Justice not served by court system <

JUSTICE delayed is justice denied, it is said. And in the case of Zimbabwe’s recent electoral record that has certainly proved to be the case. The courts have dragged their heels in hearing cases that are of an urgent nature: the balance of political power depends upon their outcome.

Following the June 2000 parliamentary poll, the MDC submitted that in 39 of the 62 seats which Zanu PF won there had been either gross irregularities in the conduct of the poll or coercion of voters.

The MDC challenged these outcomes in the High Court. By this week only 13 of those cases have been heard. Of those heard, seven saw rulings in favour of the MDC. Zanu PF has appealed against these rulings which has had the effect of suspending the judgements. Zanu PF MPs therefore continue to sit for the seven seats which the High Court has found were secured through improper means. That includes Makoni East where former CIO officer Shadreck Chipanga had been declared the winner until this week’s verdict. Chipanga denies any corrupt or illegal practices.

Not a single appeal has been heard, thus leaving Zanu PF with its booty of possibly stolen seats three years after the poll. While 20 appointed members of the House of Assembly would still provide the government with a built-in majority, the MDC’s attainment of a majority of the elected seats would have given it the satisfaction of knowing it was the real winner of the 2000 poll.

Indeed, with the court verdicts so far, it was the winner of the 2000 poll. But the popular will has been thwarted by a court system that instead of fulfilling its obligation to uphold democratic rights has frustrated them.

In a sense the judiciary now stands between the MDC and its electoral entitlement. Meanwhile, a ruling party that is unable to maintain itself in office except by coercion and manipulation clings to power with devastating impact upon the nation’s fortunes.

Precisely the same problem besets the outcome of the presidential poll. The MDC will argue in its 170-page High Court petition when the hearing opens on November 3 that there was state-directed violence, illegal intervention by military officers, ballot-rigging and other irregularities. The election did not accord with provisions of either the constitution or the Electoral Act, it will be shown.

Appointment of members of the Electoral Supervisory Commission was not gazetted, as is required by law, and ministers were able to appoint staff to the ESC irrespective of whether it had requested them to do so. Further, arbitrary amendments to the Electoral Act in the days before the poll contravened a constitutional requirement that only parliament can make electoral laws.

On Wednesday, a High Court judge ruled that neither the Registrar-General who is responsible for running elections nor the Minister of Justice whose job it is to prepare Statutory Instruments and other orders under the Presidential Powers Act should be cited as respondents in the case.

The glaring irregularities in the conduct of the March 2002 presidential poll were cited in an urgent application to the Supreme Court on the eve of the poll. But Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku reserved judgement. The following month he ruled that MDC candidate Morgan Tsvangirai had no locus standi in the matter, thus relieving the court of the responsibility of hearing the case.

Justice Sandura, in a minority opinion, argued that as a candidate, Tsvangirai obviously did have locus standi.

At the time new judges were appointed in 2001, ministers boasted that they would be more responsive to the state’s needs.

The government has certainly benefited in electoral terms from political violence and partisan conduct which has gone unchallenged because of delays in court hearings. The present parliament is now half way through its political lifespan. President Mugabe is well into his third term.

While the country has the fastest shrinking GDP in the world and record levels of poverty and unemployment, citizens are unable to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and expression. Gatherings of more than two people deemed political are barred, unwarranted force is used against any group of people assembling, as we saw on Wednesday, and newspapers are closed under legislation that is clearly unconstitutional.

The case for independent courts and judges willing to uphold clearly laid-down rights is thus incontrovertible, the correlation between justice and governance unarguable.

When a future generation of Zimbabweans look back on these dark times, they will surely query whether justice was in fact done.

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