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June 06, 2008

Black Zimbabwean farmers counter-sue against white farmers at SADC Tribunal in land case

A group of black Zimbabwean farmers has made an urgent application to be part of the Zimbabwean land case, in which 77 white commercial farmers are seeking to reverse the country's land reform programme.

The application was due to be heard on 28 May in the Namibian capital, Windhoek, base of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Tribunal which is handling the case.

SADC Tribunal Registrar, Justice Mkandawire, said that an 'intervener application' had been filed and the Tribunal had accepted it, subject to the court's direction. Mkandawire refused to reveal the names of the black farmers but said they were parties with interest to protect in Zimbabwe's land reform programme.

Sources said that the application had been filed by an attorney representing a group called Zimbabwe Lawyers for Justice, which is heavily aligned with the country's ruling ZANU-PF government. The same sources said that the application was based on the argument that a group of 77 white commercial farmers could not seek to reverse the land reform programme, which benefited more than 300,000 black Zimbabweans.

"What has been filed is an an intervener application whereby a person who thinks has an interest to protect in the case can make an application to the court to be joined as a party - to be accepted by court as a part," Mkandawire said.

Initially, Zimbabwean white commercial farmer, Mike Campbell, lodged the application seeking to bar the government from evicting him from his farm situated in the farming district of Chegutu. The case was heard in December 2007, and Campbell was granted an interim relief pending the conclusion of the case. Since then, other white commercial farmers have joined Campbell in the case.

Zimbabwe embarked on a chaotic and often violent land reform programme, which saw about 4,000 white commercial farmers being booted out of prime farming land. Critics said the land reform programme had decimated output by more than 60 percent and contributed to the economic ruin in Zimbabwe, once the region's bread basket.

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