Draft Constitution legalises State theft

State theft of land legalised in new constitution

Posted by Alex Bell  July 23, 2012
SW Radio Africa

Douglas Mwonzora admits the state has legal claim to land in draft constitution

By Alex Bell
23 July 2012

The drafters of Zimbabwe’s new constitution are facing serious criticism for signing off on a document that appears to legalise state sanctioned theft of land, which could potentially lead to a fresh flurry of land invasions.

The new document, which has taken over three years and many millions of dollars to complete, is already being criticised as a deeply flawed product of negotiation. Analysts from both sides of Zimbabwe’s gaping political divide have criticised the proposed charter, while other observers have said the MDC has “given in” to ZANU PF.

But one element that is clearly in ZANU PF’s favour is the section on land.

The draft document enshrines the right of the state to seize land, while also guaranteeing land invaders the right to the properties they seize. The draft states that all agricultural land, including forestry land, conservation land and horticultural land, among others, may be “acquired” by the State for “public purpose.” The takeovers will also be done without compensation according to the new charter and compensation issues cannot be challenged in the courts.

The draft also stipulates that legal challenges to the state takeover of land may not be on the ground that it was “discriminatory.”

The draft constitution also upholds the standards of the old charter by insisting that Britain is responsible for compensation for the land seized as part of the land grab. The draft states that “the former colonial power has an obligation to pay compensation for agricultural land,” and if this fails to happen “the Government of Zimbabwe has no obligation.”

This provision flies in the face of a 2008 ruling in the Southern African Human Rights Court, which ruled that the land grab was unlawful. It ordered the then ZANU PF led government to compensate the farmers who lost land, saying the land seizures were “inherently discriminatory.”

Zimbabwe’s new charter however makes the legal provision for this regional ruling to be ignored, and goes further to enshrine the rights of current and future land invaders.

The document states that anyone “using or occupying” property before the constitution comes into effect, “continues to be entitled to use or occupy that land” when the charter becomes effective.

Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC-T spokesman and key party official heading the constitution rewriting exercise, told SW Radio Africa on Monday that there are “difficulties” in the land clauses, arguing that the product is one that had to be negotiated with ZANU PF.

But he insisted that the provisions ensure that land acquisitions in the future, when sanctioned by the state, will be done “legally,” because the state take over of properties will be provided for in this new charter.

John Worsley-Worswick from Justice for Agriculture (JAG) meanwhile said the clauses on land are concerning “because there are few changes to the old constitution.”

“We are alarmed,” Worsley-Worswick said, emphasising the need for property rights to be secured for the future of Zimbabwe. He also agreed that Zimbabwe was appearing to legitimise land seizures with this document.

“For this country to move forward you need stability in agriculture, because Zimbabwe is essentially an agriculture based economy. But this constitution does not allow for any stability,” Worsley-Worswick said.