JOHANNESBURG — The high court order relating to millions of rands’ worth of farming properties in Zimbabwe belonging to land baron Crawford von Abo was put into force anew in the Constitutional Court yesterday.
The unanimous Constitutional Court bench refused to rule on a request that the high court order be upheld in which (the then) president Thabo Mbeki was ordered to lend diplomatic assistance to Von Abo in his attempts to get his farms back from President Robert Mugabe’s government.
It was a precedent-setting judgment of the high court and the first in South Africa in which the government in general and the president in particular were ordered to lend active assistance to South African citizens experiencing problems with the actions of other countries’ governments.
The case had been incorrectly referred to the Constitutional Court in the belief that only that court is empowered to issue orders relating to the work of the president; according to the Pretoria judge, the Constitutional Court therefore first had to ratify its order.
But yesterday the judges of the Constitutional Court ruled that the case was erroneously referred, as it is not the exclusive task of the president to take decisions on diplomatic assistance in such instances. It is a joint decision of the whole government.
Consequently the high court order stands in its own right and does not have to be either ratified or set aside by the Constitutional Court.
The practical consequence of their order, said the judges, is that the high court order remains in place and that President Jacob Zuma and his government — and the International Relations Department in particular — must comply with it.
Among other things, the high court ordered the government to submit a report within a certain period in which it sets out exactly what the government is doing to help Von Abo get back farms seized by the Zimbabwean government.
As with all other high court judgments, the government obviously has the option of applying for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.