|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
John Bibby, 70, had initially been accused of inciting violence and being an accessory to murder before the murder charges against him and his employees were presented in court on Wednesday in Marondera in north west Zimbabwe.
On Saturday, several dozen militant supporters of government plans to redistribute mainly white-owned farmland to landless blacks invaded Bibby's farm at Bita, about 100km southeast of Harare.
Police said that Bibby's workers beat to death two of the people who went to the farm to help some of their number take possession of ground which had been allocated to them by President Robert Mugabe's regime.
In vengeance for the killings, the farm invaders set fire to the homes of agricultural labourers and the farm offices, according to the police account.
However, the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) has stated that the men who died were accidentally killed when they fell from one of the packed lorries transporting activists around the area.
The army has since been deployed at Bita to prevent further trouble and looting.
The incident came after the government agreed at talks in Abuja, Nigeria, to put an end to violence which has been a feature of the land reform programme and to call a halt to the illegal occupation of farms.
In exchange, the former colonial power, Britain, made a strong commitment to provide "substantial" financial support for land redistribution.
The CFU has stated that violence continues unabated since the Abuja deal, which was struck at a meeting bringing together several Commonwealth members and the organisation's chief executive.
The union, comprised mainly of white commercial farmers, also said that 22 farms have been newly occupied since the Abuja deal was struck.
As pressure mounts on Zimbabwe to restore the rule of law on white farms, the government is seeking a Supreme Court ruling to endorse the controversial land reform programme.
Last December, the court ruled that the government should restore order on the farms.
It also told the authorities to come up with a clearly defined programme for land distibution before acquiring land.
That order was however ignored and hundreds of farms have been occupied while farmers and farm workers continue to be beaten and harrassed.
Still, the government argues it has restored the rule of law on the farms and there are merely isolated cases of violence.
But If it wins this case, then it could claim that all previous land occupations were in accordance with the law.
However, the white-dominated Commercial Farmers' Union claims that 20 farms have been invaded and scores of farm workers and farmers attacked since the Commonwealth Abuja agreement was signed two weeks ago.
The agreement called for the British Government to help fund compensation for white farmers whilst the government enforces order in the re-distribution process.
Analysts say the government's move to seek a Supreme Court endorsement of the current controversial land acquisition programme could have come as a result of rising international pressure for the restoration of order.
The United States and the European Union have threatened to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe unless the government upholds the rule of law.
President Robert Mugabe's government blames white farmers for further violence since the Abuja deal was struck.
A white farmer and 30 of his workers have been charged with murdering two men who were dividing his farm up into small plots for redistribution to black peasants.
The government's constitutional case is before a full bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku who was appointed earlier this year under controversial circumstances which legal experts say were political.
He replaced former Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, who retired under pressure from the government in June and who oversaw last December's ruling against the government.
But Mr Chidyausiku, who was then a High Court judge, publicly condemned the judgement saying that the government did not need a workable land reform programme in place first before it could acquire land.
Against this background, the CFU said it was uncomfortable appearng before the new chief justice.
It has made an application that Mr Chidyausiku should not rule on this case and that a different panel of judges be selected to hear it.
Three senior judges who were part of the bench that ruled against the government in December, have been replaced by new judges appointed last month.
The CFU application was on Wednesday rejected and so the government's case continues.