White farmers who lost their land in Zimbabwe's controversial land reform program are losing the legal battle to challenge the government's move to take away their farms. But the farmers say they will bring their cases to the international legal arena. The loss of legal recourse in Zimbabwe is bad news not only for the farmers, but hundreds of thousands of their workers who were hoping that some of their employers would get their farms back.
The Zimbabwean government has announced its intention to have some 4,000 court challenges lodged by white commercial farmers nullified. This follows the signing into law by President Robert Mugabe, of a constitutional amendment which takes away the right to challenge the forced acquisition of commercial farms.
But the Administrative Court put off the decision Monday to have the cases nullified. Richard Wood, a lawyer for some of the farmers told the AFP news agency that the delay was due to a technicality. He said the amendment has already nullified the cases and unless somebody challenges the constitutional amendment, the farmers do not have a case any more.
But spokesperson John Worswick, of the group Justice for Agriculture, says the farmers are prepared to take their case beyond Zimbabwe's borders.
"It has always been our view that it might become necessary to take our case into the international legal arena and I think this latest amendment and the signing of it into law boots us through that door into the international arena," said Mr. Worswick. "At this point in time we see that as the only venue where we might be able to seek justice and this is not just justice for commercial farmers, but also commercial farm workers."
Mr. Worswick denied allegations that the farmers are only looking out for themselves and have left most of those who worked for them destitute. He said some farmers still provide for those who worked for them. This was confirmed by Getrude Hambira, of General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe.
"We do have farm workers who were abandoned, whose employers left the country at the peak of the invasions and we also have farm workers whose employers, white commercial employers, had been looking after them hoping that they might be able to get their land back through the courts," said Ms. Hambira.
Ms. Hambira said farm workers have always been underpaid, but those who are now working for the new black farmers who took over the land from the whites are now worse off.
"We do have the farmer who says he is starting and cannot afford to pay the stipulated minimum wages; who says that he has all the problems before him, who could not even absorb the entire workforce," she added..
At the beginning of the land reform program, in 2000, there were about 4,000 white commercial farmers in Zimbabwe. Now, Mr. Worswick of Justice for Agriculture says, there are some 200 productive farmers left. But State Security and Lands Reform Minister Didymus Mutasa said Monday even those will lose their land to the state.
Mr. Mutasa told AFP that any whites who want to continue farming in Zimbabwe can, "like everybody else" get a 99-year lease.