Zimbabwe has dismissed a South African court judgment ordering the prosecution of its ministers and security chiefs for alleged human rights abuses and claimed the ruling was part of a regime change campaign against the country.
In a ruling likely to spark a diplomatic headache, a South African High Court judge Tuesday ordered that prosecutors investigate Zimbabwean officials accused of torturing supporters of prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai five years ago.
Six ministers from President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and service chiefs are affected by the judgment and face arrest if they visit South Africa.
The South African Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum (ZEF) approached the court after South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority refused to investigate the matter.
SALC and ZEF cited country obligations to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
But Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, a key ally of President Mugabe, said the ruling was irrelevant and would not be enforced.
“These people are working in cahoots with the ex-Rhodies (Zimbabwe’s former colonial government) who brought a case against government on the land issue,” he said.
“They use the same source of funding to push a vendetta by white former colonial masters to cast Zimbabwe in the worst light to the world.”
The minister claimed the ruling had brought the South African justice system into disrepute.
“No specifics have been identified because they should have laid a blow to blow account of what crime has been committed,” Mr Chinamasa told state media.
“That the court made a ruling based on a generalised opinion is a sad moment for the justice system in South Africa.”
Judge Hans Fabricius of the North Gauteng High Court said Mr Tsvangirai was one of the victims of the violent crackdown by President Mugabe’s supporters.
In 2007, the then opposition leader was badly beaten while in police custody after he was arrested during a prayer meeting in Harare.
Pictures of a bruised Mr Tsvangirai splashed by the international media forced regional leaders to intervene in Zimbabwe yielding an inclusive government in 2009.
“There was reasonable suspicion that crimes were committed,” Justice Fabricius ruled.
The case was based on a raid on Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) headquarters in Harare in 2007.
ZEF director Mr Gabriel Shumba escaped Zimbabwe after he was allegedly tortured by police for his work as a human rights lawyer.
“If you look at the international trends and see how many people have been arrested for example, over the Rwanda genocide, this judgement will send shivers across Zimbabwe,” Mr Shumba said.
The ruling is likely to give South African President Jacob Zuma a headache as Zanu-PF already accuses him of bias in his mediation role in Zimbabwe.
President Zuma’s government has also refused to release a report compiled by South African judges for his predecessor Mr Thabo Mbeki on political violence in Zimbabwe.
He was appointed by the Southern African Development Community to mediate in the Zimbabwean crisis.