Judge slams govt for failing to help SA farmer in Zim

The Pretoria High Court on Tuesday criticised the government for failing to afford a Free State farmer diplomatic protection against the violation of his property rights in Zimbabwe.

“Over all these years the respondents have done absolutely nothing to assist the applicant, despite diligent and continued requests for diplomatic protection,” Judge Bill Prinsloo said.

“No explanation whatsoever has been forthcoming for this tardy and lacklustre behaviour.”

Prinsloo granted an order declaring the South African government, President Thabo Mbeki and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry and Justice had a constitutional obligation to provide diplomatic protection to Free State farmer Crawford von Abo.

He ruled the South African government’s failure to deal with Von Abo’s application for diplomatic protection was inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid.

The judge ordered the government to take all necessary steps to have the violation of Von Abo’s rights in Zimbabwe remedied and to report back to the court within 60 days.

This could include diplomatic pressure on the Zimbabwean government to restore Von Abo’s 14 farms and property, such as cattle and farming equipment, and pay him compensation for his losses, which he suffered when that country started to expropriate white-owned farms.

The judge said another form of diplomatic protection could be to assist Von Abo in a proper hearing in front of an international arbitration tribunal.

Another possibility might be for the government to enter into a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (Bippa) with retrospective effect, containing a clause providing for compensation by the errant state to the aggrieved party.

Prinsloo said it was common cause that the much-vaunted Bippa, on which the government placed so much emphasis, had never been signed.

Von Abo’s R60-million damages claim against the government was postponed indefinitely, pending the outcome of the diplomatic steps to be taken.

The judge criticised the respondents for not filing personal affidavits to deal with Von Abo’s complaints, which he said amounted to “a shocking dereliction of duty”.

Although Von Abo had for years begged various government officials to come to his aid after he lost all of his farms in Zimbabwe, the government’s response amounted to empty promises.

“The Bippa, already promised to Parliament by the foreign minister in 2003, has remained nothing but a phantom on the horizon. The prospective contracting parties have been looking at their calendars for a suitable date for more than five years without success.

The judge added: “The feeble excuse offered from time to time in the opposing papers that the South Africans are dependant on the whims and time frames of the Zimbabweans is nonsense.”

South Africa was a powerful country, and there was no reason why it could not employ any of the internationally recognised diplomatic measures to protect its nationals.

“I regret to say that it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the respondents were simply stringing the applicant along, and never had any serious intention to afford him proper protection,” Prinsloo said.

“Their feeble efforts, if any, amounted to little more than quiet acquiescence in the conduct of their Zimbabwean counterparts and their ‘war veteran’ thugs.”

The judge said the government, in the present instance, had dealt with the matter in bad faith.

“For six years or more, and in the face of a stream of urgent requests from many sources, they did absolutely nothing to bring about relief for the applicant and hundreds of other white commercial farmers in the same position,” Prinsloo said.
- Sapa

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