SW Radio Africa (London)

Zimbabwe: SA Constitutional Court Reserves Judgment On Zim Land Grabs

The South African Constitutional Court on Thursday reserved a ruling in a landmark case against the Zimbabwe government. Harare is appealing an earlier Supreme Court ruling in favour of white commercial farmers, who had challenged the country's land reform program.

The late Mike Campbell and 77 Zimbabwean farmers had initially approached the SADC Tribunal in Namibia in 2008 to seek recourse after their farms were targeted during the controversial land redistribution programme.

The now defunct Tribunal which consisted of five regional judges, ruled that the Zimbabwean land reform process was 'illegal' and 'racist' and that the affected farmers should be compensated. The Tribunal was effectively shut down by Southern African leaders after President Robert Mugabe's government complained about this ruling.

The Zimbabwe government ignored two of the court orders resulting in the farmers taking the matter to the High Court to have the Tribunal's instructions enforced in South Africa. The High Court in Pretoria upheld the ruling by the Tribunal and ordered the attachment of properties owned by the Zimbabwean government in Cape Town to compensate the white commercial farmers.

Zimbabwe appealed this decision and tried to block this ruling but the application was denied in the High Court and also in Supreme Court of Appeal, with the latter dismissing Harare's application with costs.

Undeterred Zimbabwe took the matter to South Africa's top court arguing that the Supreme Court decision was in violation of international law. Zimbabwe lawyers have argued that a sovereign country should not be subjected to the processes that they are being subjected to by their neighbor and that "a diplomat is inviolable as much as diplomatic property in a foreign land."

One of the farmers, Ben Freeth, told SW Radio Africa that the proceedings in court went well and that he is hopeful that they will get a favorable response. He said judgment is expected within the next few months.

Willie Spies, legal representative for AfriForum which is handling the case, expressed his satisfaction with the course of the trial.

He said in a statement: "If the appeal by Zimbabwe is dismissed, international legal history will be made as the planned sale will be the first sale in execution of property belonging to a state that had been found guilty of gross human rights violations."

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