You can always trust ZANU PF to never waste a good chance to score an own goal. Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi is the latest to lob one into his own net.
First, a quick summary.
Parliament recently passed Constitutional Amendment Number 2. One of these changes is that judges can now stay in office past the retirement age of 70, for an extra five years, if they are medically fit enough.
Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa reappointed Chief Justice Luke Malaba to another term, in the same week he was to turn 70. So, a group of lawyers and a citizen went to court, arguing that this was illegal.
Judges Happias Zhou, Edith Mushore and Helena Charehwa agreed. Any changes to benefit the incumbent, they said on Saturday, must go to a referendum.
The JSC released a measured statement. In a two-paragraph statement, they advised that Malaba’s deputy, Elizabeth Gwaunza, would be appointed to act as Chief Justice, pending an appeal.
And then, late on Saturday, the circus doors swung open for a late night show.
Now, for years, ZANU PF has had to fend off tough claims that it interferes in the courts. Every court ruling that has gone against its opponents has met with the “capture” refrain.
Many in the opposition don’t like Malaba much, to put it mildly. That he was the top candidate for the job was forgotten when he demanded evidence of poll rigging – “the poisoned well” as he called it – from MDC Alliance lawyers as their election petition came apart before nine judges on live TV in 2018.
Since then, a series of court actions, by various MDC factions, have scattered the opposition. They blamed the judiciary for their fallout. ZANU PF told them; “leave us out of it. This was your own fight”.
And so, this Saturday, ZANU PF had a chance to say: “See? We do not control the courts. Judges make their own calls. We lost this round. We will appeal.”
No, but this is ZANU PF. It is a party that specialises in own goals. So, instead, they wheeled out Ziyambi, with a four-page statement, all 962 words, which confirmed much of what critics have always said – government likes the judiciary in its pocket.
“We have a serious situation of a judiciary that has been captured by foreign forces in this country,” Ziyambi fumed.
He sounded, ironically, every bit like the opponents that his party has mocked for claiming “state capture” each time they lose in court.
He asked himself whether the judiciary purge of the 2000s was enough: “The time has come also to look at the transformation of the Judiciary – have we really succeeded as a country to transform the Judiciary?”
He asked himself again: “In the eyes of the Judge, does it mean that the Government is always wrong?”
Clearly, he does not believe that Government should ever lose at court. It must always win. If it loses, the courts are “captured”.
Ziyambi and recycled insults
The most laughable point of Ziyambi’s rant is how he channelled Jonathan Moyo in accusing the court of being “a night court, consisting of night judges and night lawyers”.
Moyo used the line in 2000, when Judge Esmael Chatikobo ruled Moyo could not dismantle the equipment of independent radio station Capitol Radio. Moyo spat out the same line over a decade later, this time after Judge Charles Hungwe in 2013 sat at midnight to order the release of lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa.
That Ziyambi cannot even make up his own insults, and has to borrow from what a fallen propagandist said two-decades ago, shows the lack of talent that Mnangagwa has chosen to surround himself with since 2017.
For, Ziyambi is not alone. In March, Judge Tawanda Chitapi called out Prosecutor-General Kumbirai Hodzi’s “ineptitude” as he appealed against bail for alleged armed robber, Musa Taj Abdul. Separately, there have been many other legal messes, from illegal taxes to illegal appointments, which showed bottom-of-the-barrel legal talent at the Attorney-General’s office.
Ziyambi tried too hard to hide all this incompetence under a pile of “capture” froth. All he succeeded in doing was to promote the narratives of his boss’s critics.
Even ZANU PF supporters spent the night faces firmly planted in their palms in embarrassment.
“Today, l am hurt to know that l live in a country where a whole Minister of Justice and his Perm Sec feel that it is okay to issue such a rabid attack on the judiciary. It’s okay to be unhappy with losing in court, but you don’t react via contempt of court. You read the law,” said Tinomudaishe Chinyoka, a lawyer and ZANU PF supporter.
On Saturday, the ZANU PF government had a chance to show it does not undermine the judiciary. Instead, as always, it worked overtime to prove its critics right.