THE South African government has come under pressure to assist its nationals held in Zimbabwe after last week’s constitutional court ruling that it had an obligation to protect its citizens agai
nst abuse even when they are abroad.
The court ruling followed an application by 70 suspected mercenaries imprisoned in Zimbabwe that the South African government had a constitutional obligation to protect its citizens against abuse wherever they were.
The decision would benefit a number of South Africans who are currently at loggerheads with the Zimbabwe government, in particular over land. About 200 South Africans were forcibly evicted from their farms in Zimbabwe under the chaotic land reform programme.
Although the constitutional court denied the appeal that the alleged mercenaries be extradited to South Africa, it nonetheless concluded that South African citizens had the right to petition the government for diplomatic protection.
An obligation rests on government to consider such petitions and to treat them according to the provisions of the constitution. Should the government ignore such requests, the court would be able to order it to act appropriately.
Crawford von Abo, a Free State farmer, who has extensive farming interests in Zimbabwe, welcomed the judgment. Von Abo, who for the past two years has been trying to convince the government to intercede after 14 of his farms in Zimbabwe were illegally seized, said he hoped the South African government would take note of the judgement which obligated it to protect the rights of South Africans abroad.
South Africa’s deputy ambassador in Zimbabwe, Kingsley Sithole, said there was progress being made in negotiating with the Zimbabwean government on the land rights of South Africans.