Friday, April 22, 2011

When there is nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire.

The North Gauteng High Court reserved judgment in the case of the Zim farmers last week.
If you recall, farmers from Zimbabwe received a judgment from the 2008 South African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal declaring Zimbabwe's land reform programme as unlawful.

The SADC ruling was recorded in the North Gauteng High Court, South Africa in 2010 with an additional order made by the court awarding costs to the farmers. Zimbabwe owned property in SA, free from any diplomatic immunity, was identified and attached in order to be auctioned in settlement of those awards.

The Zimbabwe Government was absent for much of these proceedings until now. The government of Zim has disputed the validity of the SADC Tribunal ruling from the beginning. The recent court proceedings in South Africa are objected to on various grounds such as improper service, lack of jurisdiction, and purported violation of the Foreign States Immunity Act. These arguments are made late and hopefully in vain. The court reserved judgment and should make a decision within the next 3 weeks. This blog has followed the case as best as possible with sometimes imperfect information.

It has always been my opinion that the success of this case, resulting in the defeat of all of the Government of Zimbabwe's arguments, has little to do with politics per se. Success has everything to do with the credibility of the SADC tribunal and the rule of law in Southern Africa. The SADC tribunal is a brilliant creation that makes it possible to resolve disputes without winding up in a local court that might be biased or non-functioning.

In addition to all of this nonsense, the SADC tribunal's status as effectively suspended is unclear.
At the SADC Summit in August 2010, the Council of Ministers decided to review how the Tribunal functions allegedly in order to address the Government of Zimbabwe's refusal to honor the tribunal's ruling against it in 2008. This effectively suspended the tribunal with the judges being removed. In response, two of the Zim farmers. Mike Campbell and Luke Tembani filed an application to have the tribunal back in action. Without a functioning tribunal there is no recourse for those who wish to make further claims against the Government of Zim, according to the application.

In January of this year, mining companies in a dispute with Lesotho asked the tribunal to take the case. A docket number was assigned but there is no evidence of the case on the SADC tribunal website.

Finally, Mike Campbell, one of the Zim farmers in the 2008 SADC Tribunal case passed away earlier this month. No matter what the ultimate outcome of all of these cases I hope he will be remembered for using the law to create fairness and equity for everyone. This blog will continue to watch those developments.

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