Zimbabwe's second most senior judge has taken control of a formerly white-owned farm in one of the country's richest agricultural areas. The judge is presiding over the treason trial of the country's opposition leader.
Several sources confirm that Judge Paddington Garwe, junior only to the chief justice, has taken possession of a farm in the Enterprise area, about 30 kilometers northeast of Harare.
The judge was appointed to his leading position more than two years ago, after President Robert Mugabe purged the higher courts of judges that had ruled that seizures of white-owned farms were illegal. Judge Garwe is currently presiding over the trial of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and two colleagues, who are charged with treason.
The legal owner of the farm, C.G. Tracey, is in his 80s, and has moved to Harare.
He will not talk to the media about the takeover of his farm. A former neighbor, now living in South Africa, said Mr. Tracey hopes that if he makes no fuss, Judge Garwe will allow him to return to live in his home on the farm.
Unlike most of the officials and ruling party supporters who have taken over white-owned farms in Zimbabwe, the judge has allowed Mr. Tracey to continue to manage parts of his farm from his new base in the capital.
Judge Garwe declined to comment, and Mr. Tracey is out of the country on holiday.
Colleagues say Mr. Tracey's farm, called Mount Lothian, is one of Africa's most innovative. Mr. Tracey pioneered the use of new genetic material, which has been adopted by other farmers over many years.
Mr. Tracey was also one of the first white commercial farmers to embrace independent Zimbabwe 23 years ago, and he facilitated the first key donors' conference shortly after the end of British rule.
Agriculturists say the Enterprise district is among the most intensively farmed areas in Africa.
Zimbabwe's political elite now occupies more farms there than in any other district.
Reliable sources say at least four members of the Cabinet, including Finance Minister Herbert Murewha, have taken farms in the Enterprise area. Senior members of the security forces now occupy most of the more than 50 other commercial farms in the district.
Agriculturists say most of that land is now fallow, because the new farmers lack the experience and financing to cultivate the farms.