Judge tells SA to pay for Mugabe sins
By Karen Breytenbach
The South African government has been hauled over the coals by a Pretoria High Court judge for not protecting its citizens from Robert Mugabe’s land expropriations.
The government was ordered to pay damages to a South African farmer to whom it failed to provide diplomatic protection after Mugabe’s government seized 11 of his farms in Zimbabwe without compensation.
Although the damages have yet to be calculated, it could amount to R100 million.
The government was ordered to pay damages to a South African farmer
Free State farmer Crawford von Abo, who began farming in Zimbabwe 50 years ago, was arrested for “trespassing” on his main farm in 1997 and even spent time in a Zimbabwean jail as Zanu-PF cracked down on white farmers and expropriated their land.
After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate with the Zimbabwean government, he turned to the government of then-president Thabo Mbeki for diplomatic protection and, later, out of frustration, to the courts.
In July 2008, Van Abo won a landmark judgment in the Pretoria High Court, which ruled that he was entitled to diplomatic protection from the SA government.
Judge Bill Prinsloo ruled then that the government should, within 60 days, take all necessary steps to have Von Abo’s violation of his rights remedied and to report back to court about the steps it had taken.
Despite a meeting in August 2008 with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry officials, and several follow-up meetings involving Zimbabwean diplomats and officials, Van Abo did not receive the protection to which he was entitled and had to continue his legal battle.
Whether the South African government planned to appeal
In a strongly worded judgment delivered last week, Judge Prinsloo threw the rule book at the South African government, taking issue with what he regarded as its contempt of court and failure to protect its citizens.
He ruled that Von Abo had established the right to be paid damages by the South African government for breaching his constitutional rights.
He rejected the government counsel’s argument that diplomatic intervention became “toothless” simply because an offending state exhibited no intention to co-operate.
South Africa was the economic “powerhouse of the region” and it was common knowledge that Zimbabwe was dependent on it for almost every conceivable form of aid.
“I see no reason why the (South African government) cannot apply the necessary pressure, under these circumstances, to assist their valuable and long-suffering citizens, such as the applicant.”
Judge Prinsloo was scathing about the government’s failure to report back as ordered on the way forward for Von Abo. Nor had it made any effort to comply with court orders.
This “abject failure… to demonstrate any visible sign of even taking notice of these orders” amounted to contempt of court.
The government had been in breach of its constitutional duty to Von Abo for almost 10 years.
“To date, they have brought about no meaningful assistance for the applicant whatsoever. This state of affairs may well continue into the future. The time has arrived for this court to afford the applicant appropriate and effective relief.”
Although it could not be said that this case would expose the government to claims from other farmers who had lost farms in Zimbabwe, as this case had unique merits, it certainly was a major breakthrough for Von Abo, the farmer’s lawyer said yesterday.
It could not be immediately established whether the South African government planned to appeal. The Mercury