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Enough is Enough
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19 October 2004
Zimbabwe’s Ailing Ministry of
Zimbabwe’s Ailing Ministry of Justice
If Zimbabweans are unhappy about the quality of justice delivered by the country’s ailing legal system, they should know that many of those who work within the system are equally unhappy. By and large those employed by the Ministry of Justice to run the courts, including magistrates, prosecutors, clerks, interpreters, recorders and a host of minor functionaries are not a happy lot. Political interference, poor working conditions and low salaries have led to a spate of resignations in recent months, and among those left morale is at an all-time low.
The trend has accelerated since the year 2000 with a particularly high level of resignations among magistrates. According to the Ministry of Justice’s own staffing office statistics 24 magistrates and almost as many prosecutors resigned in 2003. In the same year the Ministry lost 39 employees from the lower grades, including clerks, interpreters and recorders. And in the first 9 months of 2004 the Ministry has lost a further 12 magistrates, 10 prosecutors and 36 clerical staff. These figures do not include deaths, dismissals and desertions which account for an average of 50 employees annually.
A significant number of the resignations can be directly attributed to political interference. An official from the staffing office who requested anonymity, indicated that for the period 2001 to 2003 most of those resigning did so because of political intimidation.
“The period in question saw a number of staff members resigning because of political intimidation”, the official said. “The political atmosphere was very tense then such that it was not worth waiting. However the resignations we are currently experiencing are as a result of poor working conditions and a small number as a result of political interference. The morale in the Ministry is very low, so it is either one finds himself resigning or engaging in corrupt activities so as to make a meaningful living”.
Such revelations are hardly a cause of surprise though they do confirm a trend which has serious implications for the delivery of anything like a professional service from the Ministry of Justice. Earlier this year a former Administrative Court Judge, Michael Majuru, resigned and went into self-imposed exile in South Africa after being subjected to altogether unprofessional, political pressure by the Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa. Majuru was ordered to delay judgment in the case concerning the banning of the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday – a delay altogether to the advantage of the government which was a party to the case. Majuru subsequently recounted how Chinamasa shouted at him for daring to rule in favour of the Daily News which the Minister regarded as a threat to national security. Thereafter Majuru found himself being subjected to CIO surveillance. Some time later the Judge was led into a trap, widely believed to have been set by Chinamasa himself, when he inadvertently commented on a case then pending in the presence of certain members of the public. The Judge took the only honourable course open to him of recussing himself from the case. Subsequently he resigned his appointment and left the country.
Nor is this by any means the only instance of direct political interference and blatant intimidation leading to the resignation of a judicial officer. From the untimely resignation of the former Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay in the wake of the parliamentary elections of 2000, there have been a number of other resignations of senior Judges due to the unconstitutional meddling of the Executive in judicial matters. Magistrates also who have dared to rule against ZANU PF interests have frequently found themselves being hounded by mobs of supporters of the ruling party. The case of the Chipinge Magistrate, Walter Chikwanha, comes to mind immediately. On 16th August 2002 the unfortunate Magistrate was seized by an unruly mob of war veterans and beaten up. (It later transpired that the Chipinge CID had escorted the thugs to the court house) ZANU PF supporters also assaulted the Kwe Kwe Magistrate, Tendayi Madanire, when he granted bail to Emmerson Mnangagwa’s protégé, Burden, who was arrested on a charges of illegally dealing in gold. And in Bindura in 2001 the late Lawrence Malimbiza, had to face an angry ZANU PF mob at the court house when he dared to rule against some local opportunist land grabbers.
Little wonder then that resignations are rife among principled magistrates and other legal functionaries or that morale is at an all-time low in the Ministry of Justice. If Zimbabweans have good cause no longer to trust the legal system to deliver justice in a professional, no-partisan manner, those who work within the system have even
better reason not to trust those now effectively in control. The beast is ailing and no one knows that better than those who work inside the system.