HARARE, December 1 – Zimbabwe’s government has rejected a regional court ruling that said 78 white Zimbabweans could keep their farms despite Harare’s land reform scheme, state newspaper The Herald reported Monday.
"They (the tribunal) are day-dreaming because we are not going to reverse the land reform exercise," the Minister of State for National Security, Lands, Land Reform and Resettlement, Didymus Mutasa, told the newspaper.
"There is nothing special about the 75 farmers and we will take more farms. It’s not discrimination against farmers, but correcting land imbalances," he added.
Mutasa was reacting to Friday’s ruling by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal that said the farmers could keep their farms because Harare’s land reform scheme discriminated against them.
Judge Luis Mondlane, president of the tribunal had said Zimbabwe had violated the treaty governing the 15-nation regional bloc by trying to seize the white-owned farms.
Rather than respect the ruling, the government would step up its land reform programme and acquire remaining white-owned farms, Mutasa told The Herald.
The SADC Tribunal would not stall the land reform programme to please former colonial masters, he added.
In Friday’s ruling, Judge Mondlane said: "The 78 applicants have a clear legal title (for their farms) and were denied access to the judiciary locally."
Three of the 78 farmers have already been forced from their land, and the court ruled that Zimbabwe had also violated the treaty by failing to pay them fair compensation, he said.
For the remaining 75 farmers, Mondlane ordered Zimbabwe’s government "to take all measures to protect the possessions and ownership" of their land.
"No actions may be taken by insurgents and others to interfere with or disturb the peaceful activities of the remaining 75 applicants," he said.
It was the first major ruling by the court since it first convened in April last year. By treaty, the court’s rulings are binding.
Eight years ago Zimbabwe began seizing white-owned farms to resettle them with landless blacks, but the chaotic programme was plagued by deadly violence and some farms ended up in the hands of President Robert Mugabe’s allies.
In Zimbabwe and many neighbouring countries, white settlers took most of the best farmland during colonial times. Now African nations face a dilemma in how to bring black farmers back onto the land without disrupting food production.
Zimbabwe gave much of its land to inexperienced farmers and provided them little support, causing an enormous drop in food production that critics say is at the root of current shortages.