an offence and attracts a penalty that is up to two years.

But quite strangely we have had land acquired for quite a long time now and continue to have people, white commercial farmers who lost those farms, continuing to occupy against that provision,” Tomana told state television.

“We could actually accept that it is strange that people continue to violate and break the law in open day and nothing is done. But of course that is the point where it becomes clear that we have a problem with the Land Reform Act.”

The Land Acquisition Act gives government the power to take any land it chooses without compensation.

Tomana said there seemed to be reluctance to enforce the law.

“So it means there is no clear or rather lack of will power to roll it out where it should because the issue should be straight forward. Prosecution should have been the easiest route to deal with the issue,” he said.

The land seizures have decimated the nation’s commercial farming industry and the latest evictions come amid a potentially devastating food crisis in Zimbabwe.

The World Food Program estimates that nearly a fifth of the 12,5 million Zimbabweans are at risk of starvation in the coming year.

Despite promises to redistribute the confiscated land to have-nots, many of the farms have been given to confidantes of President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF leaders.

Mugabe has already warned his party leaders, some of whom are leasing the expropriated farms to previous white owners, to stop colluding with white farmers, an action he says is tantamount to reversing the land reform.

Mugabe accuses the white farmers of attempting to perpetuate a racist and fascist approach of wanting to continue white dominance in the country.

Tomana said the provincial courts were precipitating chaos.

“You find that even frivolous applications that challenge even that which is not challeangable if you look at the Constitution it says the acquisition itself is not a justifiable issue so you cannot challenge the acquisition of land. But if you go to all our courts in the provinces most of them are culpable for having referred these matters to the Supreme Court on a challenge that is clearly excluded by the constitution,” Tomana said.

A constitutional amendment, passed in 2005, removed the right of the courts to adjudicate in land acquisition matters.

Tomana said: “In short those that are in the line of enforcing the law around the acquisition of land are not effectively upholding that law. The arm of government which is responsible for acquiring land and resettling people is the ministry of Lands, it has the authority.”

Mugabe’s critics have accused him of trying to stir up racial tensions ahead of elections. With thousands of other farms already seized — more than 4 000 of the nation’s 4 500 white farmers have been pushed out of business — the latest expropriation push will effectively leave Zimbabwe with no white farmers. - Gift Phiri

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