COMMERCIAL farmers who lost their land under the fast-track resettlement programme have regrouped to launch what could be the biggest constitutional challenge yet to Zimba
bwe’s tainted agrarian reform.
The farmers, under the banner of Justice for Agriculture (Jag), have hired top South African advocate Win Trengove SC to represent one of them, George Quinnell, in a test case challenging the constitutionality of eviction notices served on commercial farmers and the execution of the process by the government.
The Supreme Court should hear the case during this term and the suit is likely to open old wounds of the battle between farmers and government. The court challenge comes as government has already expropriated 98% of former white commercial land and has declared that the resettlement process has been concluded.
Trengove is a well-respected lawyer who has represented prominent people in South Africa including former President Nelson Mandela.
Jag vice president John Worsley-Worswick this week confirmed that the senior counsel would argue the constitutionality of the case together with a team of local lawyers.
Trengove becomes the third South African lawyer to argue a high-profile case of late after the MDC secured the services of Advocates George Bizos and Jeremy Gauntlet to represent the party in the treason trial and election petition respectively.
In 1998 Trengove represented Mandela in an application by the South African Rugby Union which had petitioned the court to set aside the appointment of a judicial commission into the sport’s affairs.
He also featured prominently as counsel to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in 2001 represented the United Cricket Board of South Africa in an appeal by the late former cricket star, Hansie Cronje, to have his life ban revoked.
The biggest bone of contention in the suit is amendment number 6 to the Land Acquisition Act which in May last year gave the government powers to evict a farmer within 90 days after the service of a Section 8 notice. The 90-day period is considered grossly inadequate for a farmer to wind up operations, as cropping seasons are much longer than that.
Trengove will argue that the amendment contravenes property rights enshrined in the constitution as no compensation has been offered to evicted farmers.
Also under challenge is the fact that government was using a Section 8 notice as an eviction notice before cases had been confirmed by the Administrative Court.
Trengove will also argue that the government has failed to execute the resettlement exercise according to the law, as the process has been fraught with flaws, especially in the service of Section 5 and 8 notices.