President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration continues presenting “itself in the worst possible light at home and internationally”, casting any pretence of implementing reforms to the wind, with hopes for a rebounding economy continuing to fade.
According to Ringisai Chikohomero, a research consultant at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) based in Pretoria, South Africa, Mnangagwa had failed to live up to his mantra of a “new dispensation”.
“Attempts to extend the chief justice’s term show a disregard for the judiciary and for fixing the country’s tattered reputation.
“Mnangagwa’s regime continues to present itself in the worst possible light at home and internationally. His government seems to be casting any pretence of reform to the wind. Recent attacks and threats against the judiciary add to the harm already caused by an apparent wilful disregard for the rule of law and property rights,” he said.
Chikohomero said since deposing the now late former president Robert Mugabe in 2017, there has instead been an increased clampdown on civic space as witnessed by arbitrary arrests on journalists and human rights activists.
Last week, New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Moyo was arrested in Harare before being transferred to Bulawayo on charges of illegally facilitating the local media accreditation of two foreign journalists.
Moyo was denied bail Monday and remains in state custody.
“Recent events involving Chief Justice Luke Malaba depict a well-thought-out plan to weaken vital institutions such as the judiciary and fill the courts with judges beholden to the executive. Malaba’s term was supposed to end on his 15 May birthday, as the constitution states that a judge should retire when she or he turns 70.
“Using its majority of seats in Parliament and with the help of a purged opposition, the ruling party fast-tracked a new constitutional amendment in record time. Among others, it sought to extend Malaba’s term past the age limit. But a landmark ruling by three High Court judges that ran through the night and ended in the early hours of Malaba’s birthday ruled against extending his term of office,” Chikohomero added.
He said after realising the courts had blocked government’s plan to extend Malaba’s term, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi spewed vitriol and issued veiled threats against the judges involved.
Ziyambi also accused the High Court judges of being captured by foreign interests and threatened them with unspecified action.
“This was a chilling reminder of the Mugabe years when ministers targeted and abused Anthony Gubbay’s bench with impunity. Back in early 2001, then chief justice Gubbay was harassed by war veterans and Zanu PF members who threatened to invade judges’ homes. This culminated in his forced resignation in March 2001.”
The security research consultant said to cover for Ziyambi’s miscalculated attacks on the judges, Mnangagwa’s office published a press statement a few days later, seemingly in defence of the independence and integrity of the judiciary.
However, he said the statement did little to mask the contempt that both his administration and the Zanu PF party seem to have for human rights and the rule of law.
“Another example of this stance is the government’s 18 May vote against UN General Assembly Resolution A/75/L.82. The resolution calls on states and the international community to prevent and protect citizens against war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.
“With grave crimes dating back to Gukurahundi in the 1980s still unresolved, Zimbabwe’s vote shows a lack of reform and remorse and no intention to align with international precepts on human rights and human security.
“These decisions undermine any chance of citizens and international investors gaining confidence in the government. Zimbabwe has for over two decades developed a reputation for being anti-constitutionalism and the rule of law. It also has a history of the state ignoring court rulings, especially on matters of property rights and human rights. For such a country, appearances are critical.”
Chikohomero said Ziyambi’s attacks on the judges and the plot to fast-track a constitutional amendment to benefit a sitting chief justice called into question the government’s intention to strengthen the judiciary as a robust bench is pivotal to rebuilding the economy.
“The private sector and international investors, in particular, need to know that the judiciary will make sound judgments based on law and free from intimidation. Most importantly, they must be assured that the courts’ rulings will be respected and enforced.
Zimbabwe has a long way to go to convince its citizens and the world that a former pariah state is on the path to progressive reform. After three years in office, the current administration continues to score own goals and squander any goodwill received after the military-assisted transition of November 2017,” he added.
Chikohomero said Mnangagwa’s actions had resulted in Zimbabwe missing opportunities to set itself on a genuine path of reform.
“With these actions, any hope for a rebounding economy and full integration into the international community continues to fade.”