Zim lawyers act on Cape Town house
A diplomatic row has erupted between Zimbabwe and South Africa with the former accusing the latter of complicity in failing to offer diplomatic immunity to a property that was recently auctioned in Cape Town to offset the legal costs owed to lawyers representing white commercial farmers given a favourable judgment by the defunct Sadc Tribunal in 2008.
Zimbabwe has since dispatched a high-powered legal team to South Africa to redeem the money deposited into the account of the lawyers representing the white farmers.
Afriforum (lawyers representing the farmers) went ahead in auctioning the property belonging to the Zimbabwean government even after receiving the R840 000 (about US$280 000) cited as legal costs.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha said Zimbabwe is sending a legal team to South Africa to lodge a complaint against the dodgy conduct of the lawyers who seemed keen on settling political scores with the Zimbabwean government instead of following the precepts of the law.
“Our argument is that we paid the money on Friday to the lawyers and we had documents to prove that the money had been received. However, to our surprise they went ahead and auctioned the house. We have sent officers in the Attorney General office to South Africa to claim that money,” said Bimha.
Giving a blow-by-blow account of the whole debacle, Bimha said following the judgment issued by the defunct Sadc Tribunal in 2010, the white farmers registered the outcome in South African courts whose bench is still infested with apartheid relic judges who consented that the white farmers had valid claims which could be executed in that country.
The Zimbabwean Government then appealed against that decision in the South African High Court, which then went to the Supreme Court and later the Constitutional Court which upheld the Tribunal’s verdict.
However, the Zimbabwean Government delayed the payment of the costs of the order as they continuously appealed against the decision while also exploring other political avenues.
“We appealed to the South African government that the houses that the lawyers wanted to attach to recover legal costs were diplomatic houses. Apparently, we had temporarily closed the one in Cape Town and it was being rented out. It was at that point that the South African government then said the house in Cape Town could not be protected and said only the ambassador’s house and the embassy premises had immunity,” said Bimha.
Bimha said his ministry then rushed to the Ministry of Finance, which promptly released the money but the lawyers went ahead and auctioned the Cape Town property much to the chagrin of the Zimbabwean Government which had sought to honour the precepts of the law though it did not agree with the judgment.
The property at 28 Salisbury Road, Kenilworth, Cape Town, was sold to a private bidder for R3 760 000.
The permanent secretary said what happened was a miscarriage of justice in that according to the Vienna Convention, only Zimbabwean laws can be applied to land belonging to it in a foreign country.
“The technicality that it was being rented was rather flimsy since one of our diplomats was occupying the house,” he said.
Bimha squarely blames the South African government for playing foul under pressure from some whites who occupy strategic positions in government who are keen in scoring cheap political points in a futile bid to discredit the land reform programme as skewed.
Sources intricately involved in the case in South Africa said the attitude of the lawyers and the South African judges was “dodgy” as they only confirmed having received the legal costs just an hour after the house was auctioned.
“The lawyers were actually boasting that the verdict by the South African courts would set precedence for other farmers to claim compensation from the Zimbabwean government or have land returned to them. As laughable as it is, the lawyers were actually saying the auctioning of the house was punishment for the Zimbabwean government for violating the human rights of the minority as if the rights of the majority landless blacks are less important,” said the source.
He said the lawyers said they would target other properties belonging to Zimbabwe or the country must pay compensation to the farmers.
The source said it was very unlikely that the lawyers would return the money deposited into their accounts as they had already indicated that they would share the funds with the KFW Group, a Germany company that extended a loan to Ziscosteel, which was guaranteed by the Zimbabwean Government.
“The whole thing is all murky and nothing legal about it. It’s being played out for the local audience to show them what can happen to them if they attempt to follow the Zimbabwean route,” the source said.
Bimha, however, said that the white farmers were living in dreamland if they thought their actions would reverse the land reform programme.
“Our resolve in safeguarding and ensuring that the land reform programme is irreversible has been strengthened. We will not falter in protecting the rights of the majority,” Bimha said.
Efforts to contact South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane were futile as she was said to be in series of meetings.
Zimbabwe ambassador to South Africa Isaac Moyo lashed out at the conduct of Afriforum lawyers for behaving like excitable rogues bent on tarnishing the international standing of Zimbabwe.
“We are very disappointed that after we had paid them R800 000, the same people went ahead with the auction. The auction process was not done over board because Africorum had proof of payment,” said Moyo. Afriforum celebrated the auctioning of the house saying it was a victory against human rights violations.
In a statement that sounds like political demagoguery, the group said: “This was the first time in history that a decision of a human rights tribunal in Africa led to the sale of a property of the country that has been guilty of human rights abuses.”
The group ironically claimed that it was assisting disposed Zimbabwean farmers in a separate lawsuit against President Jacob Zuma and his ministers of justice and international relations. It said the lawsuit 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 is expected to be heard in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria early next year.