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New Courts in Zimbabwe to Speed Up Land Seizures


New courts have begun operating in Zimbabwe to help the government speed the confiscation of thousands of white-owned farms. Many lawyers say the new process created by Zimbabwe Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa is unconstitutional.

The special courts have a backlog of up to 5,000 properties taken by the government since 2000, but not processed through the courts. Most white farmers were forced to leave their homes and agricultural businesses, but have challenged the seizure of their properties in the courts.

New laws mean that farmers will have only five working days to prepare their legal defense, including decades of paperwork from farm accounts and complex valuations of equipment and loss of earnings.

An executive of Zimbabwe's Law Society, Beatrice Mtetwa, says the new law will be challenged by the Society because, she says, it is patently unconstitutional.

John Worsley Worswick, from the pressure group Justice for Agriculture, said a court deadline is set for 500 farms on the same day. He said there are not enough lawyers in all Zimbabwe to prepare the simultaneous defense for those properties.

If farmers fail to present a defense case to the new special courts they automatically forfeit the properties to the state under Zimbabwe's much amended land laws.

Most of Zimbabwe's white commercial farmers are no longer working their land or living in their homes because they were evicted. Many say they hope one day to receive fair compensation for the capital infrastructure on their farms and must go through all legal processes.

The government says the evicted farmers were blocking land reform, so it was forced to set up the special courts to conclude the confiscation of more than 11 million hectares of their land and businesses.

Only about 300 white commercial farmers out of more than four-thousand remain in full operation, although a few are violently evicted every week.

According to published statistics, Zimbabwe's agricultural production has dropped by at least 70 percent since President Robert Mugabe sent his supporters onto white-owned land beginning in 2000. Zimbabwe used to earn more than 40 percent of its foreign exchange from agricultural exports and is now critically short of cash for imports such as fuel.

According to several farmers who have flown over the former large scale farming sector in the past three weeks, few of the landless peasants who were resettled there during the past four years, remain. There are no government statistics on how many landless peasants are still on the land.