22 July 2024 | 03:12 AM

Zimbabwe may forfeit SA property

Key Takeaways

Constitutional Court says the country must pay for ignoring a SADC ruling on appropriated land

Property of the Zimbabwe government in South Africa could go on sale thanks to a Constitutional Court decision this week.

In 2008, a group of farmers whose land was taken in Zimbabwe’s land restitution process approached the SADC Tribunal in Namibia. They said the land had been taken illegally and they should be paid for it.

The tribunal, a body established to give people in the region a court to hear them if their own courts had not done enough, ruled the land reform programme was “racist” and “illegal”.

It ordered that the farmers be compensated. The Zimbabwe government ignored this, to which the tribunal responded it had to pay punitive costs of R200 000.

Under pressure from Zimbabwe, the tribunal was shut down in 2011. But the farmers approached the South African courts, asking that the costs be paid for with government assets in South Africa.

The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria upheld the tribunal’s punitive costs and attached properties the government owned in South Africa.

An appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal was dismissed with costs, and the case went to the Constitutional Court.

The judgment by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on June 27 dismissed the appeal with costs. But it did provide for leave to appeal further.

Binding obligations

Mogoeng said the tribunal “imposed an obligation on South Africa to take all legal steps to facilitate the execution of the decisions of the tribunal”.

These decisions were also “binding and enforceable” in all SADC nations, he said.

“Zimbabwe was duty-bound to assist in the execution of that judgment, and so is South Africa.”
In a separate judgment, Justice Chris Jafta disagreed with the decision to grant leave to appeal.

“Zimbabwe has not established that if leave to appeal is granted there are prospects of success on the merits of the appeal.”

Zimbabwe’s justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, said he was busy with Zanu-PF primary elections and had not seen the judgment. He did say that, whatever the outcome, “hazvina basa nesu [it’s not significant to us]”.

Charles Taffs, president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, said: “Property rights need to be respected. They should be careful about complicating issues about black and white people. This is simply about property rights.”

He urged the government to resolve the issues plaguing the restitution process: “Let’s get the issues over and done so that we can go back to the business of reviving our agricultural sector.”

‘Pay up’

Willie Spies, lawyer for the farmers, said: “This fight has been going on for five years and the man who brought it has died [Michael Campbell]. It has been quite a battle. So we finally have justice.”

He also said the decision was one that would set a precedent. “The principle has been established that damages for human rights can be enforced,” he said at the court.

The Zimbabwean government property locally would be sold to recover the costs.

“Or they could pay up,” he said.

The Zimbabwe embassy was not available to comment on what properties it owned in South Africa.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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