FIERCE clashes among ministers rocked cabinet chaired by President Robert Mugabe on Monday as the succession-driven fight over who will replace outgoing Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku reaches boiling point.
Informed insiders told the Zimbabwe Independent that a ferocious row erupted in cabinet — held on Monday instead of the usual Tuesday as there was a Zanu PF politburo meeting on Tuesday — after Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who also oversees the Justice ministry, had presented principles on the proposed Bill to amend Section 180 of the new constitution to remove the public selection process of judges by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to allow the president to arbitrarily appoint the head of the judiciary.
Mnangagwa’s pitch is that “it is proposed by this amendment that the office of Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice and Judge President of the High Court be appointed by the President after consultation with the JSC and that the office of Senior Judge of the Labour Court and the Administrative Court be appointed by the Chief Justice”.
Informed sources said Mnangagwa presented the principles of the proposed Bill, saying it was important to amend the constitution — approved by over three million voters in 2013 — as Section 180 to have a democratic process of selecting judges was inserted by the opposition MDC-T and its allies, not Zanu PF.
After Mnangagwa’s presentation, a blazing debate broke out with ministers aligned to the Zanu PF’s rival G40 faction, led by Jonathan Moyo, doing a demolition job on the principles. G40 is engaged in a do-or-die battle for the heart and soul of Zanu PF and its leadership with Mnangagwa’s faction.
“What happened was that Mnangagwa presented his principles on the proposed Bill.
After that fierce debate followed with Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere and Patrick Zhuwao attacking the principles as politically opportunistic and self-serving,” a source said.
“They also argued and asked why now as other judges since 2013 have been selected using the same process and there were no issues raised by Mnangagwa and his allies. “Moyo, Kasukuwere and Zhuwao, who are students of law, argued that the law is the law until it is changed. They said the JSC process must proceed as it was done in terms of the law and the constitutional amendment must not interfere with that process. They further indicated that since the matter is now before the Supreme Court on appeal, due process must be allowed to unfold and the rule of law must prevail in settling the issue.”
Another source added: “Following the debate, Mnangagwa’s principles got huge backing from his table-banging ministerial allies. Others only gave it a silent and cold nod. Difficult and probing legal questions linger over the issue, and more fights lie ahead in parliament over it.
“Mnangagwa’s supporters said the principles must go ahead as the objections were coming from law students who were free to demonstrate and exhibit their newly-acquired legal knowledge in parliament when a Bill on that comes through.
“Moyo reminded some of his colleagues that they held dubious degrees and fake PhDs from questionable institutions after he was miffed by being told that he was debating as a law student, a remark he rejected saying he was talking as a minister.”
Sources said Mnangagwa yesterday tried but failed to convene a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Legislation to consider a draft bill after colleagues — except Patrick Chinamasa and Prisca Mupfumira — did not turn up for the gathering. The clashes come as the race to succeed Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku who is retiring in February next year hots up amid growing factional infighting.
The Mnangagwa faction, which has strong military backing, reportedly prefers Judge President George Chiweshe to succeed Chidyausiku. Justice Chiweshe is a war veteran and a former military judge. The G40 faction is said to prefer Justice Rita Makarau.
The JSC has been running the process of selecting Chidyausiku’s successor with Chiweshe, Makarau, Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba and Justice Paddington Garwe having been shortlisted. Makarau, Malaba and Garwe were interviewed for the position on Monday, while Chiweshe was absent, citing a court application by a law student Romeo Taombera Zibani which sought to stop the process.
Legal expert Alex Magaisa, who was involved in the new constitution drafting, said claims that Section 180 is an MDC-T creation were just a myth.
“The idea of amending Section 180 suggests the authoritarian streak of its authors. It is all about centralisation of power in the office of the president,” Magaisa said.
“There is nothing progressive about it. They want to change a progressive clause which promotes openness, transparency and has some checks and balances. Authors of its amendment want to take Zimbabwe back to a dark era of opaque and secretive government. It’s unconscionable and must be resisted by all progressive forces.
“If it goes through, there will surely be many more such changes in the near future and Zimbabwe will be in a worse state.”