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Zimbabwe: Supreme Court Opens Hearings on Evictions of White Farmers - 2004-05-27

Zimbabwe's Supreme Court has opened hearings in a case testing the constitutionality of a law banishing white farmers from their land.

The farmers are represented in this case by one of South Africa's most respected constitutional lawyers, Wim Trengove.

He argued before the five Supreme Court Judges that the law, which allowed for confiscation of white-owned land, was unfair and violated Zimbabwe's constitution.

The law gave farmers 45 days to leave, and made it a criminal offense for them to harvest their crops after that deadline. Hundreds of farmers were jailed after the law was enacted in 2002.

The government's campaign to drive white farmers from their land started two years before the law was enacted.

Farmers who brought this constitutional challenge to Zimbabwe's highest court say few would return to their land, even if they won the case. They say many white farmers have left Zimbabwe and those who remained do not have the means to start up again. Many of the farms have suffered extensive damage since their white owners left.

But the farmers say the case is important because it would give them legal grounds for future compensation claims against President Robert Mugabe's government and Britain, the former colonial power.

Out of the thousands of land expropriations, only about 350 cases have been settled by consent and about a dozen by the courts. The rest of the cases are still winding their way through crowded court dockets.