Judge scuppers Mugabe's evictions

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s plans to forcibly evict nearly 3 000 whites from their farms from midnight Thursday suffered a blow when a judge ruled that most of the eviction orders had been wrongly issued, lawyers confirmed on Thursday.

High court judge Charles Hungwe said that any official notice from the government that it planned to seize a farmer’s land was invalid if the property was mortgaged and the government had not told the financial institution holding the bond of the planned

confiscation.

The National Merchant Bank which holds the mortgage on farmer Andrew Cockett’s land in the Karoi area had not been advised by the state that it planned to seize his land and the orders were therefore not valid, Hungwe said.

Farm union officials said about 99% of the country’s estimated 3 500 farmers still on their land after Mugabe’s two-and-a-half-year campaign of seizures were mortaged.

In terms of “section 8” orders under controversial land confiscation legislation, a 90-day period given to about 2 900 farmers to get off their land runs out at midnight Thursday.

If they fail to leave, they are liable to arrest and a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

Meanwhile, the United States has renewed its attack on Zimbabwe, accusing Mugabe of subverting democracy and impoverishing the country with corruption-laced government.

“It’s time, once again, to tell Mugabe that he needs to re-examine these policies in terms of land seizures and go back to the road to democratic norms that Zimbabwe should be on,” said state department representative Philip Reeker.

Reeker blamed what he said were food shortages affecting around six million people directly on the government’s land reform program.

“Shortfalls in agricultural production in Zimbabwe due to, in large part, the government-sponsored chaotic and often violent seizures of commercial farms and failed economic policy are having a direct impact on food availability and prices not just in Zimbabwe, but throughout the region,” Reeker said.

“Mugabe has taken a country that should be prospering, that should be benefiting from its natural resources, including the resources of its own people, and instead has been plunged into economic chaos and ruin by Mugabe’s corrupt regime and his dismissal of standard democratic norms.”

Mugabe’s land reforms, which aim to resettle blacks on

white-owned lands to correct colonial-era inequities, have become a vehicle for attacks against the opposition and white farmers over the past two years.

Killings, torture and intimidation on the farms and in other rural areas intensified ahead of the March presidential election, which western countries say was rigged by Mugabe’s regime. - Sapa, AFP

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