White farmers challenge Mugabe over 'unconstitutional' land grab

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The Independent Online

White farmers in Zimbabwe yesterday launched a last-ditch attempt to challenge President Robert Mugabe's constitutional right to seize their land without compensation and give it to poor peasants.

White farmers in Zimbabwe yesterday launched a last-ditch attempt to challenge President Robert Mugabe's constitutional right to seize their land without compensation and give it to poor peasants.

Adrian de Bourbon, the lawyer for the 4,500-member Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), told the constitutional court in Harare yesterday that the land reform programme violated property rights, denied farmers full protection of the law and ignored legislation offering due notice of eviction.

He said: "This programme does not, in word and deed and in the slightest sense, meet the spirit of the constitution for justice and fairness for all."

Earlier this year, President Mugabe amended Zimbabwe's constitution to give him the power to seize farms with no obligation to pay for the land if Britain, the former colonial power, does not provide funding.

Mr de Bourbon said the Presidential Powers Act, used to earmark 3,041 farms for resettlement, was designed to deal with emergencies only, not to replace parliament. "These powers have been grossly abused over the years to deal with strikes, political opposition, administrative issues. The spirit of the act has been so grossly undermined as to make it invalid before the constitution."

The CFU is seeking to have the seizures declared invalid unless a farmer has offered or ceded his land to the government. The hearing is scheduled to end tomorrow.

Deputy attorney-general Bharat Patel, representing the government, asked the court to dismiss the CFU case, which he said contained "vague and generalised allegations that are essentially political in nature". He said the president had used his powers responsibly and his government had followed the constitution's letter and spirit.

President Mugabe's government has sanctioned the invasion of some 1,000 farms by self-styled veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation war against white rule and ignored court orders to drive them out.

In the run-up to elections in June - in which the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) faced its first serious challenge for 20 years - at least 32 people died in violent attacks, many of which were targeted at farms.

The 76-year-old president argues that it is immoral that 4,500 mostly white farmers occupy more than 70 per cent of the country's most fertile land. But critics say he is trying to divert attention from a challenge to his rule sparked by economic problems.

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