CONTROVERSY surrounds yesterday’s swearing-in of new judges to the Supreme Court and High Court, in a development likely to further strain the coalition government.
Justice George Chiweshe,the man who presided over the 2008 flawed elections, was sworn-in as High Court Judge President in appointments that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai only learnt of from journalists, according to his party spokesman.
Mugabe swore-in Rita Makarau as Supreme Court judge. Three new judges, Garainesu Mawadze, Nicholas Mathonsi — brother to MDC M secretary-general Welshman Ncube — and Andrew Mutemawere were also sworn-in as High Court judges. The new High Court judges will work from Bulawayo where there is a huge backlog of cases.
Deputy Justice minister Jessie Majome, a Tsvangirai appointee to government, said the swearing-in ceremony “shocked” her as she was invited to the ceremony at the last minute without any prior consultation or notice.
“I was invited late yesterday (Wednesday) at around 1625hrs by the acting deputy permanent secretary in our ministry and I was surprised to be told so late in the day that there was a ceremony at 10am the following day (Thursday),” said Majome.
She said Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa only informed her of the plans after she asked him.
“He told me after I had asked him because of the rumour I had heard. I had been called by the Sunday Mail and the Standard asking me about that issue so I wanted confirmation of that,” she said. “It was a deliberate decision with clear political implications and contempt of the Global Political Agreement.”
Majome said this was not the first time she was kept in the dark as far as consultation in the ministry was concerned.
“Two weeks ago I was not aware that the Commercial Court was being officially opened. I had to be informed by members of the Law Society who had attended the ceremony.”
In terms of Section 83 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Mugabe is only compelled to consult with the Judicial Service Commission before appointing judges. On the other hand the GPA states that Mugabe should consult PM Tsvangirai and the Cabinet on the appointment of senior government officials. Judges are not part of the executive.
MDC-T spokesman Nelson Chamisa however said the country’s delicate political situation meant Mugabe should have consulted with coalition government partners in matters involving important decisions such as judicial appointments.
He said the swearing-in came as a “slap on their face as the MDC got to know about the swearing-in through the media”.
“It is embarrassing and unreasonable that our principal was not even aware that there was a thing like this. It is a serious demonstration of contempt of the GPA which states that the President shall not do any appointments without consulting the Prime Minister. As a party we will have to look at the latest development and collectively come out with a decision,” he said.
Asked if he was consulted on the latest appointments, a member of the JSC, Sternford Moyo responded: “Majudge api acho (Who are the judges?)
After the Zimbabwe Independent read out the names of the new judges, Moyo said: “First of all it is not professional for anyone to raise a matter like that in the press. I cannot comment on that as a single member of the Commission. A meeting can take place in your absence and it would be wrong to say that you don’t know.”
But it is the appointment of Chiweshe that has particularly raised eyebrows. As head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Chiweshe sat on presidential results for over a month in 2008. Chiweshe’s commission certified as fair the June 28 runoff that was rejected by African leaders and the international community.
It was not possible to get comment from other JSC members by the time of going to press.
Constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said the appointments contradicted Tsvangirai’s claims that the coalition government was working well.
“The appointment is a typical example of Mugabe’s rule,” said Madhuku. “Those kind of appointments have always been done since 1980 with Mugabe not following proper constitutional provision which is just a convenient document to him.”
“Tsvangirai is to blame, he is the one who claims that all is well in the inclusive government.”