JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – White farmers whose land was seized under Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s land reforms have claimed a house owned by his government in South Africa, their lawyer said Tuesday.

The 2.5-million-rand (338,000-dollar, 250,000-euro) house in the Cape Town suburb of Kenilworth was attached by the sheriff’s office, meaning it could now be auctioned off by the farmers.

Their lawyer Willie Spies said the seizure was not meant to compensate the farmers for their land, but to cover their legal costs.

“We see it as a way to send out a message to show the Zimbabwean government that there are certain consequences to their abuse of human rights,” he said, according to the Sapa news agency.

“This is a process aimed at helping all the people of Zimbabwe in a way that creates hope and shows that it is possible for civil society to institute civil sanctions against a regime that does not help its people,” he said.

The seize of the house stems from a November 2008 verdict by the tribunal of the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC), which found that Zimbabwe had wrongly taken land from nearly 80 farmers, saying they had been targeted because of their race.

Zimbabwe has rejected the verdict, but a South African court last month ruled that the verdict should be applied locally.

Three other properties in Cape Town have been identified for possible seizure, Spies said.

The Kenilworth home was not protected by diplomatic immunity because the property was being rented out, making it a commercial property, Spies said.

Mugabe launched the land reforms a decade ago, aiming to correct a colonial legacy that left whites owning most of the best farmland.

But the chaotic campaign was marred by deadly political violence and undermined the farm-based economy, leaving the country dependent on international food aid.