SADC plans to purge tribunal judges - DA

Athol Trollip says Zuma connived in decision not to renew judges' terms

SADC Tribunal: Zuma complicit in Tribunal's effective disbandment

The DA can exclusively reveal that, following this week's SADC Summit, a decision was taken not to renew the terms of the judges presiding over the SADC Tribunal- a step which will result in the Tribunal's effective disbandment. In so doing, SADC has ensured that the Tribunal will not sit to hear the controversial cases concerning the conduct of the Zimbabwean government currently on the Tribunal's roll- thereby protecting the interests of the Mugabe administration indefinitely.

These cases primarily concern allegations of human rights abuses committed under the current Zimbabwean administration, and the Mugabe government's continual defiance of a 2008 ruling by the Tribunal, which declared the country's devastating land reform programme as unlawful.

Initially, SADC tried to conceal its attempts to disassemble the highly-respected regional court by reporting that the attending heads of state had ordered a six month review of the "role, functions and terms of reference" of the Tribunal. However, the DA has received reliable information that SADC has in fact instructed that the Tribunal's judges be effectively removed of their powers.

The stage for SADC's decision was set by President Jacob Zuma- who delivered, in his capacity as SADC appointed mediator to Zimbabwe, a glowing report on the progress made in resolving the Zimbabwean political impasse at this week's SADC Summit. His report failed to address the considerable obstacles blocking the path to the establishment of a democratic dispensation in that country and he remained defiantly tight-lipped on whether action should be taken against Zimbabwe for its contravention of the 2008 Tribunal ruling.

SADC has now followed Zuma's lead in pandering to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Instead of instituting punitive measures against the Zimbabwean government for its contemptuous conduct, it has shifted its attention to the Tribunal. It is hugely significant that SADC appears to have willingly dismantled its most respected structure to protect a rogue member state.

SADC's conduct is a clear attempt to undermine of the rule of law in the region. It has set a dangerous precedent and sent an unambiguous message to the people of Southern Africa that their leaders are above the rule of law, that politics trumps justice, and that the ties of the past will dominate choices made about the future.

As the head of one of Southern Africa's most important political and economic forces, and as SADC appointed mediator  to Zimbabwe, President Zuma is wholly complicit in SADC's decision to render the Tribunal powerless. That the cases currently on the Tribunal's roll concern the rights of the many South Africans who live, work and invest in the Zimbabwean farming community- and the economy in general- raises grave concerns about the ANC government's conduct and its commitment to the rights and welfare of South African citizens.

Given the seriousness of the Tribunal's effective disbandment, the DA will be taking multiple steps in response to this development, including submitting a question to the President, calling on the International Relations Portfolio Committee to interrogate the decision to disband the Tribunal and calling for an urgent debate to be convened before the House to discuss the SADC Tribunal's purpose and its powers.

What can the ANC stand to gain from supporting President Robert Mugabe that it is prepared to wager respect for the rule of law in the SADC region and the rights of its own citizens? The Zuma government's handling of the SADC Tribunal's fate raises serious questions about just what the ruling ANC is prepared to sacrifice in the pursuit of its own objectives.

Statement issued by Athol Trollip, MP, Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader, August 20 2010

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