Candid Comment: Judiciary not Beyond Criticism

THIS week High Court Judge-President Rita Makarau lambasted some legal practitioners who she says criticised the judiciary in foreign media.

No particular story or legal practitioner was mentioned but those who have been following the human rights abuse cases in Zimbabwe, and lawyers who have braved state intimidation to stand with the victimised, can easily put some faces to the legal practitioners concerned.

Zimbabwe is not living in normal times and the Judge-President and others in the judiciary cannot pretend otherwise.

Zimbabweans from all walks of life have been victims of state thuggery and the judiciary has been complicit in this by failing to invoke legal protection when asked to do so.

Many in civic society, the opposition and indeed many voices critical of the government of President Mugabe cannot say they have received justice in Zimbabwe. Any criticism of the judiciary is thus on the basis of its failure to dispense justice.

The judiciary has been willing tools in the circus of phantom treason charges and dozens of conspiracy theories of Zanu PF in which individuals — who are invariably found innocent at the end of the day — have been subjected to the most inhuman treatment.

If not willingly consenting to the enforcement of the repressive measures of Zanu PF, one can conjecture that the judiciary is itself a victim of Zanu PF — fearful of what might happen to them.

One cannot but relate the composition and character of the current judiciary to the events leading to the resignation of Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, followed by many other senior judges.

Earlier there was the desecration of the High Court by war veterans who danced on top of court desks and chairs during the inquiry into the looting of the war veterans fund.

When senior Zanu PF and government figures say they will defy the courts should they not like their rulings, the judiciary has remained silent.

The judiciary in Zimbabwe has undergone major changes in which one finds it difficult to say the citizens are being served. In fact the ruling elite has created its own judiciary to serve its interests.

It is therefore proper, Madam Judge-President, for those disaffected to highlight their concerns. For laypersons like me, there is no way we can know what is happening unless those who interact with the courts speak out against the serious regression in the protection of citizens.

In this regard the judiciary is not being undermined when people criticise it but is in fact being called upon to respect and adhere to its constitutional duty, which is the upholding of the law, and more importantly the protection of citizens from arbitrary arrest and detention.

That is all that the judiciary is being asked to do. Citizens of Zimbabwe now realise that once Zanu PF decides you are going to suffer there is nothing you can do, and more frighteningly there is little the judiciary is prepared to do.

Many cases abound where the judiciary has failed in this regard. In looking at the current crisis in Zimbabwe we also need to mention that the judiciary is inherently compromised by its almost parasitic reliance on the executive for handouts and survival.

How many judges double as farmers and other dealmakers? Who buys cars for judges and under what legal provisions?

All these issues are not lost on citizens. The same questions I am sure were asked by citizens who lived under the Smith regime and indeed in apartheid South Africa, as to whether they received justice and under what laws? 

Criticism of the judiciary in Zimbabwe is therefore not something that the judiciary can wish away. It is real and if the stories in the media are inconveniencing judges it is well and good.

The lawyers referred to by the Judge-President are perhaps talking to the foreign media because of laws such as Aippa that have decimated the Zimbabwe media. The judiciary upholds the same laws as just and constitutional despite the suffering they cause to the citizens of Zimbabwe.

All this is being played out right in front of our eyes. The call is therefore for the judiciary to stand up and protect the rights of citizens, or be judged harshly by posterity. 

BY RASHWEAT MUKUNDU

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