- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

HARARE, Zimbabwe Zimbabwe's Supreme Court yesterday told President Robert Mugabe's government to go ahead with plans to hand over white-owned farms to the black majority a reversal that farmers called unprecedented.
The interim ruling contravened an order issued in November, which had found Mr. Mugabe's land reforms unconstitutional and told police to evict occupiers from white farms.
While the nation's highest court could take months to deliver its full decision, the two-page order clears the legal obstacles that had blocked the government from processing its claims to white-owned farms.
The new decision came in a 4-1 decision from a bench dominated by recent Mugabe appointees.
Only one senior Supreme Court justice heard the case. The others have taken the bench since March.
The legal advocate for the farmers, Adrian de Bourbon, said the decision was an "unprecedented" order that went beyond what government attorneys had requested.
"I believe we no longer have an independent judiciary," Mr. de Bourbon told reporters after the ruling.
Based on the interim order, Mr. de Bourbon said, it was "a fair inference that the court does not recognize that there is a breakdown of law and order" on white-owned farms. "It not only authorizes that the administrative court go ahead, it directs that they proceed," he said.
Pro-Mugabe militants, led by veterans of the 1970s liberation war, began occupying white farms forcibly in February 2000.
Since then, people living in the countryside, both black and white, have suffered widespread intimidation, beatings, even murder.
The violence has gone largely unpunished by police, and the land reclamation campaign has received Mr. Mugabe's open support.
The Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), which represents most of Zimbabwe's 4,500 white farmers, had argued before the Supreme Court that since its initial ruling, violence has continued unabated, with frequent beatings, theft, poaching and arson around the country.
The latest ruling comes after a month of diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the political crisis in Zimbabwe, which the government says is rooted in colonial-era inequities that have left the tiny white minority owning most of the prime farmland.
Mr. Mugabe's critics say the crisis stems from his efforts to stay in power in the face of the country's first significant opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

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