Zim property seized in CT
Cape Town - Civil rights group AfriForum seized a Cape Town property belonging to the Zimbabwean state on Tuesday, saying the move was the start of a "civil sanctions" campaign against President Robert Mugabe's government.
"This is a process aimed at helping all the people of Zimbabwe in a way that creates hope and shows that it is possible for civil society to institute civil sanctions against a regime that does not help its people," Willie Spies, a lawyer for AfriForum said outside of the offices of the sheriff for the district of Cape Town.
The process started in November 2008 when the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal ruled in favour of Michael Campbell and 78 Zimbabwean farmers that the land reform programme in the country was "racist and unlawful".
Mugabe described the ruling as "nonsense and of no consequence" to Zimbabwe.
The tribunal followed up its ruling with a contempt ruling and costs order in June 2009. On 26 February, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria registered the tribunal's rulings.
Four Zimbabwean properties in the Cape Town suburbs of Zonneblom, Kenilworth and Wynberg were initially identified.
AfriForum agreed to only attach the Kenilworth property, located in Salisbury Road, at this stage as its value - estimated at around R2.5m - was sufficient to cover the cost of the order.
Zimbabwean Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa dismissed the High Court’s move as "null and void", calling the attempts to attach assets nothing more than "political grandstanding" and the properties were under diplomatic immunity.
Spies said, "Zimbabwean farmers, workers and ordinary citizens" asked AfriForum for help in taking the legal process further in South Africa in September last year.
"What happened today is the attachment of a property situated in Kenilworth. It is being leased to a third party tenant. The fact that it is being leased makes it a commercial property, which makes it liable for attachment as a result of the court order."
Not for damages
Spies said the attachment was not a recovery for damages for farmers who had lost their land.
It was, he said, "a symbolic gesture to show it is possible to enforce legal principles against (the) Zimbabwean government in South Africa".
"We see it as a way to send out a message to show the Zimbabwean government that there are certain consequences to their abuse of human rights," he said.
The South African government last year committed itself to upholding the SADC tribunal ruling.
"The message we are getting from the Zimbabwean people is that they are encouraged by this. It gives them hope to be able to see things are happening with their neighbours' help."
"The process we are following here is the only hope they have got. We do that to encourage them and to tell them there are people out there who are still fighting."
Spies said AfriForum was aware of other commercial creditors of the Zimbabwean government who were interested in joining the civil proceedings.