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SADC : Open Letter to the Ministers of Justice in Southern Africa

“The time is always ripe to do right”

Dear Honourable Ministers of Justice,

I humbly submit this letter to you at a time when our region is at peace and when hope for a better future  is  flowering  in  all  our  countries.  The  people  of  our  region,  for  centuries  the  victims  of  violence, oppression and exploitation, are standing in this the 21st Century as global citizens ready and  willing  to  enjoy  the  fruits  of  their  labour.  We  stand  together  at  the  door  of  a  new  and  prosperous age.

Permit  me  to  acknowledge  your  efforts,  individually  and  collectively,  which  have  contributed  significantly to our common and shared optimism for Southern Africa and the Southern African Development Community.

Yet we know that the greatest storms can erupt without a cloud in the sky.

As a representative of civil society in our region, I must warn you Honourable Ministers that a storm is brewing for our region. The clouds of injustice are gathering at the very moment we, and indeed our  continent,  are  at  an  historic  crossroads:  one  road  leads  to  lasting  peace  and  sustained  development, the other to authoritarian “democracy” and unsustainable greed by few at the expense of the many.


I find myself compelled, Honourable Ministers, to address this letter to you and the people of our region on a most critical matter of justice and its institution in our region – the SADC Tribunal.

You will recall that the SADC Tribunal was established under Article 16 of the Treaty of SADC to advance and ensure the rule of law. The SADC Tribunal and its corresponding Protocol are among the  central  institutions  and  mechanisms  that  advance  regional  integration  and  development.  According to article 16 of the SADC Treaty the Tribunal’s main mandate is to interpret the provision of the Treaty and subsidiary instruments and to adjudicate upon such disputes as may be referred to it. Its jurisdiction has been outlined in detail in Article 15 of the Protocol. Therein it is specified that the  scope  of  the  Tribunal’s  jurisdiction  was  to  hear  and  adjudicate  on  disputes  between  states,  between natural or legal persons and States once the natural and legal person has exhausted the legal remedies available at national level.

Unfortunately, the SADC Heads of State and Government suspended the Tribunal at its Summit in 2010, agreeing at that time to complete a review process of its role, function and terms of reference within  six  months.  Four  painful  years  have  passed,  in  which  time  the  Tribunal  has  remained  suspended and effectively rendered defunct.

The  SADC  Treaty  is  the  legal  instrument  which  binds  us  all  in  this  region.  It  is  also  a  statement  of  intent, a visionary document outlining the responsibilities and duties of governments in the region towards  each  other  and  towards  our  people.  It  is  a  commitment  to  “enhance  the  standard  and  quality of life of the people” in Southern Africa, including a respect for human rights and dignity.

As a passionate and eager observer of the region and its institutions, I have come to the conclusion that your efforts over the past four years seem to have been directed in the opposite direction of those set out in the SADC Treaty. It is now apparent that a new draft Protocol governing the scope and operations of the Tribunal will limit its application to disputes between Member States of SADC. The intention and consequence of such will be to prohibit citizens from accessing the SADC Tribunal.

A bitter injustice Honourable Ministers is being brewed!

Honourable Ministers your actions and those of the Heads of State and Government in SADC caused us great alarm and grave concern. Despite our best efforts and those of highly regarded professional bodies, it seems that the voice of the people and citizens will not be heard by you. It is obvious that your actions undermine the rule of law and subvert the principles of justice, as well the spirit and intent of the SADC Treaty. As Africans we have fought and died for our freedoms. We know that the light  of  freedom  must  burn  most  brightly  for  the  one  without  dignity,  without  material  power  or  political influence.

Our  system  of  governance  must  not  be  constructed  like  a  dam  wall  of  laws  which  frustrate  the  aspirations and desires of our people. When the storm comes in the flood of anger borne of injustices,  large  and  small,  which  can  no  longer  be  endured,  the  dam  of  “law”  will  burst  to  nothingness. Let me state this clearly: the people will not submit to a “legal” system which is unjust!

As civil society we are mindful of the words of Halie Selaise:

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”

It is my duty to speak out in the face of the miscarriage which you have been directed to carry, and are  consequently  preparing  for  our  people.  It  is  my  duty  to  defend  SADC  from  those,  within  and  without our region, who seek to undermine it.

As late President Nelson Mandela said: “the time is always ripe to do the right thing”

It is my duty to call your attention to this humble, and yet incontrovertible fact and appeal to you to use your time wisely. Honourable Ministers please heed our call:

Resist the temptation to derail our region! Resist the folly of plunging us into an abyss of the rulers’ law! Resist the desire to be complicit in injustice! Rise to a greater cause and plant your feet firmly on the side of history, justice, freedom, peace and equality. Let the 21st Century record your name on the wall  of  heroes  who  gave  all  the  people  the  gift  of  permanent  peace  held  safe  in  the  arms  of  permanent justice!

We call on you, quite simply, to do the right thing. We assure you of our collective support and our unstinting  determination  to  help  birth  a  new  and  untarnished  Regional  Court  of  Justice,  a  beacon  and custodian of justice in Southern Africa! In this regard Honourable Ministers, I must implore you to take the following actions:

  • In  the  first  instance  it  is  vital  that  you  delay  the  decision  on  the  revision  of  the  Protocol governing the Tribunal.
  • We  call  on  you  to  refer  the  matter  for  wider  consultation  with  non-­?state  actors  and  the SADC Parliamentary Forum, amongst others.
  • I urge you to submit your proposal for discussion with SADC citizens to arrive at a decision, which matches the aspirations of all our people and our respective governments.

In  our  collective  wisdom  we  can  surely  break  this  impasse  and  craft  a  legal  instrument  and  institution which is befitting our history and our aspirations!
Yours in the Struggle for Justice for All!


A luta Continua

Mr Boichoko A. Ditlhake
Executive Director SADC-­?CNGO


Ufulu means 'Freedom' or unschackled - Ufulu is a reporter at the Maravi Post since Inception. He has a Degree in Computer Science and has reported on Technical and development issues.
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