White farmers evicted from their land in Zimbabwe won a symbolic victory Monday when a government-owned house in Cape Town was sold to pay compensation, a lawyer involved in the case said.
The auction of the house, which went for 3.76 million rand ($282,000), was the final step in a complicated case that has been fought through the South African courts for years by a group of Zimbabwean farmers.
But it is unlikely that the farmers will see any of the cash, which will mainly go to cover court costs, said lawyer Willie Spies.
If anything is left over, German bank group KFW Bank Gruppe, which joined the legal action and is believed to be owed tens of millions of dollars by President Robert Mugabe's government, would take the lion's share, he said.
"This is a symbolic victory and we will pursue other commercial properties owned by Zimbabwe," said Spies, who represented the farmers through AfriForum, a mainly white civil rights group in South Africa.
Zimbabwe government representatives attended the auction, but did not bid, he said.
The case began with a ruling in 2008 by a tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which found that Zimbabwe had wrongly taken land from a group of nearly 80 farmers who brought the case, saying they had been targeted due to their race.
The tribunal, which was later disbanded, ruled that they should be compensated.
Zimbabwe rejected the verdict, but a South African court ruled that it could be applied locally as South Africa was a member of SADC.
Zimbabwe fought the judgement through to South Africa's Constitutional Court, which confirmed in a landmark judgement in 2013 that the farmers could sue in South African courts for compensation and attach Zimbabwegovernment assets in the country.
Three other Zimbabwean properties targeted by AfriForum were declared to be covered by diplomatic immunity, while the Cape Town house had been rented out commercially and was therefore liable to seizure, Spies said.
"AfriForum regards its litigation against the Zimbabwe government as a civil sanction campaign against the ongoing and systemic abuse of human rights and the rule of law, and the destruction of land ownership in Zimbabwe," the group said in a statement.
Mugabe's land reforms, launched in 2000 and accompanied by violent evictions of thousands of white farmers, were aimed at redistributing farms to landless blacks.
But critics say they mostly benefitted the veteran leader's cronies, led to a devastating drop in agricultural production and crippled the economy.