President Robert Mugabe’s decision to stick to the law in the appointment of Zimbabwe’s next chief justice in the face of a sinister attempt to change the rules at the 11th hour was a victory for those fighting for the preservation of the rule of law.
Comment: The Standard Editor
Mugabe surprised many last week when he appointed deputy chief justice Luke Malaba as retired chief justice Godfrey Chidyausiku’s successor.
Chidyausiku retired at the end of February amid a political storm triggered by Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s attempts to stall the selection process by initiating the amendment of the new Constitution.
There were attempts late last year to stop public interviews of judges that had expressed interest in the post because a certain candidate favoured by a faction in Zanu PF would not have withstood public scrutiny.
A University of Zimbabwe student Romeo Zibani went to court to try and stop the interviews. Zibani received unexpected support from Mnangagwa in his capacity as Justice minister, but he still lost the case.
To its credit, the Judicial Services Commission was not fazed by the brazen interference by the executive and proceded with the process where Malaba came out tops in interviews that also included respected judicial officers, justices Rita Makarau and Paddington Garwe.
Mnangagwa, claiming that he was carrying out Mugabe’s instructions, also moved with speed to initiate amendments to the Constitution and that process is currently underway.
If the proposed amendments sail through, the president would have the sole right to pick the chief justice, his deputy and the judge president in place of the new system where there is more transparency.
Such a scenario would allow politicians to smuggle in their underqualified cronies in processes that can be easily manipulated.
Therefore, those who voiced opposition to Mnangagwa’s Constitution Amendment (Number 1) Bill have a reason to celebrate but must not be lulled into complacency by Mugabe’s seemingly noble appointment.
Malaba is approaching retirement age and certainly those fighting to manipulate the process lost the battle but not the war.
If Zimbabweans do not fight the proposed amendments to the Constitution, the victory that came with Malaba’s appointment will be in vain.
Four years would not be a long wait for the enemies of the rule of law and with a Constitution that favours their scheme of things, a man of their choice may become Zimbabwe’s next chief justice after Malaba.
Zanu PF enjoys a two thirds majority in Parliament, which makes amending the Constitution an easy task for them but what is encouraging is that the ruling party is bitterly divided over the matter.
There are some who consider the proposed amendments as part of a factional agenda and their voice was critical in the opposition to attempts to change the laid down procedures to appoint the chief justice.
Their resolve to stand for what is right should give defenders of the Constitution the resolve to take on the proverbial Goliath. Indeed, the fight to preserve the rule of law has only begun.
Mugabe must also be persuaded to go further to stop the mutilation of the supreme law.