The Supreme Court in South Africa on Thursday dismissed with costs an appeal by the government of Zimbabwe, seeking to set aside a ruling by the North Gauteng High Court which recognized the jurisdiction of the regional Tribunal in Namibia.
The Zimbabwean government had ignored a 2008 ruling by the SADC Tribunal, which found the Mugabe regime's land grab exercise to be illegal and racist, and ordered them to compensate farmers who had lost their land.
Zimbabwe refused to pay and was found to be in contempt of court for ignoring the ruling. But rather than deal with Mugabe, SADC leaders chose to suspend the Tribunal's operations instead. This effectively shut down the regional court.
The farmers then applied to the North Gauteng High Court in South Africa seeking to have the order recognised in that country. Zimbabwe refused to participate in the proceedings and in 2010 the court ruled against them, authorising the Sheriff of Cape Town to attach properties belonging to Zimbabwe and to sell them to compensate the farmers.
The prospect of losing Zim properties in South Africa prompted the authorities to finally act last month, by appealing against the High Court Order at South Africa's Supreme Court. That appeal was dismissed with costs on Thursday.
The decision is a victory for the commercial farmers Louis Fick, Mike Campbell and Richard Etheredge, who are South African citizens.
Nicole Fritz, Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, told SW Radio Africa that the ruling means the sale of Zimbabwean properties in South Africa can go ahead and the funds used to compensate these farmers.
Fritz explained that the decision is important because South Africa's highest court decided that Zimbabwe has no lawful grounds to challenge the validity of the Tribunal, as it was lawfully established.
She added that the judgement is also important because it goes against the actions of South Africa's government who, along with other states, decided to dismantle the Tribunal. "So we now have the SADC judiciary, in a sense, in conflict with the executive.
However, she explained that the Zim government still has the legal right to appeal to South Africa's Constitutional Court. But this would be difficult because the case did not hinge on Constitutional issues.