Harare,– Zimbabwe’s judiciary appears under siege after President Robert Mugabe has lashed out at the country’s judges for allegedly allowing demonstrations against his beleaguered regime, a development analysts say was likely to undermine the delivery of justice.
President Mugabe lost no time soon after his mysterious visit to Dubai to threaten the bench for allegedly passing obstinate judgements which were divorced from the prevailing political conditions in the country.
He was referring to a High Court judgement passed two weeks ago in favour of a united opposition which sought the overturn a police ban on a march to demand electoral reforms by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
Mugabe and his government felt conditions for the opposition march were volatile and were capable of turning into a fully fledged rebellion against his government.
“Our courts and judges should understand it even better. They dare not be negligent in their decisions as requests are made by people who would want to demonstrate,” Mugabe said.
“Surely, they can take note of the fact that the mission is clear and deliberate towards causing violence.
“Four or two days ago there was violence and to grant permissions again thereafter when there is a probability of violence is to pay reckless regard to the tenet of peace in the country. We hope they have learnt their lesson.”
But legal experts say Mugabe was deliberately putting pressure on the judiciary in order to pass judgments favourable to him and Zanu PF as he faces his sternest opposition since the formation of a stronger opposition, MDC-T, in 1999.
There are fears it could influence future court decisions on demonstrations.
Nqobani Nyathi, a Bulawayo-based lawyer, noted that the judiciary is the guardian of the constitution; any unjustified attack threatens the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
“The remarks by Mr Mugabe are unfortunate and they threaten our fundamental rights,” said Nyathi.
Lloyd Msipa, a solicitor based in Wales in the United Kingdom also said Mugabe feared an independent judiciary.
“Muzzling judiciary is his antithesis to leadership failure,” said Msipa as the legal fraternity reacted to Mugabe’s lashing out at the judiciary.
But others caution the judiciary should look beyond Zanu PF rule, arguing they would be called to account for misrepresenting the constitution should Mugabe and his Zanu PF wake up one day to find themselves out of power.
Some critics point out that in early 2000, Mugabe used the same tactic to force white judges out of the bench at the height of his land reform exercise as he deemed them counter-revolutionaries.
During the period, Mugabe roped in rowdy war veterans led by Joseph Chinotimba, now Zanu PF MP, who stormed judges’ chambers for allegedly making wrong rulings.
They disrupted court proceedings, forcing some white judges to quit the bench.
The latest remarks are also seen as putting the bench to its defence as concern remains over its independence after Mugabe parcelled them prime farmland, vehicles, televisions and other perks independent analysts say compromises their integrity.
Constitutional lawyer, Alex Magaisa put it this way: “The repressive state is behaving as it always does when faced with a challenge.”