CHEGUTU, Zimbabwe — Eleven of Zimbabwe’s last remaining white farmers are to be tried for defying government eviction notices after they lost a bid Thursday to stay on their farms while appealing the orders.
A magistrate in the town of Chegutu, northwest of Harare, ruled the group had been abusing the legal process in order to delay their fate and should quit their land immediately.
“Despite being served with eviction notices they took no action but (decided) to ignore them, only to raise issues after the expiry and after appearing before a magistrate’s court facing criminal charges,” said magistrate Tinashe Ndokera.
“I am persuaded to agree with the state (prosecutor) that it’s a delaying tactic and that there is no seriousness but a mere attempt to buy time through abuse of process. I dismiss the application.” The farmers from the northwestern Mashonaland West province were initially summoned to the court in Chegutu, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Harare, last week to answer charges of breaching the Gazette Land Consequential Provisions Act after their land was earmarked for expropriation.
The magistrate had deferred judgment until Thursday.
Under the law, a farmer is given an ultimatum to wrap up his business and vacate his property if it is designated for the resettlement of black farmers and faces a two-year jail term if found guilty of breaching the law.
Lawyers had protested that there was no case warranting putting the farmers on trial and applied for the case to be heard in the supreme court saying the farmers’ rights to property and compensation had been breached.
David Drury, one of the farmers’ lawyers, said the magistrate’s ruling did not address all the concerns raised by the farmers and said he would contest the ruling in the supreme court.
“We are taking it to the supreme court to exercise our rights,” Drury said while a farmer who shook his head in dejection as he left the court said the magistrate’s ruling was “political”, while refusing to give his name.
The case attracted scores, including the farmers’ families and peasants who have seized neighboring farms, some of whom stood outside after they failed to find seats in the packed courtroom.
Gift Konjana, a farm manager whose employer was among the 11 farmers said: “As farm workers are concerned with what’s happening. We feel the land redistribution should be done in a fair manner.
On Friday last week the farmers lodged an appeal at the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal to stop the planned evictions.
Zimbabwe, once the southern African region’s breadbasket, is facing a critical shortage of wheat which has forced most bakers to close temporarily or scale down their production.