Zimbabwe’s supreme court, regarded as a handpicked ally of President Robert Mugabe, has backed controversial legislation that allows the government to take farm equipment belonging to white farmers, in the name of the regime’s often-violent campaign to seize white-owned land.
The state-run daily Herald newspaper said the supreme court had dismissed an application by three white farmers and a company where their equipment had been stored, for the Acquisition of Farm Equipment Act to be declared unconstitutional.
“The application fails and is hereby dismissed,” said Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku. The law allows the government to seize a farmer’s equipment and machinery as part of the confiscation of his land. It stipulates that compensation be paid within five years.
Chidyausiku said the period did not conflict with the constitution, which declares that compensation should be paid “within a reasonable period of time”.
There are an estimated 350 white farmers left on at least a part of their farms, out of 4 500 who were farming in 2000 when Mugabe unleashed thousands of ruling party supporters to drive the whites off their land.
About 15 whites and 40 of their labourers were murdered during the illegal land grab, and about a million farm workers and their families were displaced. The formerly highly productive agricultural industry has since collapsed, triggering the breakdown of the national economy and famine has become endemic.
The supreme court has been denounced by the International Bar Council for being openly pro-government. All eight members of the court are known to have been given farms illegally seized from their white owners.
Along with the farms, farm invaders have stolen up to US$2.5bn worth of farm vehicles and irrigation equipment, pumps, engines, seeds, crop chemicals, down to the contents of their liquor cabinets, according to collations of claims for seized property by the Justice for Agriculture Trust, which helps dispossessed farmers with legal advice.