HARARE – Outgoing Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku yesterday made revealing comments about the ongoing controversy surrounding the holding of public interviews to find his successor — saying President Robert Mugabe never directed that the interviews be stopped.
Chidyausiku’s revelation came as the battle to appoint his successor has taken a decidedly factional tone, as the ruling Zanu PF’s brawling bigwigs fight to install a candidate acceptable to their respective camps.
It also comes after High Court judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, issued an interdict last month preventing the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) from proceeding with the public interviews — although the process still went ahead after the JSC filed an appeal against the interdict.
Speaking at the official opening of the 2017 judicial year yesterday, Chidyausiku said the interviewing process had been conducted in terms of Zimbabwe’s Constitution, and had happened after he had briefed the executive about the new procedure in appointing a new chief justice.
“I was surprised to receive communication a few days before the interviews were due to commence that an executive order had been issued ordering the JSC to stop the interviews for filling the post of Chief Justice,” he said.
Chidyausiku said he had responded to the communication by advising that the executive’s directive could not be complied with as it went against the Constitution.
“I have since established that the president never issued the alleged executive order to stop the interviews. Ever since adopting our stance to abide by the Constitution, a segment of the media has sought to impugn the integrity of the JSC. This is most regrettable,” he said.
Three candidates, Constitutional Court judge Paddington Garwe, JSC secretary Rita Makarau and deputy chief justice Luke Malaba were interviewed for the post last month, with a fourth candidate, High Court judge president George Chiweshe pulling out of the race at the last minute.
University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Law School student Romeo Zibani launched an application five days before the scheduled interviews, seeking to stop the public interviews, resulting in Justice Hungwe delivering an order on December 11, stopping the interviews.
“It occurs to me that where a lawful process leads to an absurd result, in the sense that colleagues select each other for entitlement to public office, as argued by applicant, it cannot be sanctioned on the ground that it is provided for in the law. Such an approach is irrational,” Justice Hungwe ruled.
But the JSC immediately noted an appeal at the Supreme Court, thereby suspending Hungwe’s judgment.
At about the same time, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also in charge of the Justice ministry, had through an affidavit that was presented in court stated that he had begun a process to amend Section 180 of the Constitution, to change the process of appointing high level judicial officers.
Chidyausiku, who will be retiring from the bench at the end of February, said yesterday that the issue of whether the JSC did the correct thing or not was still to be determined by the courts.
“This is all I wish to say on this unfortunate debate. In this regard, I am inspired by Michelle Obama’s words of wisdom ‘when your detractors go low, you go higher’. You do not follow them to the gutter,” Chidyausiku said revealingly.
He also announced the retirement of Supreme Court judge Vernanda Ziyambi and High Court judge November Mtshiya.