SA court says Zuma has no power to close SADC Tribunal; victory for Zim farmers

Judgment in court case against President Zuma and the South African government for their role in the closure of the SADC Tribunal 

Today the Pretoria High Court handed down judgment in the prolonged the court application against former South African President Jacob Zuma and his government for their role in the closure of the regional human rights court, the Southern Development African Community’s SADC Tribunal in 2012.

The court found that “South Africa remains bound by the [SADC] Treaty and the First Protocol. Amending the Treaty and without terminating the First Protocol, the Executive has no authority to participate in a decision in conflict with South Africa’s binding obligations.

The application was launched in April 2015 by The Law Society of South Africa to declare the actions of President Zuma, as well as the Minister of Justice, Michael Masutha, and the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, unconstitutional in relation to SADC’s 2014 Protocol.

The South Africa Litigation Centre, admitted as a friend of the court (amicus curiae), together with The Centre for Applied Legal Studies, argued that the right of access to courts was not limited to the right to domestic courts, but also entitled access to a regional court.

South African civil rights group AfriForum successfully assisted four Zimbabwean farmers and two agricultural companies to intervene in the case. The farmers lost their properties as part of Zimbabwe’s land reform policies. They successfully approached the SADC Tribunal in 2008 to protect their property rights but the Tribunal was eventually suspended and thereafter left to die a natural death.

Main argument was given at the hearing on February 5, 2018.

Willie Spies, the legal representative of AfriForum, expressed his satisfaction with the outcome. He said it was important that the 277 million citizens of the SADC region understood the role of regional tribunals and their critical importance in protecting the rights of all citizens.


“When individual citizens, civil society groups and activists are denied access to justice in their own countries, they must be able to challenge decisions that may have an impact on democracy and their human rights through a higher court of arbitration,” he explained.


“Regional courts exist throughout the world, including Europe (The European Court of Justice), the Caribbean (the Caribbean Court of Justice) and South America (The Central American Court of Justice), and they have a vital role in Africa to protect human rights and rule of law,” he said.


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)’s Community Court of Justice (ECCJ), for example, has become an increasingly active and bold adjudicator of human rights. Since acquiring jurisdiction over human rights complaints in 2005, the ECOWAS Court has issued numerous decisions condemning human rights violations by member states.[i]

The East African Court of Justice, which was established as the judicial organ of the East African Community, commenced operation on 30 November 2000.

Ohene Yaw Ampofo-Anti of GroundUp , a joint project of Community Media Trust and the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Social Science Research, raises another important point regarding the significance of the Zuma court case.

He noted in an article published the day before the judgment (February 28, 2018) that “the case may allow the court to make a ruling on the proper delineation of powers between the executive and Parliament in relation to making treaties binding in South Africa; it also raises the closely related question of whether public consultation is always required before a treaty is signed.”

During the period that the SADC Tribunal was operational (2007-2010), it adjudicated in 18 disputes. Cases tended to fall within one of three categories: individuals versus SADC itself (employment disputes), incorporated companies versus national governments (commercial disputes), and individuals versus national governments (human rights cases).[ii]

It was the human rights cases, every one of them brought against the Zimbabwean government, that were of particular relevance for explaining the suspension of the court in 2011 and its unilateral closure by the SADC Heads of State in 2012.

Most notably, in the Gondo case, the SADC Tribunal awarded damages of nearly US$17 million to nine Zimbabwean victims of organised violence and torture, in a landmark ruling that yet again exposed Harare’s flagrant disregard of the rule of law.

The victims suffered bullet wounds, beatings and even paralysis as a result of the physical violence at the hands of the Zimbabwean police and soldiers.

[i] Alter Hefer McAllister ECOWAS Community Court of Justice (2014):

[ii] Merran Hulse, Silencing a supranational court: The Rise and Fall of the SADC Tribunal (25 October 2012):



  • comment-avatar
    Ndebele 6 years ago

    Now Zanu, the CFU, Ian Scoones, Lord Carrington and Henry Kissinger will tell the world that the Judiciary is in fact – all wrong and that Jacob Zuma, Robert Mugabe, ED, Shiri, Mbeki, Chiwenga, Obert Mpofu and Malema are all right? The CFU has already put into the press that “it will work with the Zanu murderers and rapists of the day.” How cool is that for being modern and expedient? “The CFU is now a modern Zanu organisation.” The CFU has no issues with genocide or rape? Nice one CFU.
    Government has every right to kill in tens of thausands of civilians- steal all the national wealth via the printing press and also steal all the farms so that the Zanu Mujibas can loot all the equipment like the did at Kondozi?
    We need to investigate the allegations that the Minister of Agriculture was personally involved in choosing rape visctims when he was part and parcel of the Fifth Brigade that carried out the Matabeleland Genocide?
    Similarly – the New Zanu keeps telling us all that Mugabe is an Icon?
    Are Theresa May and Boris Johnson going to ignore the RSA equivalent of The Old Bailey? Are they going to ignore the judgements given by the International Court off Arnitartion in Singapore in favour of the persecuted commercial farmers – because some of them happened to not be black – but some were black as well?

  • comment-avatar
    Doris 6 years ago

    Exactly Ndebele. It will be interesting to see the finalizing of that landmark ruling against the Zimbabwe. It will also be interesting to see what South Africa will do now after their agreement to jambanja farms there with no compensation!!!!’

  • comment-avatar
    Former farmer 6 years ago

    Congratulations to Ben Freeth and co for their perserverence. This is what the CFU (aka ZANUCFU) should have been doing all along. Its about the rights of citizens over politics.