BY BLESSED MHLANGA/MIRIAM MANGWAYA/RICHARD MUPONDE
JUSTICE minister Ziyambi Ziyambi faces arrest on contempt of court charges after his shocking weekend outburst following the landmark ruling by three High Court judges trashing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s move to extend Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s retirement age by five years.
The ruling did not sit well with Ziyambi, who threatened the judges, accusing them of being captured by hostile foreign governments. His remarks courted the ire of human rights lawyers who are demanding that the minister be arraigned before the court on contempt of court charges.
Ziyambi, who was a litigant in the matter, said the ruling was “a typical case of overreach and as government we cannot accept that”.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika, who challenged the extension of Malaba’s term, yesterday wrote to Judge President George Chiweshe, Registrar of the High Court and the three judges who heard the matter demanding action against Ziyambi.
Through his lawyer Thabani Mpofu, Kika said Ziyambi should be charged for his utterances viewed as undermining the bench.
Part of the letter read: “On May 15, 2021, the High Court issued an abridged judgment in a matter involving our client, Musa Kika versus the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and 18 other respondents. In response to the judgment, the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs issued the statement attached thereto.
“We believe that the statement scandalises the court and that accordingly, Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi is in contempt of court. We request that you place this letter before the Judge President as well as the honourable judges who heard the matter.”
Kika asked the Judge President to constitute a court to hear the matter.
The Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) said Ziyambi should prove his claims that Western countries are sponsoring local non-governmental organisations to interfere with government activities.
The LSZ also said Ziyambi’s utterances were unacceptable.
“We have carefully considered the statement and we are of the view that on the face of it, it was contemptuous of the court that dealt with this matter. A litigant aggrieved by a court decision has a right of appeal and such displeasure must be addressed through an appeal filed at court. A public statement attacking a court of law has the effect of ridiculing the Judiciary, thereby, diminishing public confidence in the institution.”
The LSZ described Ziyambi’s attacks on the judges as unfair, unwarranted and unnecessary, especially coming from a minister responsible for justice, who is also a lawyer.
“The statement threatens judicial independence and undermines the principle of separation of powers which are fundamental tenets of the rule of law. The Law Society has accordingly formally asked the minister to avail the information which was curiously withheld by his counsel and which he has also withheld in his statement.
Advocate Lewis Uriri said, while government had a right to disagree with the judgment handed down by the High Court judges, it was, however, not right to scandalise the integrity of the courts.
“The route is to appeal. In doing so, the integrity of the court must not be scandalised. We must all respect the court, whether or not we agree with its judgment. While I desist from expressing any views on the correctness of the judgment for the reasons given above, I can and I will comment on its effect.
“It is its effect on the conduct of the President. Its effect is to effectively set aside the President’s conduct regardless of the fact that the President was not a party to the litigation. It is this effect of setting aside the conduct of the President that I address. This is not the subject of existing litigation and I can express my views on this effect.
“The High Court was not asked to make an interim protective order. It did not make any such order.
“It’s judgment, to the extent that it effectively holds that the conduct of the President in extending the Chief Justice’s term is constitutionally invalid, has no effect until confirmed by the Constitutional Court,” Uriri said.
He said the pronouncement that Malaba ceased to be a judge when he turned 70 has no constitutional effect until it is confirmed by the Constitutional Court.
“It is best that the Deputy Chief Justice acts as Chief Justice in the interim,” he said.
Meanwhile, renowned academic Ibbo Mandaza said: “One would have thought, or are we asking for too much here, that my younger brother Malaba would simply resign, walk away into retirement and leave the power mongers in the Zimbabwean State to their internecine conflict?”
On the other hand, political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the removal of Malaba would not change much as long as Mnangagwa had the prerogative to handpick judges of his choice.
“The issue has been about Malaba because he is the first beneficiary of the amendment. The implementation of the clause has put Malaba at the centre of attention from the side of government and those who are anti-government. He finds himself in the middle. Even if Malaba goes the clause will remain giving Mnangagwa power and that will cause havoc in the future.”
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