The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe has given the government permission to continue its controversial land reform program. The ruling reverses an earlier one ordering an end to the violent seizure of white-owned farms.
The Supreme Court still has to rule on the overall legality of the Zimbabwean land-reform program. But this interim decision allows the government in the meantime to continue seizing white-owned commercial farms and processing claims for redistribution of the land to blacks.
The decision is considered an important victory for President Robert Mugabe, allowing him to call his land reform program a legal one. In a landmark agreement last month, he promised to pursue legal and orderly land reform, in exchange for financial backing from Great Britain.
But the decision is also controversial for several reasons. It reverses an earlier Supreme Court decision, which ruled the land-reform program unconstitutional and ordered the government to stop seizing farms.
Critics also accuse President Mugabe of tampering with the judiciary in order to get the court to rule in his favor.
Last year, the independent-minded chief justice was pressured into early retirement after a series of decisions going against the government. Mr. Mugabe appointed a new chief justice and three other judges, all seen as more sympathetic to his policies.
All four of those newly appointed judges, including new Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, were chosen to hear the land reform case. All four voted in favor of the government.
The farmers' union had accused the chief justice of bias and asked him to remove himself from the case. He refused.
After the Supreme Court ruling, a lawyer for the Commercial Farmers Union said he believes Zimbabwe no longer has an independent judiciary. Attorney Adrian du Bourbon told reporters the court does not acknowledge that there is a breakdown in the rule of law.
Farmers have complained that violence on the farms has continued despite the agreement reached last month in Nigeria. The government has since denied that it ever agreed to crack down on violence.