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Zimbabwe Court Upholds Land Seizure Law

BY Admin  November 12, 2004 at 5:45 PM EST

In a 4-1 ruling the justices said the Land Acquisition Amendment Act was legal, the BBC reported. White farmer George Quinnell challenged the law after he lost his farm two years ago.

If the judges had agreed with Quinnell and declared parts of the law unconstitutional, Quinnell would have had his eviction notice overturned and thousands of other white farmers may have made similar appeals, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Quinnell’s lawyers argued that there was a procedural violation when the land act was introduced to the country’s parliament. Lawyers argued farmers were only given 45 days to leave their land instead of the 90 days specified in the law.

The judges said the technical issues did not affect the validity of the law and that “public interest overrides the private interests of individual landowners.”

Since 2000, the Zimbabwean government, led by President Robert Mugabe, has been criticized by foreign governments and international donors for its seizure of white-owned land for redistribution to the country’s blacks.

As of June 2004, the often violent land seizures had displaced about 3,500 white farmers who owned 70 percent of the country’s farmland and resettled some 200,000 black families.

Only about 500 white farmers remain on 3 percent of the land, according to a government report, and since January, more than 900 farms have been listed for acquisition by the government, Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper The Herald reported.

Critics has said the seizures will disrupt Zimbabwe’s agriculturally dependent economy which has seen major declines and will further exacerbate the ongoing food shortage crisis. The government blames shortages on the recent drought.

“Land ownership has been a volatile issue and landlords are all too familiar with how quickly land, which originally belonged to them, can be taken away,” Dennis Nikisi, director of the Graduate School of Management at the University of Zimbabwe, told the United Nations’ news service IRIN several months ago. “Without the security that title deeds provide, it is unlikely that we will see high levels of agricultural productivity.”

Now, Mugabe finds himself in the middle of another land controversy and this time, it is about the drought. A Zimbabwe parliamentary committee has warned that the country could run out of food in the next four months, contrary to what Mugabe said about expecting a surplus of food.

The committee, comprised of the ruling party and opposition members of Parliament, found official predictions of a record of 2.4 million tons of maize hard to believe, according to the Cape Times, a South African newspaper.