AS the acrimonious debate over the appointment of the new chief justice rages on amid fierce clashes sparked by Zanu PF’s factional wars, and with the country on its knees as the economy continues to nosedive, Zimbabwe Independent political reporter Elias Mambo (EM) met Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa (ED, pictured) for an interview on these and other issues. Mnangagwa also spoke about the proposed amendment of the constitution, factionalism in the ruling Zanu PF and command agriculture. Below are excerpts of the interview:
EM: Honourable VP, the topical issue at the moment is the appointment of a new chief justice and the proposed constitutional amendment to deal with this. Can you take us through the process?
ED: This situation came about after an anomaly was noted in the current constitution. The head of state, His Excellency President Robert Mugabe, who happens to be a lawyer also, called me and mandated me to correct that anomaly as the Justice minister. The issue in question is a situation where junior members of the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) are tasked to interview their own boss, who in this case is the new chief justice. The president said “no, that is not possible”, so the assignment was to correct that and we have initiated the process. This is a constitutional crisis that we were going to encounter whether now or in the near future. We did not agree with this during the constitution-making process, but we compromised for the sake of progress.
EM: How will the appointment of the chief justice be done if the constitutional amendment sails through?
ED: The president will nominate three judges whose names will be submitted to the JSC. The role of the JSC would be to vet and scrutinise the suitability of each of the three judges. The JSC will then submit a report of their findings to the head of state who will then appoint one of the three as the new chief justice.
EM: So why is there all this chaos which has led to a fierce court case?
ED: I cannot answer that. The best people to respond to that are those going to the courts. Our mandate as the Justice ministry is very clear and we are doing just that as directed by the head of state.
EM: But you were also cited as a respondent in (University of Zimbabwe student) Romeo Zibani’s case and you deposed your affidavit.
ED: That is true. I did write my affidavit to the effect that what he is raising in his appeal may be correct that Justice Vernanda Ziyambi who was one of the three judges of the Constitutional and Supreme courts did not take an oath of office. If a judge reaches retirement age, which is 70 years, he or she can be reappointed and, as per the constitutional requirement, the judge should take a new oath of office. If the judge has been recalled to finish outstanding cases which he/she did not finish before the retirement age, then there is no need for another oath of office.
EM: Did she take an oath of office?
ED: The oath is not done in privacy. The chief justice presides over it and there should be documentation which should be availed not only to the minister of Justice but to the head of state as well.
EM: Critics claim your affidavit which supports Zibani’s cause shows you have a vested interest and maybe also supporting or funding him. What is your comment?
ED: To what effect? In any case, Zibani’s issue came well after the ministry had initiated the amendment process. In my affidavit I made it clear that I will respect the court’s decision on the matter. Do we need to fund a person to correct a constitutional anomaly?
EM: What about the interviews that were done? What will happen now in terms of that process?
ED: The JSC acted constitutionally in conducting the interviews. Using the current constitution they were very correct, but when they were ordered to stop the interviews they were also supposed to stop. We as Justice ministry did not interfere with the interviews, but we also initiated amendment proposals at the same time as directed by the president.
The names of the candidates were handed over to the president and I also have the letter to that effect. But there are no three required names on the short-list because the other candidate (Justice Paddington Garwe) did not surpass the benchmark. On the other hand, consultations are underway for the amendments so it will be up to the head of state to choose which process to use to appoint the chief justice.
EM: But some critics say you are involved because you have a preferred candidate. What is your take?
ED: It is them who are resisting the process who should be having their preferred candidate. I have no role in appointing the chief justice. It is the president’s mandate to nominate and it is the JSC’s duty to vet and scrutinise and give a report back to the president. So how do I influence the choice in such a process?
EM: On a different note, you are the face of command agriculture; we have read conflicting statements on the targeted yield. Will you meet the target?
ED: We are surely going to surpass our target of two million metric tonnes. Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has already revised this year’s economic growth rate from 1,7% to 3,7% amid prospects of a bumper harvest. We have been spending over US$200 million on the importation of maize and this has had a negative effect on our economy. When we began this project we had a target of two million metric tonnes, but the assessment that we have done shows that we may surpass three million metric tonnes.
EM: But we have also heard contradicting statements over bonuses, indigenisation and currently the ongoing chief justice appointment process. Surprisingly, these statements are issued by cabinet ministers. What is the problem; why are cabinet ministers singing from different hymn books when there should be collective responsibility?
ED: That is the least of my worries. It is true as government we should have collective responsibility over key policies. Those who issue or oppose government policies in public spaces after having debated them in cabinet do so for their own reasons. We have a principal, the president, who chairs cabinet and it is up to him to deal with such issues.
EM: Turning to factionalism that is engulfing Zanu PF, a lot has been said about you and succession-related factionalism. Are you leading a faction?
ED: That is nonsense. I have been with the president for more than 50 years and that should tell you and everyone else about my principles. I am a soldier and soldiers obey commands and that has been my life.
Those who go about saying a lot of lies are the very people who keep plotting against the president. Some have a record of inconsistency which is well-known. I have never betrayed the president and Zanu PF. I have been the president’s chief elections officer over the years.
I was with him in prison … my prison number is 841/66 … and the president has been our pillar of support since the prison days until today. Who can betray such a man? We know they think they can create a wedge between me and the president, but they will never succeed. Zanu PF will remain stronger in the hands of our president.