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  • Written by  Mathatha Tsedu, www.fin24.com
  • Published in In the News
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Redress for Zim farmers in SA courts?

A SOUTH AFRICAN court has decided that the infringements of rights of South Africans in another country, in this instance Zimbabwe, are within the jurisdiction of South African courts to redress. What I find fascinating about the Afriforum action is that the court decision in Tshwane came in the week when another group of South Africans, this time black, were trying to get an American court to also give them the same kind of redress for violations of their rights during apartheid.

Original column titled, "Sauce for the goose?" by Mathatha Tsedu, www.fin24.com

A SOUTH AFRICAN court has decided that the infringements of rights of South Africans in another country, in this instance Zimbabwe, are within the jurisdiction of South African courts to redress.

The case, brought to the Gauteng High Court in Tshwane by Afriforum, revolves around the confiscation of land owned by South Africans in Zimbabwe. The confiscation was part of the land redistribution programme that has been underway in that country for a number of years now.

About 318 South African farmers who had property in Zimbabwe are allegedly affected, according to Afriforum. In explaining why the action had been taken in a South African court, Afriforum legal representative Willie Spies said the farmers had been "subjected to human rights violations which had left many of them in dire straits".

"It was cruelty. Their hard work was destroyed by people who just wanted to take revenge. We need to find a way to get compensation for them," Spies said.

He added that first prize for the organisation would be the return of the farms to their South African owners, or allow them to demand compensation from the Zimbabwean government. All these demands would be made in SA courts.

The court case was brought in terms of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocol through which a tribunal had decided in 2008 that the land reform programme in Zimbabwe was both illegal and racist. The tribunal called for compensation.

What I find fascinating about the Afriforum action is that the court decision in Tshwane came in the week when another group of South Africans, this time black, were trying to get an American court to also give them the same kind of redress for violations of their rights during apartheid.

Led by Khulumani, an advocacy group working for fair compensation for victims of apartheid, this group of South Africans are suing a number of major US corporations for collusion and aiding the apartheid regime.

Their attempts to proceed with a lawsuit here were frustrated by the reluctance of the government to get the action underway. Government argued that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process had dealt with the issues.

When Khulumani decided to go to the US to launch its case there, the SA government argued that this would undermine the sovereignty of South Africa by subjecting its laws to the jurisdiction of American courts.

It is this point that former minister Kader Asmal is making in his application to be part of the case in support of the corporates. It should be noted here that this government position has changed since the advent of the Jacob Zuma presidency.

Hypocrisy

Commenting on the US court proceedings, a lot of people seem to find reason to write long articles in daily papers arguing why the Khulumani lawsuit should not go ahead, as Asmal has done. Yet, the Gauteng High Court ruling would effectively bring Zimbabwean laws under the scrutiny of SA courts.

It seems it is ok to challenge Zimbabwean laws here, but wrong for South Africans, frustrated by their own government's reluctance to help, to seek solace elsewhere.

It is a double standard that shows hypocrisy. Afriforum is an organisation dedicated to the defence of white privilege at best, or Afrikaner interests in particular. It opposes virtually every transformation move, from name changes to the implementation of black economic empowerment.

It is no surprise it has taken this route on behalf of the 318 farmers.

What is surprising is someone like Asmal, who in his own words has fought against oppression all his life, can find comfort in siding with multinationals against his own people who are seeking justice.

It is hardly a cause for a freedom fighter. And until I see him fighting against the Afriforum case and what it means for Zimbabwean sovereignty, the question must loom large about why some among us, like Asmal, could sign up for a cause against vulnerable victims of a system that had been declared a crime against humanity.

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