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South African High Court Approves Legal Action Against Harare in Land Case

The decision clears the way for a suit against Harare seeking to force compliance with a ruling against farm seizures by the tribunal of the Southern African Development Community

A South African High Court judge on Wednesday granted permission to three Zimbabwean farmers backed by the AfriForum rights group to launch a legal action against the Zimbabwean government to force compliance with a ruling by the Namibia-based Southern African Development Community tribunal that seizures of white-owned commercial farms were illegal.

The tribunal also ordered government to compensate dozens of farmers who had already lost their properties under its compulsory land seizures that began in 2000. But Zimbabwe rebuffed the ruling saying it did not recognize the tribunal, and has recently stepped up expropriations.

The ruling paves way for the litigants to move the case to the Supreme Court seeking to compel Zimbabwe and South Africa to enforce the November 2008 SADC tribunal ruling in keeping with a recently signed bilateral agreement for the protection and promotion of cross-border investments.

A statement on the AfriForum Web site said the group "has already appealed to the South African Government to use its newly-obtained bargaining power which had been obtained with [the bilateral pact] to protect South Africans in Zimbabwe, but the South African Government has indicated that [it] first has to be ratified by the Zimbabwean Parliament before this can happen."

It added: "AfriForum’s next step will be to go to the Supreme Court again on the 23rd of February 2010 with the application for the registration and enforcement of the SADC Tribunal’s ruling in South Africa."

Willie Spies, the lawyer who filed the application in South African High Court, said the group was humbled by Wednesday's court ruling. He said he will be serving the Zimbabwean government notice in the case in a few days.

"Our suggestion to have papers served on the Zimbabwe government has been approved, which means that in the next few days they will receive court papers to which they will be asked to respond not latter than January 26," Spies told VOA Studio 7 reporter Ntungamili Nkomo.