Luke Malaba no longer Zimbabwe's chief justice, high court rules

15 May 2021 - 16:55 By Lenin Ndebele
The Zimbabwe High Court ruled that Luke Malaba ceased to hold the office of chief justice as of midnight on May 15.
The Zimbabwe High Court ruled that Luke Malaba ceased to hold the office of chief justice as of midnight on May 15.
Image: STOCKSTUDIO44/123RF

Happy 70th birthday Chief Justice Luke Malaba, but sorry, you have reached retirement age.

That’s the summary of a Zimbabwe High Court judgment, which stated that Malaba ceased to hold the office of chief justice as of midnight on May 15.

The bench also ruled that Malaba will not benefit from Constitutional Amendment 2 enacted by President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The extension of term provided by section 186 of the constitution does not apply to any sitting judges of the Constitutional Court and supreme court.

Zanu-PF, with the help of the MDC-T, led by Douglas Mwonzora smoothly sailed the constitutional amendments through the Senate, where Zanu-PF does not hold a two-thirds majority.

Lobbyists and the opposition argued that extending Malaba’s tenure was an assault on democracy and the rule of law because the bigger picture was, with Malaba at the helm, the legal system would rest in Zanu-PF’s hands ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) in a statement said: “We thank the high court judges for ignoring political interference and ensuring that justice is served”.

Lawyer and MDC Alliance deputy chairperson Job Sikhala said the three judges who arrived at the decision, “fought so much to restore the dignity in the judiciary and restoration of the rule of law”.

Another lawyer MDC Alliance deputy president Tendai Biti said the ruling effectively protects the constitution.

The ruling caught many unaware and before it was passed, University of Kent (UK) lecturer, former adviser to the late Morgan Tsvangirai, Dr Alex Magaisa, warned that the result might not matter much.

“The outcome is not as important to me as the process. We know the challenges of the system. The purpose of this litigation is to expose the crisis caused by this amendment because whatever the outcome today there will be an appeal but to whom?” he tweeted.

The ruling comes at the backdrop of a similar one in Kenya where the high court stopped a move by President Uhuru Kenyatta to change the constitution in what his critics say was a move designed to check his deputy, whom he has fallen out with publicly.

On Friday, a leading investigative outfit reported that the constitutional amendments have allegedly put Mnangagwa and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga at loggerheads. This because the removal of the running mate clause and the extension of the chief justice's tenure were a powerplay to free him from contention.

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