Sunday, January 16, 2011

Zimbabwe Supreme Court Settles All Land Issues

Supreme Court settles all land issues .

Tuesday, 11 January 2011 21:24
Herald Assistant News Editor

THE Supreme Court has settled all legal issues raised in the constitutional applications regarding land acquisition that were still pending in the superior court, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has said.

Officially opening the 2011 Legal Year in Harare on Mon-day, the Chief Justice said 17 out of 31 constitutional applications filed with the Supreme Court, were referrals from the magistrates’ courts across the country where mainly white farmers were resisting eviction from the gazetted farm land.

He said constitutional applications regarding land matters had been settled with the handing down of the Supreme Court judgment SC8/10 of November 2010.

In this case, the Commercial Farmers Union and nine others were challenging the constitutionality of the Government’s acquisition of land for resettlement.

The union had also argued that they were being discriminated against on the basis of race, as only white farmers were being prosecuted for refusing to vacate gazetted farms.

“This judgment (SC8/10) has had the effect of determining virtually all the Constitutional issues raised in the Constitutional applications relating to land acquisition pending before the Supreme Court,” said Chief Justice Chidyausiku.

Most white farmers who refused to vacate State land were arrested and prosecuted.

They were charged under section 3 (2) of the Gazetted Lands (Consequential Provisions) Act, for allegedly remaining on acquired land without authority.

Section 3 of the Act criminalises the continued occupation of acquired land by owners or occupiers of land acquired in terms of section 16B of the Constitution beyond the prescribed period.

The Supreme Court decision in case Number SC8/10 sets out the legal position on the land matters.

It says former owners and/or occupiers whose land had been acquired by the acquiring authority in terms of section 16B of the Constitution cannot challenge the legality of such acquisition in a court of law.

The jurisdiction of the courts has been displaced by Section 16B (3)(a) of the Constitution.

The ruling is very explicit that anyone who remains in occupation of State-acquired land without lawful authority will be prosecuted.

In this regard, all Zimbabweans have to comply with the law as provided in the Act because prosecutions for contravening the Act are constitutional and lawful.

“A former owner or occupier of acquired land who without lawful authority continues occupation of acquired land after the prescribed period commits a criminal offence.

“If the former owner or occupier continues in occupation in defiance of the law, no court of law has the jurisdiction to authorise the continued use or possession of the acquired land,” said the Chief Justice in the CFU ruling.

Litigants who breach the law on land matters cannot approach the courts for relief until they have complied with the law.

The 2005, Constitutional Amendment (Number 17) Act stopped legal challenges to land acquisitions.

In that Act, the only setback is the eviction of former owners through the Gazetted Lands (Consequential Provisions) Act which is cumbersome, as many cases end up in court.

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