Constitutional Court Dismisses Zimbabwean Farmers’ R2 Billion Claim Against South African Government

Zimbabwean commercial farmer Tommy Bayley rides an old bicycle ahead of war veterans and villagers, who invaded his farm at Danbury Park outside the capital Harare, in this file picture taken April 8, 2000. REUTERS/Howard Burditt/Files
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PRETORIA – South Africa’s Constitutional Court has rendered a verdict dismissing a R2 billion claim filed by 25 former Zimbabwean farmers against the South African government.

The farmers, according to NewZwire alleged damages resulting from former President Jacob Zuma’s endorsement in 2014 of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit resolution to disband the SADC Tribunal.

The tribunal had previously deemed Zimbabwe’s land reform unconstitutional and mandated compensation or land restitution for displaced farmers.

Despite a prior ruling by the South African High Court, which found Zuma’s actions unlawful, the government contested the claim, contending that it had “prescribed” or expired. Government lawyers criticized the farmers’ claim as “vague and embarrassing.”

In a unanimous decision delivered on Monday, Constitutional Court judges ruled in favor of the government. Judge Owen Rogers explained that the farmers’ claims had reached their expiration by August 2014, when Zuma endorsed the 2014 SADC Protocol, and would have “prescribed” by 2017 under South Africa’s Prescription Act.

In response, Afriforum, a white nationalist organization supporting the Zimbabwean farmers, asserted its intention to pursue compensation through separate avenues.

Zimbabwe’s laws dictate that only “indigenous Zimbabweans” or those protected by Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPAs) are entitled to land compensation. White farmers are only eligible for compensation for improvements made to the land, not for the land itself.

In 2020, Zimbabwe reached an agreement with some farmers to compensate them for farm improvements but not for the land itself.

The case harks back to a landmark ruling by the SADC Tribunal in 2007, which declared Zimbabwe’s land reform program unconstitutional, ordering compensation and non-interference with white farmers.

However, Zimbabwe lobbied for the dissolution of the Tribunal in 2011, a move endorsed by SADC leaders in 2014.