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Spotlight on graft courts as doubts linger

By Brenna Matendere

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has opened three more anti-corruption courts after President Emmerson Mnangagwa expressed displeasure over the slow pace of graft prosecutions.

Mnangagwa made the fight against corruption his rallying cry after wresting power from his predecessor and mentor, Robert Mugabe, in a military-assisted takeover in November 2017 and his administration set up the specialised courts to try suspects accused of graft.

But his critics accused him of being half-hearted in his anti-corruption campaign that saw mainly his political foes being tried and one former Cabinet minister, Samuel Undenge, being convicted.

Mnangagwa was also accused of failing to arrest growing corruption in the public sector.

In late April this year, The Standard, working in collaboration with Information for Development Trust, a non-profit making media organisation, raised the red flag over the loss of steam in Mnangagwa’s anti-corruption crusade.

The exposé highlighted that the JSC had launched the special anti-corruption courts but only Harare and Bulawayo had such courtrooms.

Five such courts — three at the Harare Magistrates’ Court and two at Bulawayo’s West Commonage Magistrates’ Court — were announced to have started operating under the supervision of the chief magistrate and, below him, 12 magistrates.

Investigations by The Standard showed that prosecution was facing numerous hurdles in the trial of high-profile cases, with the suspects mostly appealing to the High Court on technicalities so as to slow down the delivery of justice.

It was also found out that the new courts were poorly funded while judicial staff was allegedly receiving bribes to frustrate prosecution.

A follow-up investigation revealed that the post-Mugabe establishment had, after the initial exposition of the challenges that the special courts were facing, swiftly set up three more courts in Manicaland, Mutare and Gweru, while the JSC has promised to introduce more in other provinces.

In May, while officially opening the new Labour Court in Harare, Mnangagwa complained that the anti-graft courts were moving too slowly and challenged Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi to ensure that anti-graft prosecutions were brought to speed.

“The minister of Justice, who also chairs the inter-ministerial task-force in Parliament, is relaxing. Don’t relax,” Mnangagwa said at the time.

“I am disappointed that corruption cases are not moving.

“I implore all those who play a mammoth role in dealing with corruption cases to remain steadfast and deal with the cases.”

And speaking at the official opening of the Gweru anti-corruption court three weeks later, Ziyambi told The Standard that his ministry had since scaled up efforts to fight corruption.

“My ministry is alive to the criticism levelled at players in the administration of justice for lack of progress in the trial of corruption cases in the courts,” he said.

“I wish to assure Zimbabweans that the teething challenges and the bottlenecks which existed have been dealt with.

“As a result, progress in that regard will become apparent in the short-term.”

Ziyambi called on judicial institutions and law enforcement agencies to keep abreast of sophisticated criminal activities and stay ahead of crime syndicates which thrived on graft.

“It is necessary for us to design strategies which ensure that law enforcement agencies and judicial institutions stay ahead of the criminal syndicates,” he said.

“Criminals, particularly those who thrive on corruption, use sophisticated means to achieve their objectives.”

Midlands Provincial Affairs minister Larry Mavhima said his province was “awash with corruption-related cases reported through the media” and hoped “to read of results of some of the outstanding corruption-related cases”.

Obert Chinhamo, the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa director, applauded the new courts, but said government must do more to ensure an effective fight against corruption.

“These efforts should be applauded,” he said.

“However, to be effective, anti-corruption courts should be given well-trained prosecutors and magistrates majoring in corruption.”

Harare-based political commentator Rashwet Mukundu said Zimbabwe needed an independent anti-corruption body.

“It is good enough that ED (Mnangagwa) is talking of the need to address corruption, but as we all know this has become a cliché.

“The challenge is on the practicalities and actions that they then take to address the corruption,” he said.

“In the case of Zimbabwe, we do not have an independent anti-corruption body. 

“Recently, we saw the new (Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission) chairperson (Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo) being appointed.

“She is not only a judge, but is related to a senior government official and that in itself brings into question the sincerity of President Mnangagwa in fighting corruption.”

Matanda-Moyo is the wife of Foreign Affairs minister and ex-military general, Sibusiso Moyo, who played an active role in Mugabe’s removal.

“Corruption must be fought in very visible ways and not only by putting in place measures that mitigate against it.

“We still have a long way to go on all fronts. Talk is cheap. We have a deficit in terms of real action,” said Mukundu.

Zimbabwe Community in South Africa chairperson Ngqabutho Mabhena expressed similar sentiments and called on  Mnangagwa to go a step further and launch a lifestyle audit on his ministers, Members of Parliament, top government officials and the ruling Zanu PF party chefs.

“Mnangagwa must be serious in fighting corruption. Just a few days ago, we saw on social media a Zanu PF MP importing a luxurious vehicle and we wonder where he got that money from. Such cases must be investigated,” he said.

Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo recently revealed that the party was worried about rampant corruption and expressed dismay that a few individuals had been convicted by the courts.

Southern Africa director with the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, stressed that the anti-corruption crusade would only be meaningful if there are high-profile investigations, arrests, prosecutions and convictions of senior political figures, including those that are perceived to be close to Mnangagwa.

“There is a strong perception, justifiably so, that corruption is rife in government institutions in Zimbabwe,” he said.

“The government needs to address this through concrete actions, not mere promises that there will be no tolerance to corruption.”

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