HARARE – President Robert Mugabe has confessed to giving the late retired Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku unconstitutional Executive orders to okay the seizure of white-owned farms.
Commenting on the tenure of Chidyausiku — who has been declared a national hero and is set to be interred at the national Heroes Acre on Saturday — Mugabe said the top jurist ruled for Zimbabwe’s planned seizure of thousands of white-owned farms that violated international law and that the Supreme Court had ruled should be halted immediately.
In an unprecedented move, Chidyausiku, who was then judge president, overturned a ruling by then Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay that government should take all measures to protect the possessions and property of white farmers who challenged the legality of the contested land reform programme.
Mugabe said Chidyausiku’s prosecution of the highly-controversial land revolution meant he needed to be accorded national hero status, insisting “we could not just throw him into a pit”.
“Considering the way we worked with him, the way he supported our interests, the values of the war of liberation, we found it fit to confer him with a hero’s status,” Mugabe said.
He added that the decision to honour the retired chief justice was arrived at after advice from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.
Chidyausiku, whose tenure was both eventful and controversial, died in a South African hospital last Wednesday where he was receiving medical attention for liver and kidney related problems.
Mugabe said he worked with Chidyausiku for the success of the land reform that started in 2000 and replaced white, commercial farmers with landless blacks.
The move has led to the collapse of Zimbabwe’s once prosperous agricultural sector, pushing millions to the edge of famine.
“ . . . hanzi imhosva vari kuenda vachinogara mumaparazi evarungu, imhosva. Ndikati aiwa havabatwe, vari kungodemonstrator chete. (They said it was wrong that blacks were taking over farms occupied by whites but I said ‘no, it’s not a crime, they are merely demonstrating’),” Mugabe said while addressing mourners at Chidyausiku’s residence on Sunday.
The nonagenarian added that he then decided the best way forward.
“Tikaona zvino, aiwa nyaya dzedu dzakufamba zvakanaka. (We then saw that our issues were being well articulated by the Judiciary).
“Nepfungwa dzedu dzichiwirinawo nehutongi hwanga huripo….nzira yedu yavhurwa panyaya dzeland reform (We then saw that our policy was aligned to the thinking of the Judiciary and that a way had been created for the land reform programme).”
Kent University law lecturer Alex Magaisa described Chidyausiku as a politician who became a judge but a judge who never forgot his politics.
“There can be no doubt that the most significant legacy of the Chidyausiku era is encapsulated in his work on the land question,” Magaisa said.
“ . . . As chief justice and head of the Judiciary, Chidyausiku was right at the centre of this revolution, and his pivotal role earned him numerous accolades and eternal praise from the ruling party and complete disdain from the farming community that was displaced from the land.”
Magaisa further described the Chidyausiku-era as a time when the Judiciary “was strongly aligned to government and its policies”.
“ . . . To call him a judge of the revolution would therefore be an apt description. Two cases aptly demonstrate the central role played by Chidyausiku as the utility player in the prosecution of the highly controversial land revolution.
“Government needed a friendlier Supreme Court at a time when it was carrying out the historic land reform process. Unsurprisingly, opposition and civil society groups have always complained about the lack of judicial independence.”