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Acquisition of farms confirmed
Posted: Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Herald Reporters

THE Administrative Court has confirmed the acquisition by the Government of seven farms in Hwange district to resettle landless people in the area.

In a judgment made available yesterday, Mutare-based Administrative Court president Mr Francis Bere granted an application by the Government to acquire Railway Farm, formerly owned by Mr John Arnold Farr, and six other farms previously owned by Matetsi Farming Company (Private) Limited.

The application had been brought to court by the then Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Cde Joseph Made, in terms of section 7 of the Land Acquisition Act to determine whether the acquisition of the farms was necessary.

Matetsi Farming Company also owns 10 other farms in Masvingo.

The company had opposed the acquisition, arguing that the acquiring authority had not complied with the requirements laid down in the Act.

But in his ruling, Mr Bere said the important issue to consider was whether the acquisition of the farms was necessary.

"In my considered view, the answer must be in the affirmative. I am more than satisfied that the applicant (Cde Made) has, by and large on a balance of probabilities, established his case and accordingly judgment is granted in favour of the applicant," he said.

In terms of section 7 (4) of the Act, the Administrative Court can grant an order for land acquisition where the acquisition relates to rural land that the acquisition is necessary for utilisation; or any other land, for settlement, for agricultural or other purposes.

Mr Bere, in his judgment, accepted the evidence on the country’s land imbalances by the district administrator for Hwange Ms Sibongani Siwela.

Ms Siwela, who is also the chairperson of the district’s land identification committee, highlighted the disparity in land allocation between the black indigenous people and white commercial farmers in that area.

She told the court that there was extreme congestion in her district where 18 people occupied one hectare compared to roughly one person per hectare for white commercial farmers.

Ms Siwela also highlighted the Government’s commitment to fully supporting the land reform programme by putting in place financial and technical assistance for the farmers.

Government had also targeted the Matetsi farms for acquisition after the discovery of the additional 10 farms owned by the company in Masvingo.

In opposing the acquisition, Matetsi Farming had said the targeted farms were of bad soils contrary to the evidence of the acquiring authority that the land was suitable for farming and cattle ranching.

Although the company acknowledged that Ms Siwela’s evidence was reasonable and fair, it argued that she did not get full facts from the Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Arex) and the company’s objections to acquire the farms.

On Mr Farr’s farm, the court found there was no clear evidence led specifically to deal with it.

Mr Tatenda Mawere of Ziumbe and Mutambanengwe represented Cde Made, while lawyers Honey and Blanckenberg represented Mr Farr and Matetsi Farming Company.

In a related matter, at least 15 law officers have been identified to represent the State during the next six months in the Administrative Court as the Government steps up efforts to clear the backlog caused by land matters.

Acting Attorney General Mr Bharat Patel told The Herald yesterday that 11 of the lawyers have been taken from various Government departments who had been working as legal advisors while four are coming from the Civil Division, a department from his office.

"These lawyers will be representing the State in the Administrative Court and they will be dispatched to Harare, Bulawayo and Mutare to help clear the matters," said Mr Patel. "Four presidents of the Administrative Court will also be stationed in those cities, although two will be in Harare, to preside over the cases and it is hoped that significant progress will be achieved.

"We will be assessing the progress and should the need arise, appoint more law officers or presidents. We will be acting accordingly and again we will also be assessing if there is need to set up the Administrative Court in more centres," he said.

The Administrative Court is supposed to either confirm or decline the acquisition of a farm as provided for by the Land Acquisition Act.

Of note, Mr Patel said, is the amendment of the Administrative Court Rule with regard to the land cases where an amendment to enable the speeding of the cases has been effected.

"The land cases will now be heard not by way of trial, but by way of an application where a case will be determined after lawyers for both sides have prepared affidavits and heads of arguments instead of oral evidence being heard in court," he said. "The affidavits will form the basis of the court hearing and this is a new procedure. The Civil Division will have to reorganise itself to cater for these changes. The amendment will apply only to land cases and not other cases. So one only hopes that there will be significant progress in the disposal of all the cases."

The Acting Attorney General also admitted that although significant inroads might be achieved through the mechanisms put in place, another bottleneck was a pending case in the Supreme Court where a white commercial farmer has challenged the constitutionality of various and pertinent sections of the Land Acquisition Act.

The case, brought by George Quinell, has a bearing on some other cases as the Supreme Court has not delivered judgment. If delivered, the ruling might chart the way forward with regard to the agrarian reform.

The farmer has raised constitutional issues where he has argued in the Supreme Court that the sections which the State was relying upon in acquiring the farm were unconstitutional.

He had also argued that the ministers who had signed letters of intent to acquire the respective farms were not duly appointed as ministers because they had not been sworn in after President Mugabe was re-elected into office in March 2002.

"The Quinell case will obviously have a bearing on some cases, but that will not stop us from dealing with the cases as we are determined to see them through by December this year," Mr Patel said.

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