An “administrative” decision by Judge President (JP) Justice George Chiweshe that he presides over all land cases has impacted negatively on outstanding matters, prejudicing indigenous people disputing the expropriation of their farms, NewsDay has heard.
Source: Chiweshe’s judge ‘protection’ policy stalls land cases – NewsDay Zimbabwe February 17, 2017
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Insiders claim Chiweshe is arguing he wants to “protect” judges from “abuse by politicians”.
“It is being argued that the emotive land issue might be used against the judiciary in the run-up to the elections next year,” NewsDay heard.
Several cases in which mainly indigenous Zimbabweans, including widows, have had their farms expropriated by the Lands ministry, remain outstanding with some having been removed from the court roll.
“We have been advised that only the Judge President will preside over land cases, but the problem is there are so many of them ,he is swamped and seems there is more to this decision than the administrative reason that is being waved in our faces,” a lawyer, who has been fighting to have a client’s case heard, said this week.
“Now the problem is the government is making mistakes of acquiring land owned by blacks, the issues cannot be heard because only the JP is presiding over them or the ministry claims it is waiting for the Land Commission Bill that nobody knows when it will be passed into law.”
While Justice Chiweshe could not be reached for comment, Judicial Service Commission (JSC) boss, Justice Rita Makarau, said she was not aware of that.
“As the JSC, we are not aware of such a decision. I suppose it would have been made by the Judge President because he has the power to do that as an administrative matter at the High Court,” she said.
Ministry of Lands permanent secretary, Grace Mutandiro, said government was engaging farmers on the issue.
“We treat this on a case by case basis and engage the farmer. It’s confidential information, I cannot discuss with you,” she said yesterday.
In a letter to a victim of land expropriation, who has been waiting for their case to be heard, the JSC indicates the matter had been postponed sine die/removed or struck off the roll since three months had lapsed.
“In terms of paragraph 10 of the Practice Directions 3/13, the matter is, hereby, regarded as abandoned and, therefore, deemed to have lapsed. Should you be aggrieved by this decision you will find recourse in the rules of the court,” the JSC said.
The Constitution allows aggrieved parties, whose land would have been acquired compulsorily by the government, to challenge the decision within six months after which the supreme law is silent.
Over 17 years after the government embarked on the controversial and often violent land reform exercise meant to redress colonial land imbalances, the State continues to expropriate farms even from indigenous citizens.