Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe: Farmers, lawyers say Bill will nationalise all land

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HARARE -- Zimbabwean farmers, lawyers and human rights groups on Thursday told the parliamentary legal committee that plans by the government to ban citizens from contesting in the courts acquisition of their land by the state would effectively make all land state land.
President Robert Mugabe and his government are planning to use their absolute control of Parliament to amend Zimbabwe's constitution to bar landowners from appealing to the courts against seizure of their land by the state while courts will be banned from entertaining such appeals.

Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) representative, Mike Clark said that although they were not opposed to land reform, they were concerned that Section B of the Bill undermines property rights and the rule of law in the country.

"As soon as the section is effected into law, all the land in Zimbabwe will become state land," Clark said.

"We are worried about the powers vested in the Minister which are unprecedented. The amendment fails to clearly define what agricultural land is and where one draws the line in terms of acres which constitute agricultural land."

Under the new amendments, the Minister of Agriculture can revoke a farmer's property rights leaving the farmer with no recourse to the courts. Justice for Agriculture (JAG) Trust chairman, John Worswick in his submissions, criticised the amendment saying it could result in the virtual nationalisation of all land.

He also criticised a provision in the Bill barring legal challenges in the courts against land acquisition by the state.

"We advocate for the true freedom of Zimbabwean citizens through the right to individual property ownership", said Worswick.

A representative from Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU), Tsitsi Matekaire said that the amendment was open-ended and vague and was therefore open to various interpretations.

Irene Petras from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said that the amendments would be a violation of the African Charter that guarantees fundamental human rights to individuals.

"The Bill usurps the powers of the judiciary and constitution, which many Zimbabweans depend on for protection from unchecked state actions," she said. "Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights strongly rejects the Amendment Bill and intends to challenge this dangerous and oppressive law."

The Bill will also seeks to reintroduce the Senate which was abolished 10 years ago in a move critics say is a plan by President Robert Mugabe to accommodate members of his ruling ZANU PF party who lost in an internal election before the last parliamentary election in March.

Civic groups in Zimbabwe have criticised the plans but Mugabe is likely to railroad the constitutional amendments in parliament where his ZANU PF party enjoys a majority. -- ZimOnline