By: Ainsley Brown
Four white farmers who had their farms unlawfully seized under the regime of President Robert Mugabe are to seek by all accounts gain compensation in South Africa.
A South African court has ruled recently that the farmers have the right to seek out and seize Zimbabwean government property in South Africa. The North Gauteng High Court ruled that the judgment in favour of the farmers handed down in December 2008 by a Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal was fully enforceable in South Africa. With this ruling the High Court made it clear, if there was any doubt, that as a signatory of the SADC treaty South Africa has an obligation to uphold and enforce judgments coming from a SADC tribunal.
The ruling clears the path for non-diplomatic property owned by the government of Zimbabwe to be subject to a writ of attachment, seized, and possibly sold to satisfy the judgment. Additionally, it also clears the path for similar moves by other white farmers.
But why South Africa? Zimbabwe is also a signatory of SADC, why not enforce the tribunals judgment there?
The simple answer is that for these farmers South Africa wasn’t so much a matter of choice but one of necessity. In fact the same could be said of the use of the SADC tribunal. The framers only tuned to the tribunal when it was clear that they could not get justice at home – the Zimbabwean judges being either complicit or too afraid to stand up to the Mugabe regime.
The SADC tribunal’s ruled in December 2008 that the farm seizures were racist and were an act of thief. It ordered the government to compensate those farmers that had lost their property and to leave those farmers remaining unmolested to continue their farming activities.
This was a great victory for the farmers, well so they thought until they tried to get the tribunal’s judgment registered and enforced in Zimbabwe. There they encountered the usual judicial opposition, this time with a judge dismissing their application because of the enormity of reversing the President’s land seizures.
Imagine that a judge dismissing your case because of the enormity/implications for an illegal government policy; just imagine. To that I have these words and I shall say them thrice: Rule of Law, Rule of Law, Rule of Law.
Fortunate for the farmers the High Court in South Africa knows and will fully up hold the Rule of Law.