By Staff Reporter
FORMER Zimbabwean commercial farmers have lodged a nearly R2 billion compensation claim against the South African government for presiding over the dissolution of the Sadc Tribunal.
Willie Spies, the legal representative of AfriForum, a South African civil rights initiative, lodged papers in South Africa’s Pretoria High Court this week for a claim of R1,9 billion against the South African government and Presidency.
In a statement, Sadc Tribunal Rights Watch spokesperson Ben Freeth said commercial farmers and farming businesses suffered damages as a result of the dissolution of the Windhoek-based Sadc Tribunal, by the regional Heads of State, including former President Jacob Zuma.
The Heads of State, among them former President Robert Mugabe, in 2014 signed a new protocol that prevented all Sadc citizens from accessing the tribunal for any cause whatsoever.
“Fortunately, they did not manage to get the number of signatures required from other Heads of State to change the Sadc Protocol. As a result, the previous protocol remains in force and the Sadc Tribunal merely requires funding and political will so that it can once again uphold justice and human rights as per the Sadc Treaty,” Freeth said.
He said in the absence of the tribunal judges being enabled to do this, the farmers embarked on a case against Zuma, for being complicit in breaking the Sadc Treaty and denying Sadc citizens the right to justice.
“This case culminated in an excellent judgment in South Africa’s Constitutional Court in December 2018, that declared President Zuma’s actions in closing down the Sadc Tribunal as irrational, unconstitutional and, indeed, unlawful,” Freeth said.
“We hope that this latest case will be a ceremonial raising of the flag for justice within Sadc and will herald the reopening of the Sadc Tribunal for victims of injustice across the region.
“Furthermore, we hope that other victims of injustice will add impetus to this movement by joining with the case within the prescribed time period. A summons must be served within six months of December 11, 2018, that is by June 11, 2019.”
Violent land invasions were initiated in Zimbabwe in 2000, resulting in the mass-scale destruction of property, crops and livestock, as well as brutal attacks on farmers and farm workers countrywide.
“Initially, the Zimbabwean courts upheld the rule of law, but after they themselves were invaded, judges who had stood up to the Mugabe government were forced out of office and many of those who remained became compromised,” Freeth said.
Mike Campbell, a commercial farmer and large-scale mango exporter from Chegutu district, in 2005 lodged a court case in the local courts that protested the lawless and racial nature of the farm invasions.
In 2007, after exhausting all access to legal recourse in Zimbabwe, Campbell’s case was lodged in the Sadc Tribunal which was heard by five judges, and their final and binding judgment was given on November 28, 2008.
“This allowed Mike and the 78 other commercial farmers who had joined the case, together with their workers, to remain in peaceful residence on their farms without interference in their farming operations,” Freeth said.
“Regrettably, President Mugabe openly defied the judgment and all but one of the 78 Sadc Tribunal-protected applicants were subsequently forced off their properties under brutal and lawless conditions.
“After the Zimbabwe government had been held in contempt of court by the Sadc Tribunal, President Mugabe managed to get the tribunal judges suspended from office in 2012.”