White farmers evicted from their land in Zimbabwe were celebrating Monday when a Zim government-owned house in Cape Town was sold to pay compensation, a lawyer involved in the case said.
The auction of the house, which went for R3.76-million, was the final step in a complicated case that has been fought through the South African courts for years by a group of Zimbabwean farmers.
It is unlikely, however, that the farmers will see any of the cash, which will mainly go to cover court costs, said lawyer Willie Spies.
If anything is left over, German bank group KFW Bank Gruppe, which joined the legal action and is believed to be owed tens of millions of dollars by President Robert Mugabe’s government, would take the lion’s share, he said.
“This is a symbolic victory and we will pursue other commercial properties owned by Zimbabwe,” said Spies, who represented the farmers through AfriForum, a mainly white civil rights group in South Africa.
“AfriForum regards its litigation against the Zimbabwe government as a civil sanction campaign against the ongoing and systemic abuse of human rights and the rule of law and the destruction of land ownership in Zimbabwe,” the group said in a statement.
Zimbabwe government representatives attended the auction, but did not bid, said Spies.
The case began with a ruling in 2008 by a tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which found that Zimbabwe had wrongly taken land from a group of nearly 80 farmers who brought the case, saying they had been targeted due to their race.
The tribunal, which was later disbanded, ruled they should be compensated.
Zimbabwe rejected the verdict, but a South African court ruled that it could be applied locally as South Africa was a member of SADC.
Zimbabwe fought the judgement through to South Africa’s Constitutional Court, which confirmed in a landmark judgement in 2013 that the farmers could sue in South African courts for compensation and attach Zimbabwe government assets in the country.
Three other Zimbabwean properties targeted by AfriForum were declared to be covered by diplomatic immunity, while the Cape Town house had been rented out commercially and was therefore liable to seizure, Spies said.
Case against Zuma
AfriForum is also assisting dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers in a separate lawsuit against President Jacob Zuma and his ministers of justice and international relations.
The lawsuit, Spies explained, “is in response to the South African government’s complicity in the illegal process that led to the suspension of the SADC Tribunal’s power to adjudicate on human rights abuses against citizens of member states”.
The case will be heard in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria early next year, said AfriForum.
Mugabe’s land reforms, launched in 2000 and accompanied by violent evictions of thousands of white farmers, were aimed at redistributing farms to landless black peple.
But critics say they mostly benefited the veteran leader’s cronies, led to a devastating drop in agricultural production and crippled the economy. – AFP