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Judicial independence comes under scrutiny


By Wisdom Mumera

The independence of the judiciary system in Zimbabwe will come under increased scrutiny when MDC Alliance Presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa files his election results challenge at the Constitutional Court this week.

According to results released by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC), Zanu PF candidate Emmerson Mnangagwa won the election with 50.8 percent against Chamisa’s 44.3 percent.

However, Chamisa is contesting the result and that of 20 Parliamentary seats arguing that there was manipulation of figures and processes by ZEC hence the challenge.

The legal challenge will, however, bring all the focus and attention to the country’s judiciary which in the past has been accused of being captured by Zanu PF to arm-twist political opponents and provide thin veneers of justification to illegal manoeuvres.

In 2002 MDC then under the late leader Morgan Tsvangirai filed a court application challenging the Presidential results but the case never saw the light of the day.

In an interview, lawyer and political analyst Kennedy Masiye said the court challenge by the MDC Alliance provides the judiciary system with an opportunity to redeem itself from past perceptions and paint a picture of its impartiality, especially under the new dispensation.

“Judicial independence has been an issue in Zimbabwe for a very long time and some of the courts have been viewed with suspicion whenever high profile political cases have been adjudicated.

“In this matter, the suspicion never gets better with the fact that for almost 5 years the President Emerson Mnangagwa held a unique position as Vice President and the Minister of Justice in which the Judiciary falls under.

Masiye, however, added that it is also important to await the court proceedings and have a judgment after.

“As lawyers, we always hope for the best judicial administration of cases and believe that the courts are independent and are subject only to the Constitution and the law, which they must apply impartially, expeditiously and without fear or favour.

“So basically the independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the courts are central to the rule of law and democratic governance which we highly crave for in Zimbabwe right now,” he said.

The selection of judges, where they are shortlisted by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) but picked by the President has also added to the uneasiness about the judiciary’s impartiality in dealing with cases involving the executive and against political opponents.

This compromised appointment of judges by the President has led to some opposition politicians and legal experts questioning and dismissing some judgments as being politically motivated, leading to a general lack of trust in the court system.

Various top Zimbabwean businessmen and politicians such as Strive Masiyiwa, Mutumwa Mawere, Jonathan Moyo, Patrick Zhuwao and Ray Kaukonde are currently living outside the country owing to lack of trust in the country’s judiciary system’s ability to deliver impartial judgments.

Some members of the Constitutional Court judges have previously dabbled with the executive with the likes of Judge George Chiweshe being the ZEC chairperson during the infamous 2008 elections when results were delayed illegally, whilst Judge Rita Makarau was the predecessor to current ZEC chairperson Priscilla Chigumba.

Constitutional Court is the highest court in the country and when one loses a case in this court there is no room for appeal.

However, Nelson Chamisa’s legal team was bullish the last time they held a press conference adding that they are confident of victory as they have “overwhelmingly embarrassing evidence” of rigging.

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Daniel Chigundu

Daniel Chigundu is the news editor for OpenParlyZW an online platform that covers Parliament of Zimbabwe activities using social media (Twitter and Facebook). He is currently the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Parliamentary Journalists Forum and a board member of Digital Communication Network.

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