(Bloomberg) — Jacob Zuma, the former South African president facing 16 corruption charges and a demand to pay back as much as 32 million rand ($2.2 million) in legal fees, may see his woes deepen from beyond the country’s borders.
South Africa’s top court ruled on Dec. 11 that Zuma had no right to co-sign a Southern African Development Community decision in 2014 to sideline a tribunal that allowed national grievances to be judged regionally.
That’s opened the door for white farmers in Zimbabwe who were dispossessed of their land to sue for 1.9 billion rand. The office of the presidency and the government will be sued with a possible claim against Zuma at a later stage, according to their lawyer, Willie Spies. He said the amount represents the value of the properties formerly owned by 10 claimants.
“Its just the tip of the iceberg, there are 3000 and 4000 of them this is just 10 of them,” said Spies, who is also a legal adviser to Afriforum, an Afrikaner rights group. “It shows the tremendous damage done to the Zimbabwean economy, its no wonder it collapsed.”
The case shows how Zuma and other heads of state from the SADC member nations sought to end a challenge to Zimbabwe’s seizure of white-owned farms without compensation after the farmers challenged it at the tribunal.
Zuma’s signature breached the South African constitution as it would have shielded southern African nations from being held to account regionally for human-rights abuses, the court said.
“There are eight of us farmers at the moment but others may join.” said Benjamin Freeth, a Zimbabwean farmer who was one of the applicants in the Constitutional Court case, saying both Zuma and the government will be sued.
Spies said a notice of intention to sue was delivered to the president’s office and the government on Dec. 14 and formal summons will be delivered by the end of January.
After the tribunal made an order in favor of the Zimbabwe farmers, Zuma and other national leaders decided to “emasculate” it by forcing Zimbabwe to comply with the order to not reappoint members of the body when their terms expired, rendering it inquorate. The 2014 protocol sought to take away the power of the tribunal by stripping it of the right to adjudicate individual disputes against a state party, the court said.
Zimbabwe’s land seizure program that started in 2000 helped usher in surging inflation and rampant unemployment. The destruction of commercial farming slashed exports of crops such as tobacco, paprika and roses and triggered a series of famines as corn production slumped.
The South African court directed current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to withdraw his signature from the SADC protocol. Khusela Diko, Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman, didn’t answer a call made to her mobile phone. Zuma associate Carl Niehaus said the former president may respond later.
“The president’s decision to render the tribunal dysfunctional is unconstitutional, unlawful and irrational. And so is his signature,” the court said.
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