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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Zimbabwe pushes on with land reform
Squatters on a white-owned farm last year
Ruling signals green light for land confiscation

Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has welcomed a Supreme Court ruling that the government can continue with its controversial programme of redistributing white-owned farm land.

He told BBC's Network Africa that the reforms will continue within a week.

Land timeline
Oct 01 Supreme Court backs land seizures
Sep 01 Government agrees to end illegal land occupations
Nov 00 Supreme Court declares land seizures illegal
June-Nov 00 Thousands of farms listed for acquisition
Apr 00 Act allows land seizures without compensation
Feb 00 Illegal land occupations begin

Mr Chinamasa also denied accusations that Tuesday's interim ruling had been made by judges sympathetic to President Mugabe.

But the BBC's Southern Africa correspondent Barnaby Phillips says the manner in which the Zimbabwean Government has interfered with the judiciary means this is an extremely contentious decision.

It is nevertheless a significant victory for the Zimbabwean Government.

It means that President Robert Mugabe can now argue that his land reform programme is legal, in compliance with international demands, and paves the way for the government to confiscate the vast majority of white-owned farms.


I believe we no longer have an independent judiciary

CFU lawyer Adrian du Bourbon
The interim ruling, which will hold until its final judgement on whether the land reform programme complies with the law, reverses a decision taken by the Supreme Court last November.

Unprecedented

The legal representative of the Commercial Farmers Union has described the decision as unprecedented.

Former Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay
Anthony Gubbay decided to retire early after government pressure

Adrian du Bourbon told the BBC that the government now has a free-hand to do what it wants with thousands of farms

He said the ruling has left the impression the court does not recognise "that there is a break down of law and order" on white-owned farms.

Supporters of President Mugabe, the self-styled war-veterans, began their illegal and violent land invasions in February last year.

British money

Many black and white people who opposed the invasions have been intimidated, beaten up killed or have had their properties looted.

Last month, in an agreement with the British, at a Commonwealth ministers meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, the Zimbabwean Government promised not to violate the law, whilst redistributing white-owned land.

Farmer inspects looted property
Courts had consistently found in favour of white farmers

The British agreed to source finance for a legal and orderly land reform programme.

But in practice the government has ignored that ruling and violent invasions of farms continued.

Last year the government and its war veteran supporters put pressure on the country's Chief Justice and three judges to resign and replaced them with those widely seen as more sympathetic to Mr Mugabe.

The courts had consistently upheld the rights of white farmers in rulings which had caused considerable embarrassment to the government both at home and abroad.

But orders for the police to evict the invaders have rarely been obeyed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"It wasn't a great surprise for the white farmers"
Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa
"The Supreme Court should have made this ruling last year"
See also:

10 Feb 01 | Africa
Zanu-PF ups pressure on judges
02 Mar 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe resolves judge row
13 Mar 01 | Africa
New top judge in Zimbabwe
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