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Farmers Sue Zimbabwe Government for Racism

  • Peta Thornycroft

Farm workers clean up at Les de Jager's "Two Trees" farm in the Lions Den area, 150 kilometers north of Harare, Zimbabwe after looters ransacked the house, stripping the home and causing damage to farm equipment. The looters abandoned the washing machine

A group of farmers are in Zimbabwe's highest court for the first case in which the 19-month-old unity government is accused of violating the constitution for racism against white farmers. Finance Minister Tendai Biti is among the seven charged.

The Commercial Farmers' Union and 10 of its members are accusing Zimbabwe's inclusive government of violating the constitution in Zimbabwe's Constitutional Court.

In papers before the court, farmers' advocate Adrian de Bourbon told Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku the government justifies actions against white farmers because it says it is undoing the wrongs of colonialism. He said this is not a valid basis in law to commit the international crime of racism.

When Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister in the inclusive government, President Robert Mugabe and deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara signed a political agreement two years ago, they agreed the rule of law would be supreme.

The farmers claim they sought protection by the rule of law through the unity government, but were harassed, evicted, had their farm equipment stolen and were denied protection they sought from public servants.

These farmers say public servants such as policemen and members of the army were seizing white farms, equipment, fertilizer, and livestock since the unity government came to power.

The farmers received no compensation for the loss of improvements to the land, such as homes, farm buildings and equipment, although it is part of the law that has allowed the state to nationalize white-owned land since 2000.

This application does not seek, unlike previous court cases brought by white farmers, to challenge compulsory acquisition of land seized from them. White farmers were told by Mr. Mugabe's former administration, they must seek compensation for land from former colonial power, Britain.

Among the seven government political leaders cited as respondents in this case, is Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a leader of the Movement for Democratic Change. His budgets since the unity government came to power have not allocated money for compensation for farm improvements to farmers evicted from the land.

De Bourbon argues, if there is no national budget for the payment of compensation, the government cannot comply with its legal obligations.

The seven respondents also include Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri and Lands Minister Herbert Murewha, all from President Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party.

Attacks and harassment against the few-hundred white farmers remaining on small parts of their original landholdings continues on an almost daily basis, according to the Union.