BY MOSES MATENGA/RICHARD MUPONDE
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s decision to assent to a host of controversial constitutional amendments has seen him starting a war on many battle fronts amid a looming fierce legal tussle over the changes to the supreme law.
Mnangagwa on Friday swiftly signed Constitutional Amendment No 2 Bill into law, a few days after Zanu PF joined hands with the Douglas Mwonzora-led MDC-T in the Senate to pass the over 20 changes.
Critics say the amendments have created an imperial presidency as the president was given powers to appoint the country’s top judges.
Other far reaching changes include raising the retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.
The clause is set to benefit Chief Justice Luke Malaba, who was due to retire this week when he turns 70.
A clause on running mates in presidential elections has also been scrapped before it could be tested for the first time in the forthcoming 2023 elections.
The scrapping of the running mate clause is said to be an attempt to contain Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is said to have ambitions to take over the top office.
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Mnangagwa is accused of using the amendments to entrench his rule at the expense of democracy.
Two of the country’s top lawyers Tendai Biti and Thabani Mpofu say this week they will challenge the amendments at the Constitutional Court.
“The fight for protection and defence of our constitution has become the defining fight of the present,” Biti said.
“There will be a floodgate of litigation, which ought to be complemented by peaceful civic action.”
On Friday members of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition convened an emergency meeting in Harare where they resolved to fight back.
Musa Kika, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director, told The Standard that civil society organisations (CSOs) were ready to confront the government over the amendments.
“Lobby and advocacy must continue,” Kika said.
“The Bill was passed unprocedurally and unconstitutionally, and CSOs are challenging that in the courts.
“Substantively, the Bill is heavily flawed, and citizens’ voices must continue to voice their concerns.
“The government must have no doubt that they have taken an anti-people stance.”
ZimRights director Dzikamai Bere said CSOs had launched a petition against the amendments and encouraged Malaba to reject moves to extend his term of office.
“It’s a poisoned chalice. Like all good judges, the chief justice is encouraged to turn this gift down. Meanwhile, people must sign the petition,” Bere said.
As of yesterday, at least 7 000 people had signed the online petition that was launched on Thursday evening with a target of 75 000 signatures.
The mainstream opposition MDC Alliance said it was mobilising its supporters to challenge the amendments.
“As highlighted by president Nelson Chamisa, the citizens must converge to fight this and all other hallmarks of autocracy,” the party’s secretary for constitutional and parliamentary affairs, Kucaca Phulu, said.
United Kingdom-based constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa said Zimbabwe was now slowly sliding back to a “constitutionalised authoritarian regime”.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba, however, defended the amendments and accused those who are opposed to them as pawns of Western countries.
“It met all the requirements of change-by-law, all the requirements of democratic conduct, all the requirements of independent play by the three pillars of the State,” Charamba said on Twitter.
“What we are sure to see them [the West] do is to organise against Amendment Number 2.
“But because they can’t do it openly, they will do it covertly initially, through their well-known pawns here.”
He added: “These cat’s paws will agitate; even goad the authorities to provoke firm state response, which is inevitable and deserved.
“That way, this proximate, responsive development then is made to look, read like it’s causally linked to western response and opposition.
“In reality, they merely will have precipitated an excuse and development behind, which is to pursue their original grievance against the second republic, a grievance they feel so outsmarted to present directly.
“We are headed that way and all actors must keep this in mind going forward.”