High Court rules ahead of Zimbabwe trade deal

The High Court in Pretoria today ordered the South African government to honour a SADC tribunal finding that Zimbabwe's land reform programme was discriminatory, when it signs a bilateral agreement with its neighbour, Afriforum said.

Lobby group Afriforum applied for the order when it heard the government intended signing a bilateral investment and protection agreement with Zimbabwe tomorrow.

"The [agreement] was generally understood to have the effect to exclude the enforcement of the SADC tribunal’s orders, and to exempt Zimbabwe from liability for past human rights violations," Afriforum said in a statement.

They believed it contravened South Africa’s Constitution and international law and had been unable to discuss it with the trade and industry minister.

"As to the terms of the proposed [agreement], the South African government accepts in its court papers that the Zimbabwean land reform exercise is unlawful.

"It also acknowledges the binding nature of the SADC tribunal’s rulings, and international obligations pursuant thereto."

Afriforum continued: "It stated emphatically that the [agreement] does not purport to grant immunity to Zimbabwe for any human rights violations".

The South African government undertook in the court settlement to respect and honour the tribunal’s rulings, as well as other obligations under other sources of international law and the Constitutional to protect victims of the unlawful Zimbabwean land reform exercise.

Afriforum welcomed the undertaking.

The trade and industry department was not immediately available to comment.

The tribunal referred to took place in November 2008. It said Zimbabwe’s land reform programme "constituted racial discrimination, an infringement of the right of access to courts, and an arbitrary taking without adequate compensation, each in breach of Zimbabwe’s treaty obligations".

Business Unity SA said it would travel to Harare to observe the signing, but would not participate as it had not been consulted, nor seen the terms.