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Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Court reprieve for Zimbabwe farmers
Abandoned car on farm
Some white-owned farms have already been abandoned
A High Court has ruled that many eviction orders are illegal, just ahead of the deadline for hundreds of white farmers to vacate their properties.

Up to 3,000 white farmers must leave their land by midnight local time (2200 GMT) on Thursday or face a fine or imprisonment.

Farmer at a union meeting
Zimbabwe's land reform

  • 1890-1980: Black peasants were moved to less fertile areas during the colonial area
  • 2000: 4,000 whites own 70% of prime land
  • March 2000: 'War veterans' occupy white-owned farms
  • 2000-2002: Several white farmers and black workers killed during violence
  • 9 August 2002: 3,000 white farmers must leave their homes

  • But a judge has ruled that the state cannot seize farms which are mortgaged to banks, without first informing the financial institutions.

    The redistribution of Zimbabwe's best farmland from whites to blacks formed the basis of President Robert Mugabe's re-election campaign in March this year.

    But donors say that the fall in agricultural production is one of the reasons for Zimbabwe's current food crisis.

    Up to half of the population - six million - face starvation this year, aid agencies have warned.

    In a landmark decision on Wednesday, High Court Judge Charles Hungwe said the state could not confiscate land owned by Andrew Kockett because it had not informed the National Merchant Bank, which has a mortgage registered over the property.

    The judge said the acquisition was "null and void".

    "Farmers in the same situation as me - which is I believe the majority - in very few cases or in no cases has the bond holder been served with these notices," Mr Kockett told South African radio on Thursday.

    "Whether that automatically gives the other farmers cover I don't know," he said.

    Wait and see

    But the government has refused to enforce previous court orders that they evict those who had illegally occupied white-owned farms.

    The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Johannesburg says the ruling may not change the situation on the ground.

    Some farmers have already decided to leave their properties and allow the Zimbabwean Government to seize the land.

    President Robert Mugabe
    Land reform is Mugabe's main policy

    Others are waiting to see whether police will use their powers to forcibly evict them.

    The government has warned that those who defy the eviction will be arrested, and farmers could face fines and up to two years in prison.

    "The laws of the country will be enforced without hesitation," Vice-President Joseph Msika said.

    Colonial wrongs

    Other farmers have adopted a more defiant tone ahead of the deadline.

    "Our position is that people should not give in because we are in a crisis as a country," Justice for Agriculture (a splinter group of the Commercial Farmers Union) chairman David Connolly told Reuters news agency.

    People queuing for food in Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe faces mass starvation

    Concern about the land reform programme was one of the reasons why the International Monetary Fund suspended financial support for Zimbabwe.

    Mr Mugabe argues that the seizures will right the wrongs of British colonialism, under which 70% of the country's best farmland was concentrated in white hands.

    He says giving land to poor black families will increase their living standards.

    However the seizure programme coincides with a period of severe economic crisis in the country.

    The BBC's Brian Hanrahan
    "A bitterness that will sour Zimbabwe's future"
    Farmer Andrew Kockett
    "It's a landmark ruling"
    Tendai Biti of the MDC
    "It's just a temporary reprieve"
    Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa
    "The judgement refers to only one farm"

    Key stories





    See also:

    25 Jun 02 | Africa
    18 Jul 02 | Africa
    09 Jun 00 | Africa
    11 Jul 02 | Africa
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