ONE of the key tenets of a democratic society is the doctrine of separation of powers between the three arms of the state — the executive, legislature and judiciary.
The executive comprises the President, Vice Presidents, ministers and security agencies such as the police and the defence forces while the legislature is made up of the senate and national house of assembly. The judiciary interprets the law and consists of judicial officers and courts. There are two types of courts — superior courts such as the Constitutional Court (Concourt), Supreme Court and the High Court. Lower courts include the magistrates, labour and the administrative courts.
Where the executive exercises overbearing power against the Judiciary, then the government is authoritarian. Precisely, each arm of the state should operate independent of each other to fulfil varying tasks in line with assigned duties and institutions.
For democracy to flourish, each government arm is supposed to stick to its core business and avoid encroaching on other branches. This then can provide conducive grounds for each of the three branches to do checks and balances on the other so that none of these key structures enjoys absolute power. However, recent events where Justice and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi reacted angrily over a High Court judgment which ruled that the extension of former Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s term of office by another five years was invalid shows how Zimbabwe’s democracy is trampled upon by the executive.
Essentially, Ziyambi threatened the judicial officers whom he accused of being on the payroll and aligned to opposition politics. The Law Society Organisation and other civil society organisations have rapped Ziyambi over the reckless utterances.
His attack on the bench was quickly crushed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa who said he accepted the High Court ruling. He said the government respects the independence of the judiciary and “when our courts speak, all Zimbabweans should listen”.
Government has since appealed against the High Court order nullifying Malaba’s term extension. That is the legal route and it’s acceptable unlike the political rant against the bench by Ziyambi, himself a lawyer and Justice minister.
Ziyambi’s threats are reminiscent of the former President Robert Mugabe’s attacks on institutions like the courts. The judiciary was under threat. Judges lived in fear. Mnangagwa, also a lawyer, has presented himself as a reformist but moves by his close lieutenants such as Ziyambi paints a gloomy picture about Zimbabwe’s democracy.
The executive needs to be reminded that the judiciary is an independent institution which is supposed to put checks and balances on the executive and the legislature. The executive cannot decimate the freedom of the judicial officers, otherwise the rule of law is hindered. We end up with an unpalatable situation of rule by a man/woman and an autocratic regime.