JOHANNESBURG – THE long-delayed hearing of the court case against the role South African President Jacob Zuma and his government played in the closure of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal is set to be heard from Monday.
Prompted by the dispossession of some Zimbabwean farmers’ land – which they argue is theirs by law – was brought to the North Gauteng High Court by the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA).
The hearing is poised to be one of the most important cases for the rights of SADC citizens.
According to LSSA, this case provides South Africa with an opportunity to reclaim its former moral high ground.
“Failure to do so will reflect negatively both on President Zuma and his government,” read a statement from LSSA, which speaks nationally on behalf of attorneys and various human rights groups.
In April 2015, LSSA launched an application to declare the actions of Zuma, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha and International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in the closure of the regional human rights court unconstitutional, in relation to the 2014 Protocol.
Under the original protocol signed in August 2000 by SADC heads of state, individuals and companies could bring a case against a member state to the tribunal.
According to experts, the jurisdiction of the tribunal is now limited to disputes only between member states, thus denying the 277 million people living in the SADC region access to justice when courts in their own countries have failed to dispense justice.
Meanwhile, in 2005, four Zimbabwean dispossessed commercial farmers and two agricultural companies applied to join the case.
They are represented by civil rights group, AfriForum.
The affected farmers successfully participated in various court cases before the tribunal and in all cases the tribunal ruled against the Zimbabwean government, hence its closure was seen as an affront to justice.
Ben Freeth, one of the farmers, said despite winning their court cases, the closure of the tribunal in 2012 resulted in them being unable to take the cases further.
Freeth is also spokesperson for the SADC Tribunal Rights Watch.
“The next step would have been to get taxable awards against the Zimbabwean government for their flagrant contempt of those judgments,” he said.
The upcoming court hearing, from February 5 to 7, is also set to pile the pressure on the beleaguered Zuma amid calls for him to be arraigned in court for alleged corruption.
– CAJ News