POLITICS-ZIMBABWE: A Top Judge Appointed New Chief Justice

Lewis Machipisa

HARARE, Mar 9 2001 (IPS) - A top Zimbabwean judge, Godfrey Chidyausiku, has been appointed Acting Chief Justice, replacing Anthony Gubbay who last week succumbed to government pressure to go on early retirement.

Accusing him of racism, the government said it had lost confidence in Gubbay, who is white, and wanted him replaced with judges who are “part and parcel” of the country’s liberation struggle.

Zimbabwe’s minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, says Chidyausiku’s appointment reflects the country’s true nature.

“To indigenise means to appoint black lawyers. There is no question about it. This is a black country,” Chinamasa told the state-controlled ‘Herald’ newspaper on Friday.

According to Chinamasa, the conduct and rulings of some white judges, their work history under Ian Smith (who headed a white minority government before independence in 1980), and their failure to mix socially with blacks had left the government wondering whether they could faithfully serve President Robert Mugabe’s administration.

“How can personnel so high up in the pecking order of a regime grounded in racism faithfully serve a democratic state?” he asked.

Last Month, president Mugabe said: “Look at Gubbay, a very nice man. But they (judges) drank tea with whites. They sympathise with the whites and cannot be seen to pass judgments against the (white) farmers.”

Chidyausiku will act as Chief Justice, pending Gubbay’s retirement in July.

On Friday, the Law Society of Zimbabwe, which in the past backed the embattled Gubbay and the judiciary, would not comment on Chidyausiku’s appointment.

Though regarded as highly competent, a number of lawyers, speaking on condition of anonymity, alleged that Chidyausiku is “highly partisan” to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.

Soon after the country’s independence in 1980, Chidyausiku was appointed deputy minister of Local Government and Housing. In 1981 he was transferred to the then ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, and in 1982 became the Attorney General. He was sworn in as a High Court judge in 1987.

Last year, Chidyausiku headed a 400-member National Constitutional Commission appointed by President Mugabe to come up with a draft constitution, which was later rejected in a referendum.

In fact, only two of Zimbabwe’s five supreme court judges are white, including Gubbay. And, only four of its 20 high court judges are white.

“No sane Zimbabwean should expect the judiciary to be headed by a foreigner – especially a British – 20 years after our independence, just like it would be insane to have a foreign or British president or speaker of parliament,” Information and Publicity Minister, Jonathan Moyo has said.

Early this year, Chidyausiku stunned lawyers when he accused British-born Gubbay of assuring white commercial farmers that “victory in the courts was assured’ for them in their battle against the government.

The Supreme Court did pass jugdements favourable to white farmers and opposition parties. But the Law Society of Zimbabwe said it found nothing sinister in the judgments as the judges were merely interpreting laws made by the politicians.

In January, Chidyausiku attacked the Supreme Court for overturning in November his own judgment setting aside an earlier High Court ruling against land seizures.

Chidyausiku also accused other judges of obstructing Mugabe’s political campaign to hinder the president’s “revolutionary land programme”.

Last year, commercial farmers won a Supreme Court ruling, ordering the police to evict thousands of peasants occupying their farms. But Mugabe’s administration has refused to enforce the rulings.

In one of his rare public comments at the opening of the legal year, Gubbay publicly rebuked Mugabe’s government for “harassment” of Zimbabwe’s judiciary, saying the state had a basic misunderstanding of the rule of law.

Douglas Mwonzora of the Harare-based National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), an organisation campaigning for constitutional change, has lamented that “the judiciary is being battered into becoming a compliant arm of the executive.”

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