South African Judges in the Supreme Court of Appeal will on Thursday deliver their judgement on an appeal by the Zimbabwean government against a landmark land case.
The appeal was last month, with the Zim government contesting a ruling by the North Gauteng High Court in 2010, which recognised and upheld the jurisdiction of the regional human rights Tribunal.
The case stemmed from the Tribunal's 2008 ruling that the land grab in Zimbabwe was unlawful, which the Zim government has ignored. The court was then suspended in 2010 by SADC leaders who refused to take action against Zimbabwe for its contempt of the court.
This forced Zimbabwean commercial farmers and South African citizens Louis Fick, Mike Campbell and Richard Etheredge to seek legal recourse in South Africa, because Zimbabwe had refused to compensate them for the loss of their land. The South African High Court in 2010 ruled in favour of the farmers, enforcing the Tribunal ruling and recognising the court's jurisdiction. The Court also ruled that a Cape Town property owned by the Zim government should be 'attached' for auction, to cover the government's debt to the farmers.
Willie Spies, one of the lawyers representing the farmers, told SW Radio Africa that if the appeal that was lodged by the Zim authorities is rejected on Thursday, the attachment of the properties will go ahead.
"This will be history in the making because it is the first time that a government that is responsible for human rights violations will be physically punished in this way," Spies said.
He explained that the Zim government will still have the legal right to appeal to South Africa's Constitutional Court, if Thursday's judgement is not in its favour.
But Spies added that, if there is a positive ruling rejecting the appeal, this would be another strong validation of the SADC Tribunal. That court remains suspended almost two years after regional leaders decided to review its core mandate. The decision has been described as a serious blow to the rule of law in the entire region, because it denies SADC citizens access to the court if the legal systems in their countries fail them.
"A positive judgement would be an important message by the judiciary to political leaders. When the court was suspended, the politicians were saying to the world that they only honour courts that do not rule against them. This needs to change," Spies said.