In what we hope is the final phase of a protracted legal struggle for justice in Zimbabwe, Willie Spies, the legal representative of AfriForum, a South African civil rights initiative, lodged papers in South Africa’s Pretoria High Court this week for a claim of almost R2 billion against the South African government and presidency by Zimbabwean farmers.
Former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The 25 commercial farmers and farming businesses suffered damages as a result of the dissolution of the Southern African Development Community’s regional human rights court, the Windhoek-based SADC Tribunal, by the SADC Heads of State, including former president Jacob Zuma.
The struggle for justice in the agricultural sector of Zimbabwe began in the year 2000 when the violent land invasions were initiated, resulting in the mass-scale destruction of property, crops and livestock, as well as brutal attacks on farmers and farm workers countrywide.
Initially the Zimbabwean courts upheld the rule of law but after they themselves were invaded, judges who had stood up to the Mugabe government were forced out of office and many of those who remained became compromised.
In 2005, my father-in-law, Mike Campbell, a commercial farmer and large-scale mango exporter from the Chegutu district in central Zimbabwe, lodged a court case in the local courts that protested the lawless and racial nature of the farm invasions.
Shortly after the case was heard in 2007 in the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, Mike was arrested for being in his home on the farm and farming ‘illegally’, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had not ruled on the case.
In October 2007, after Mike had exhausted all access to legal recourse in Zimbabwe, his case was lodged in the SADC Tribunal, the Southern African Development Community’s regional human rights court, located in Windhoek, Namibia.
Shortly before the main court hearing, Mike was abducted by President Mugabe’s militia and severely tortured, along with his wife, Angela, and me, in a bid to force us to withdraw our case from the SADC Tribunal.
Despite this, we went ahead with the case, which was heard by five of the SADC Tribunal judges, and their final and binding judgment was given on November 28, 2008.
This allowed Mike and the 78 other commercial farmers who had joined the case, together with their workers, to remain in peaceful residence on their farms without interference in their farming operations.
Regrettably, President Mugabe openly defied the judgment and all but one of the 78 SADC Tribunal-protected applicants were subsequently forced off their properties under brutal and lawless conditions.
After the Zimbabwe government had been held in contempt of court by the SADC Tribunal, President Mugabe managed to get the Tribunal judges suspended from office in 2012.
In 2014, President Mugabe, along with SADC Heads of State, signed a new Protocol that prevented all SADC citizens from accessing the SADC Tribunal for any cause whatsoever.
Fortunately they did not manage to get the number of signatures required from other Heads of State to change the SADC Protocol. As a result, the previous Protocol remains in force and the SADC Tribunal merely requires funding and political will so that it can once again uphold justice and human rights as per the SADC Treaty.
In the absence of the Tribunal judges being enabled to do this, we embarked on a case against South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma, for being complicit in breaking the SADC Treaty and denying SADC citizens the right to justice.
This case culminated in an excellent judgment in South Africa’s Constitutional Court in December 2018 that declared President Zuma’s actions in closing down the SADC Tribunal as irrational, unconstitutional and indeed unlawful.
We hope that this latest case will be a ceremonial raising of the flag for justice within SADC and will herald the reopening of the SADC Tribunal for victims of injustice across the region.
Furthermore, we hope that other victims of injustice will add impetus to this movement by joining with the case within the prescribed time period. A summons must be served within six months of December 11, 2018, that is by June 11, 2019.
We thank God that we have been able to continue this fight for justice for so long. We pray that the SADC leaders will see justice as a primary building block for the development and prosperity of the 16-member countries of the SADC community.
Lastly, we thank AfriForum and our exceptional legal team for their vision and perseverance through so many long and traumatic years of struggle.
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