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Page last updated at 17:42 GMT, Tuesday, 30 March 2010 18:42 UK

White Zimbabwe farmers win South Africa property

A farmer surveys damage to his farmhouse north of Harare in 2001
Most white farmers lost their land in the violent land reform

South African authorities have handed the ownership documents of a Cape Town house belonging to Zimbabwe's government to some Zimbabwean farmers.

The white farmers want compensation for the seizure of their land.

The government has two months to come up with money for legal fees incurred by the farmers in their compensation claim case or the house will be sold.

Last week, a South African court agreed with a regional court ruling that the violent land grabs were unlawful.

The ruling paved the way for farmers who lost property to file for compensation in South African courts.

Almost all white-owned land in Zimbabwe has been seized in the past 10 years.

Jets vulnerable

A sheriff of the court served notices on the residents of one of four Zimbabwean government-owned properties in Cape Town said to be worth millions of dollars.

"The people occupying the house told us that they are leasing it from the Zimbabwe government," the farmers' lawyer Willie Spies told the BBC.

"This makes this a commercial property which is therefore not protected by diplomatic immunity," he said.

He said the handing over of the ownership documents was a more of a symbolic gesture as the money from any auction would be used for legal fees.

But he said it showed it was possible to enforce legal principles against the Zimbabwean government in South Africa.

The BBC's Mohammed Allie in Cape Town says other non-diplomatic assets such as Air Zimbabwe jets are also vulnerable to be seized for compensation for lost farms.

In 2008, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) court ruled that the group of more than 70 Zimbabwean farmers should be allowed to return to their farms unhindered.

Earlier this year, a Zimbabwe court rejected the farmers' attempt to enforce the Sadc tribunal's decision.

"Four hundred and 28 South African farmers, who owned farms in Zimbabwe were also victims of the land reform, they too are exploring means of compensation," Mr Spies said.

Despite the formation of a unity government in Zimbabwe a year ago, white farmers are still facing harassment.

Land reform is one of President Robert Mugabe's central policies but his critics say it has helped destroy the country's economy.

Under colonial rule, white farmers seized much of Zimbabwe's best land, forcing black farmers to less fertile areas.

Reversing this was one of the reasons for Zimbabweans taking up arms in the 1970s to end white minority rule.



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