HARARE – Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has accused the judiciary of being captured by foreign forces after the High Court ruled that attempts to extend the tenure of the chief justice by five years were illegal.
President Mnangagwa used new controversial constitutional amendments to extend Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s term, which was to end on Friday after he turned 70 years old.
Three judges of the High Court ruled on Saturday that the country’s top judge ceased to be a judge because the constitutional amendments that gave President Mnangagwa the power to appoint senior judges did not apply to incumbents.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi shot back immediately, saying the ruling was “a typical case of overreach and as a government we cannot accept that”.
“I want to make it clear today that we do not accept the decision of the High Court,” Mr Ziyambi said.
“We have a serious situation of a judiciary that has been captured by foreign forces in this country. We are going to exercise our right in terms of the law and file an appeal against this baseless and meaningless decision of the High Court.”
Mr Ziyambi added that there were “elements both within and outside Zimbabwe”, who wanted to destabilise President Mnangagwa’s government.
The minister accused one of the judges, Happias Zhou. of being sympathetic with the opposition, which has been challenging the raft of constitutional amendments.
Justice Zhou read the Saturday judgement.
Mr Ziyambi charged: “How does one judge, whose circumstances of appointment we are aware of, continue to make decisions that are against the government?
“In the eyes of the judge, does it mean that the government is always wrong? Why does a certain group of judges, including that judge, continue to be allocated cases in which the second republic is involved?”
His comments were described as an attempt to intimidate the judges ahead of a Supreme Court appeal by the government.
“The judiciary was already imperilled, but things are likely to get worse,” warned Dr Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean constitutional law expert based in the United Kingdom.
“Mr Ziyambi thinks he is being tough on critics but his statement has done more damage to the regime’s reputation,” he added.
“If anyone was in any doubt about the intolerant and authoritarian nature of the regime, the statement exposes the darkness at the centre of its heart.”
President Mnangagwa, who took over from the late Robert Mugabe following a military coup in 2017, has been accused of trying to turn Zimbabwe into a one party State through the arrest and prosecution of leading opposition figures as well as introduction of draconian laws.