Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

SA joins SADC in protecting unlawful land reform

SA joins SADC in protecting unlawful land reform

By Alex Bell
25 May 2011

South Africa has joined the rest of the Southern African Development 
Community (SADC) in appearing to protect Robert Mugabe’s unlawful land grab 
campaign, in another blow for dispossessed farmers.

South Africa’s Constitutional Court has this week dismissed a final attempt 
by a farmer who lost land in Zimbabwe, to seek compensation for his losses. 
Crawford von Abo, a South African citizen, was left penniless when his 14 
farms in Zimbabwe were destroyed by land invasions under Mugabe’s land grab 
scheme. Since 2008 Von Abo has tried to get the South African government to 
take diplomatic steps to address the violation of his rights in Zimbabwe, 
arguing that as a citizen his government should have protected him.

In February 2010 the High Court found that the South African government had 
a constitutional obligation to provide diplomatic protection and ordered 
that it had 60 days to take all necessary steps to have Von Abo’s violation 
of rights by Zimbabwe remedied.

But the Supreme Court of Appeal has since said that although South Africa’s 
response to Von Abo’s plight was ‘inappropriate’, the High Court made ‘vital 
mistakes of law’ when it made its decision last year. Von Abo then made an 
application to the Constitutional Court, stating that the Supreme Court of 
Appeal’s ruling was unconstitutional.

This application has now been dismissed, effectively ending Von Abo’s 
battle. Observers have said that this lets South Africa off the hook for not 
protecting its citizens affected by the illegal land seizures, and also 
prevents any potential diplomatic squabbles with Mugabe.

The development comes as leaders in the rest of the Southern African 
Development Community (SADC) have dissolved the human rights Tribunal for at 
least another year, in a move that is being described as a ‘massive blow’ to 
farmers. The Tribunal ruled in 2008 that Mugabe’s land grab was unlawful 
after a landmark case, launched by commercial farmers.

Mugabe and the then ZANU PF government refused to honour the rulings, and 
were repeatedly charged with contempt for snubbing the Tribunal. But, rather 
than take Mugabe to task for this blatant disrespect of the court, SADC 
leaders instead suspended the Tribunal last year.

That suspension is now set to last a further 12 months, after SADC leaders 
last week gave its Council of Justice of Ministers and regional Attorney 
Generals more time to review the role and functions of the court. This is 
despite an independent review that upheld the court’s rulings on Zimbabwe, 
and also upheld its jurisdiction to make and enforce such rulings. Analysts 
have said that this shows ongoing allegiance with Mugabe.

Ben Freeth from the SADC Tribunal Rights Watch group said he is “shocked and 
quite disheartened” by this development. Freeth, together with his late 
father-in-law Mike Campbell, led the farmers case before the Tribunal in 
2008. He told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that “this has shown the true 
colours of the region, and clearly they don’t have the human rights of SADC 
citizens at heart.”

“What SADC has done serves absolutely no purpose but to allow for ongoing 
corruption, abuse of power and erosion of human rights in the region,” 
Freeth said.

Mike Campbell, who passed away earlier this year as a result of a savage 
beating when he was abducted from his farm, still had a case pending before 
the Tribunal. He once again made history by citing all 15 SADC leaders as 
respondents in the new case. The application, filed in late March this year, 
urged SADC to fully reinstate the workings of the Tribunal. The application 
also asked for an order that ensures “the Tribunal continues to function in 
all respects as established by the Treaty, which all the leaders are 
signatory to.”

Freeth explained that he doesn’t know what will happen with this case now, 
adding that “I am glad that Mike is not alive to see what SADC has done.” He 
continued that ultimately, it is the citizens of SADC who are losing out, 
not just Zimbabwean farmers, because their rights are being trampled on.

Freeth and Mike Campbell’s case at the SADC Tribunal was never just about 
their rights as white farmers, but always about a million farm workers and 
their families who lost their jobs, their homes, their schools, their 
clinics and their future, as a result of the unlawful theft of land and 


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