FORMER Zimbabwean commercial farmers, who lost their properties during the land reform programme, say they are now optimistic of receiving a fair hearing and compensation after a South African court last week ruled that the Sadc Tribunal Court, which was handling their cases, was disbanded illegally.
BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
The tribunal was disbanded in 2012 just after the South Africa civil rights group AfriForum successfully assisted four Zimbabwean farmers, Luke Munyandu Thembani, Benjamin Freeth, Richard Thomas Etheredge and Christopher Melis Jarret, to sue former President Robert Mugabe for loss of property.
The farmers had approached the Sadc Tribunal in 2008 to protect their property rights, but it was eventually suspended by then South African President Jacob Zuma and his government.
As a result, the cases died a natural death.
The application challenging the disbandment of the tribunal was launched in April 2015 by the Law Society of South Africa to declare Zuma’s actions as well as former Justice minister Michael Masutha and former International Relations and Co-operation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane as unconstitutional in relation to Sadc’s 2014 Protocol.
The Pretoria High Court last Thursday ruled that the executive had no authority to participate in a decision in conflict with South Africa’s binding obligations.
“South Africa remains bound by the Sadc treaty and the first protocol. Amending the treaty and without terminating the first protocol, the executive has no authority to participate in a decision in conflict with South Africa’s binding obligations,” the court found.
The South African Litigation Centre had argued after the disbandment of the tribunal that the right to access to courts was not limited to domestic courts, but also entitled access to a regional court.
After the judgment had been delivered, AfriForum legal representative Willie Spies said it was important that 277 million Sadc citizens understood the role of the regional tribunal and their critical importance in protecting the rights of all citizens.
“When individual citizens, civil society groups and activists are denied justice in their own countries, they must be able to challenge decisions that may have an impact on democracy and their human rights through a higher court,” Spies said.
“Regional courts exist throughout the world, including Europe. They have The European Court of Justice, the Caribbean Court of Justice and the Central South American Court of Justice and they have a vital role to play in Africa to protect human rights and rule of law.”
During its operation, Sadc Tribunal heard 18 cases, most of which were on human rights abuses.
It was the human rights cases against Zimbabwean government under former President Robert Mugabe that led to the tribunal’s suspension in 2011.