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More judges got govt farms

INVESTIGATIONS by the Zimbabwe Independent have revealed that at least 10 judges — far more than initially thought — benefited from the country’s chaotic land reform programme raising fears of a compromised bench.

Report by Elias Mambo

President Robert Mugabe launched a controversial and often-violent land reform programme which dispossessed thousands of white commercial farmers of productive farmland in what government said was a move to resettle landless blacks and address historical injustices.

However, most of the prime farmland was grabbed by senior Zanu PF officials who are now failing to utilise it fully, leaving vast tracts of once productive agricultural land lying derelict. Zanu PF has resisted calls for a land audit as outlined in the Global Political Agreement. About 10 Supreme and High Court judges are listed   among prominent beneficiaries of the expropriated farms.

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku owns Estes Park (255 hectares); Ben Hlatshwayo, Kent Estate (800ha); Charles Hungwe,Gretton Farm; Mafios Cheda, Marula Block 37 (3 039ha); Antonia Guvava, Harndale Farm (1 000ha), Luke Malaba, Marula Block 35 (18 866ha); Paddington Garwe, Mount Shannon Estate; and Mishrod Guvamombe, Georgia Farm.

Some of the judges have confirmed, through their clerks, that they benefitted from the land reform programme, while others are yet to respond to questions sent by the Independent about three weeks ago.

Justice Hungwe confirmed he owned Gretton Farm saying “just like any other citizen I am entitled to benefit from a government scheme”.

Hlatshwayo also confirmed he owns a farm, but said this does not interfere with his work. Judge Alphias Chitakunye could neither deny nor confirm he owns a farm.

According to his clerk, Chitakunye asked: “Why does he (reporter) want that information?”
Several judges are involved in farm-ownership wrangles. High Court judge Chinembiri Bhunu is currently entangled in an ownership dispute over Daskop Farm in Marondera with University of Zimbabwe lecturer Professor Lovemore Gwanzura.

Justice Francis Bere has been accused of encroaching into land owned by other resettled farmers in Manicaland. The boundary wars resulted in damage to property owned by the different farmers as the judge tried to enforce an eviction order.

Judges have been blasted for receiving farms, cars, houses, television sets and generators from government as critics believe this could affect the impartial discharge of their duties.
In 2008, Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono gave judges top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz E280 vehicles, plasma television sets, laptops and generators to beat constant power outages at the height of hyperinflation.

Beatrice Mtetwa, who was president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe then, blasted the move saying it could make the judiciary open to abuse and compromise the administration of justice.

Deputy Justice and Legal Affairs minister Obert Gutu has repeatedly accused the judiciary of corruption, saying it was not advisable for any serving judicial officer to accept an offer of land in circumstances that would inevitably compromise that officer’s professional integrity.

Addressing delegates at the official launch of the code of ethics for judges and the Judicial Service Commission’s strategic plan in April, Chidyausiku said Zimbabwe’s judiciary was terribly under-funded, fuelling corruption in the justice delivery system.

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