A Sadc tribunal has ruled that 78 farmers facing eviction can keep their farms because the land reform undermined the rule of law.
The Namibia-based tribunal on Friday ruled in favour of the white farmers who had gone to the regional court seeking an order barring the government from acquiring their farms without compensation.
A five-member panel of judges drawn from five Sadc countries adjudicating in the landmark case between the government and 79 white farmers led by Chegutu-based William Michael Campbell also ruled that farmers already evicted from their farms before the judgement should be compensated.
"We therefore hold that, in implementing Amendment 17, the Respondent has discriminated against the applicants on the basis of race and thereby violated its obligation under Article 6 (2) of the (Sadc) Treaty," said Justice Luis Antonio Mondlane.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Act 17, which became law in 2005, empowered the government to acquire farms without compensation.
"The applicants have been discriminated against on the grounds of race," ruled the tribunal.
Campbell, who took the case to the regional court after he was assaulted at his Chegutu farm by invaders led by a so-called war veteran, Gilbert Moyo, said he hoped the government would respect the ruling.
The Zanu PF supporters wanted the farmers to withdraw their case from the tribunal.
"We are elated," he said. "It has all been worth it. I just want to be able to live in peace and to continue farming in Zimbabwe. I did not hear much of the judgement because I developed hearing problems after the assault."
One of his ears was damaged during the attack.
His son-in-law, Ben Freeth, who was abducted and brutally assaulted at a Zanu PF base in Pickstone welcomed the ruling saying it set a precedent for the whole region.
"It's just so exciting to see justice being done," he said. "We just really pray now that the Sadc states uphold the ruling of this tribunal. Through this tribunal I think the rule of law can begin to be re-established in Zimbabwe. We cannot have a country where the law becomes irrelevant to the political decision of a morally corrupt hierarchy. "
The Tribunal ruled that government should ensure that no action is taken, pursuant to Amendment 17, directly or indirectly to evict from or interfere with the farmers.
The government was ordered to compensate three farmers who were evicted from their properties.
"By unanimity, the Respondent is directed to pay fair compensation, on or before June 30 2009, to the three applicants, namely, Christopher Mellish Jarret, Tengwe Estates (Pvt) Ltd. and France Farm (Pvt) Ltd," Mondlane said.
Zimbabwe, the tribunal ruled, could not use domestic laws like Amendment 17 to justify actions that were not in line with the terms of the Sadc Treaty and conventional international law.
Josephat Tshuma of the Law Society of Zimbabwe said the judgement of the tribunal was binding.
He said although Sadc had no mechanism to enforce it legally, the ruling was still enforceable politically as failure to abide by it would repel investment
But an adamant Lands and Land Reform Minister, Didymus Mutasa on Friday said the government would not recognise the Sadc ruling.
"We do not observe that," he said. "It has no legal basis. We are not governed and directed by a tribunal. It has absolutely no jurisdiction, we are not going to observe that," Mutasa said.
In the likely event that some farmers would soon start returning to their farms in line with the ruling, Mutasa said: "They will be arrested and sent to prison. The laws of this country won't be made by Sadc."