A Zimbabwean High Court judge has ruled that three white commercial farmers who were given 24 hours to leave their property by a magistrate in Chipinge, Manicaland province, should stay put until their cases are adjudicated.
Justice Samuel Kudya issued the order late Wednesday following the issuance of eviction orders on Tuesday by Magistrate Samuel Zuze.
Lawyer David Drury, representing the three farmers, said Kudya’s ruling gives a temporary reprieve to the farmers, although their land has been occupied by unruly crowds of hundreds believed to be ZANU-PF militia members.
Drury told VOA Studio 7 reporter Gibbs Dube that although the Office of the Attorney General has 10 days to appeal the High Court order staying the lower court order, the farmers now have a legal right to stay on their land.
Algernon Taffs of Chirega Farm, Dawie Joubert of Stilfontein and Mike Odendaal of Hillcrest Farm were supposed to have moved out of their farms on Wednesday. Mike Jahme of Silverton Farm was ordered by the Chipinge court to vacate his farm within 30 days.
In a related development, former Commercial Farmers Union President Trevor Gifford said he and one of the farmers facing eviction now face jail because they tried to serve Zuze with the High Court order. Gifford said Zuze refused to sign the papers and accused the two of failing to obey his eviction orders.
Zuze, who could not be reached for comment, allegedly reported the matter to police in Chipinge, who charged the farmers with contempt of court.
“The magistrate was very upset when we served the papers and as a result farmer Joubert was immediately arrested and I was ordered by the police to report to the nearest police station,” Gifford said.
White commercial farms have been subject to seizure in Zimbabwe for a decade since President Robert Mugabe launched a land-redistribution program. There are now only a few hundred farms remaining in white hands, but loyalists of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party has been pressing ahead with takeovers in disregard of objections from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mr. Tsvangirai's former opposition Movement for Democratic Change party says such land seizures are counterproductive because they signal to potential foreign investors that the rule of law has not been restored despite the installation of a national unity government in February 2008.