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S.African Court Reserves Judgement in Zimbabwe Property Case

  • Tatenda Gumbo

A South African court has reserved judgment in an appeal by the Zimbabwean government to block the attachment of its property to compensate white commercial farmers whose farms were confiscated in Harare's controversial land reform program.

Zimbabwe sought the reversal of a 2010 Gauteng High Court ruling that enforced an order by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal compelling the country to pay the farmers millions of dollars, or have its property attached.

SADC member states were empowered by the tribunal, which has since been disbanded, to attach property of nations found guilty of violating regional and international laws.

The appeal was heard by the South African Supreme Court of Appeal on Monday. One of the litigants, Ben Freeth was quoted as saying he was “confident that justice will be served.”

In its 2010 ruling, the regional Tribunal noted that Harare’s land seizures by war veterans and Zanu PF supporters and sanctioned by President Robert Mugabe were illegal and racist.

Zimbabwe’s lead counsel Patric Mtshaulana argued that South Africa could not enforce the ruling as it did not have jurisdiction over Harare.

The farmers' legal representative, Jeremy Gauntlet of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, countered that the ruling tied down Zimbabwe to legal processes in the region since the country was a member of the regional body.

Guantlett told VOA though the SADC Tribunal has since been disbanded, this did not have any direct bearing on the present case.

By virtue of the disbandment, he said, the farmers have taken the litigation to higher levels as they have instituted proceedings with the African Commission, the referral body of the African Court.

If the South African Supreme Court of Appeal upholds the judgment, 78 farmers who lost their land would benefit from any Zimbabwean property attached and sold in South Africa.