HARARE – Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi could face contempt of court charges after his shocking outburst following last Saturday’s ruling by three High Court judges that it was illegal to extend the tenure of the chief justice by five more years.
Justice Happias Zhou, Edith Mushore and Helena Charewa said in a judgment that Luke Malaba had ceased being a judge and chief justice after he turned 70 years old. The ruling was a major setback for President Emmerson Mnangagwa whom the opposition accuses of seeking to influence the judiciary.
Ziyambi, who was a litigant in the matter, accused the country’s judiciary of being “captured” by hostile foreign interest and said the ruling was “a typical case of overreach and as government we cannot accept that.”
Now lawyers for Musa Kika, the director of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum who challenged Malaba’s term extension, say they have written to Judge President George Chiweshe, the Registrar of the High Court and the three judges who heard the matter demanding action against the minister.
Advocate Thabani Mpofu told a news conference in Harare on Monday that they were “gravely concerned” that Ziyambi’s comments are a threat to other judges who may hear the matter on appeal.
Mpofu said: “The minister’s statement is meant to threaten other judges who may become seized with the offshoots of this dispute… We have instructions to ensure that the seriousness with which the comments are viewed by our consultant (Kika) and indeed by all right-thinking Zimbabweans be reflected in the corrective action to be taken.
“A letter has been written to the Registrar of the High Court, the Judge President and the Honourable Justices who dealt with the matter requesting the issuance of a citation for contempt of court against the minister.
“The legal issues that arise from this matter must therefore be dealt with in the High Court. We believe the minister must show cause, or be required to show cause, why the High Court must not hold him to be in contempt of court.”
In a strongly worded statement, Ziyambi said the government would appeal the “baseless and meaningless” decision as early as Monday.
“I want to make it clear that we do not accept the decision of the High Court. We have a serious situation of a judiciary that has been captured by foreign forces in this country,” Ziyambi said without providing evidence or naming anyone.
Ziyambi also said a certain group of judges always passed judgments that sought to tarnish the image of the government. He did not name such judges.
He added chillingly: “Time has now come to expose all these malcontents and economic saboteurs who are not sleeping until they bring down the Second Republic. We are now going to poke the enemy in the eye and confront it.”
Mpofu said Ziyambi’s comments “scandalise the court” and “have an impact on judicial independence, an impact on integrity of the courts.”
Ziyambi’s comments were a throwback to the era of the late former President Robert Mugabe, where the government often publicly criticised judges.
Mpofu said a precedent had been set when the Supreme Court made a finding in the case of the then Attorney General Patrick Chinamasa that whereas the right to freedom of expression allows people to criticise court judgements, it did not permit the making of comments imputing corrupt or improper motives to judicial officers as this would create a real or substantial risk of impairing public confidence in the administration of justice.
Meanwhile, Mpofu said that an appeal against Saturday’s ruling would not suspend the High Court judgement.
“The position is that the High Court issued a declaratur or a declaratory order as was sought by our client. Whilst an appeal can – all things being equal – be launched against a declaratur, the position in law is that an appeal does not suspend the operation of a declaratur. Various authorities resolve this point, and are as old as the law itself,” Mpofu said.