THREE candidates have emerged in the race to succeed Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku who will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 years in February 2017, although there are underhand moves to extent his tenure, judicial sources say.
By Elias Mambo
The sources say the three are Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, Judge President of the High Court Justice George Chiweshe and Justice Rita Makarau, who doubles as the secretary of the Judiciary Services Commission and the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec).
According to chapter 8 section 186 of the constitution: “Judges of the Constitutional Court are appointed for a non-renewable term of not more than fifteen years and they must retire earlier if they reach the age of seventy years.”
Chidyausiku was born on February 23 1947. He will, therefore, turn 70 in February next year, ending his tenure in terms of the country’s laws.
The constitution states that the country’s judges must retire at 65 years, but if they can demonstrate good mental and physical health as certified by a medical doctor, they can stay on until they are 70 years old. Thereafter no extension is possible.
Although Justice Malaba is supposed to be the natural successor given his position as deputy chief justice and the fact that he is an experienced and competent judge, he could be overlooked for political and even regional considerations as senior government officials, including President Robert Mugabe, are said to be in favour of the “politically correct” Justice Chiweshe.
The new constitution requires that state institutions must be representative and reflect Zimbabwe’s diversity.
Chiweshe is a retired brigadier-general who was appointed to the bench in 2001. During his time in the army, he was also responsible for the military tribunals.
He is a Zanu PF loyalist and a war veteran.
Chiweshe was Zec chairman between 2005 and 2008. He presided over the sham 2008 elections where Zec failed to release presidential election results for a month, amid allegations that the commission tampered with figures to rescue Mugabe and Zanu PF from defeat.
Mugabe lost the first round of elections to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai who, however, officially failed to get the required 50 plus one vote to be declared president prompting a runoff. Mugabe claimed victory of the run-off after Tsvangirai pulled out of the race citing widespread violence and intimidation of his supporters.
Makarau is also said to be keen on returning to the bench and is eyeing the job. She is reportedly not too keen to extend her stay at Zec, according to sources.
Makarau is widely regarded a sound jurist, who made history by becoming Zimbabwe’s first female judge president in 2006.
University of Kent law lecturer Alex Magaisa said the person to succeed Chidyausiku is likely to be the one who is capable of serving the interests of Zanu PF.
“What is certain is that the next chief justice will be a man or woman whose philosophy is in sync with the philosophy of the Zanu PF establishment,” said Magaisa.
“He or she will be a person who can be trusted to safeguard interests of the establishment and, more specifically, someone who will not be a threat to what are regarded as the gains of the land revolution.”