Zimbabwe: Mugabe's new land Bill to ban appeals to the courts

HARARE - Zimbabwe will ban landowners from appealing against seizure of their land by the state and prohibit courts from hearing such appeals, under a draft Constitutional Amendment Bill that virtually nationalises all land in the country.
In the past the government's Land Acquisition Act empowered the state to seize agricultural land, mainly from white farmers, to resettle landless blacks. The Act also allowed farm owners somewhat limited recourse to the courts.

But the proposed new and tougher land law, submitted to Parliament last Thursday, is wide-sweeping, empowering the government to forcibly seize whatever land for whatever purposes without paying compensation for the land while private owners cannot legally challenge the acquisition of their property.

The government will however be bound under the draft new law - as is the case at present - to pay compensation for improvements such as housing, roads and dams constructed on the piece of land targeted for acquisition.

Clause 16 B of the Bill reads in part: "No compensation shall be payable for land ....except for any improvements effected on such land before it was acquired ....a person having any right or interest in the land shall not apply to a court to challenge the acquisition of the land by the State, and no court shall entertain any such challenge."

The proposed new law will empower the government to acquire land unhindered by the courts for "whatever purposes, including, but not limited, to, settlement for agricultural purposes."

The draft amendment Bill will, if passed into law, become the 17th amendment to Zimbabwe's British drafted constitution. The same Bill also proposes the re-introduction of the House of Senate abolished more than 10 years ago.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, which has 41 seats in the 150-seat House, is expected to oppose the proposed amendment. But the government which all in all controls 108 seats, more than the two thirds majority required to pass constitutional amendments, is expected to railroad the legislation through Parliament.

ZANU PF won 78 of the 120 contested parliamentary seats in last March's disputed election. But President Robert Mugabe appoints another 12 unelected Members of Parliament under a clause in the constitution allowing him to do so. The appointees have full voting powers.

A further eight provincial governors, again handpicked by Mugabe, also sit in Parliament and enjoy full voting powers. The 10 traditional chiefs elected to the House by the council of chiefs have since independence voted with ZANU PF, assuring the ruling party and government of absolute control of Parliament.

MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube said although ZANU PF could technically amass the two-thirds majority to amend the constitution, it would be improper for the party to do so because it did not have an express and popular mandate from Zimbabweans to unilaterally change the constitution.

"We know they will use their force and numbers (to amend the constitution) which is not procedural," said Ncube, himself a constitutional law expert.

Once passed the constitutional amendment will be the final seal to the government's chaotic and often violent seizure of productive land from minority whites for redistribution to the majority but landless blacks.

The farm seizure programme in which at least seven white framers were murdered and thousands of their black farm workers severely assaulted, plunged Zimbabwe into perennial food shortages.

The southern African nation, which exported food before the farm seizures began in 2000 has for the last five years largely survived on handouts from food aid agencies after farm production fell by 60 percent because Mugabe did not give inputs support or skills training to the black peasants resettled on former white farms.

An estimated four million people or a quarter of Zimbabwe's population require 1.2 million tonnes of urgent food aid or they will starve after yet another poor harvest last season.

Zimbabwe's economy has contracted in tandem with the troubles in the mainstay agricultural sector, declining by about 30 percent since 2000. Besides food, hard cash, fuel, essential medical drugs and other basic commodities are in short supply as Zimbabwe's economy hurtles into the abyss.

Mugabe denies ruining Zimbabwe's economy and says his land reforms were necessary to correct a colonial land tenure system that he argues was not only unfair but immoral for reserving 75 percent of the best arable land to a few whites while blacks were cramped on poor sandy soils in drought-prone areas. - ZimOnline