By Mary Taruvinga
2018 will likely go down as one of the busiest years in history for Zimbabwe’s courts as the country continued to grapple with the messy aftermath of former President Robert Mugabe’s dramatic ouster after 37 years in power.
Mugabe – looking at extended his disastrous reign by another five years – suddenly suffered an inglorious exit from power in November 2017 after the military and lieutenants in the ruling Zanu PF party revolted.
Elections followed in July 2018 as successor Emmerson Mnangagwa looked to cement and sanitise a power grab widely seen as a coup and only tolerated globally because it ousted a leader reviled by power brokers in the international community.
The lead-up to the now-disputed vote was – in a deliberate break with the past by the Zanu PF regime – relatively peaceful with the opposition allowed to campaign wherever they pleased around the country.
Deadly August 1 violence
A deadly explosion however, followed the conclusion of the vote as opposition activists protested against the apparent delay in releasing results of the presidential elections.
The government responded by deploying the military on that fateful August 1 day, resulting in six people being shot dead in central Harare while several others were injured.
When the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) released the outcome of the presidential ballot, Mnangagwa was shown to have barely edged the contest, winning by 50,67% against main challenger Nelson Chamisa’s 44,3%.
Chamisa and his MDC Alliance rejected the results and challenged the outcome at the Constitutional Court.
In a legal first for the country, the government allowed the court proceedings to be broadcast live on public television in a week-long soap opera that had much of the nation glued to their TV sets fort the duration of the hearing.
Chamisa drafted top South African attorneys Tembeka Ngcukaitobi and Dali Mpofu into his legal team but they were refused practising licences.
This left Harare-based advocate Thabani Mpofu to be the star of the show, against the equally able team of Lewis Uriri and Tawanda Kanengoni representing Mnangagwa and ZEC respectively.
The Con-Court judges unanimously dismissed Chamisa’s challenge. The opposition leader, also a lawyer, said he respected the decision but did not agree with it.
Biti escape bid and arrest
Meanwhile, dozens of opposition activists were rounded up in connection with the August 1 violence in central Harare.
Chamisa ally and former finance minister Tendai Bit was arrested after his bid to seek political asylum in Zambia was foiled.
Also arrested were other top opposition leaders such as Morgen Komichi as well as anti-Zanu PF activist Paddington Japajapa.
Biti’s prosecution on charges of inciting the violence and illegally announcing the presidential election results led to another first for the lower courts after a magistrate allowed the media to livestream proceedings.
Surprised, top prosecutor Michael Reza famously remarked in a mobile phone text that the magistrate was “either very brave, or vey stupid” but then sent the message to the wrong person, resulting in its being made public.
Big names arrested for corruption
The year also saw several other big names, including top politicians and ex-cabinet ministers, being dragged to the courts on corruption and abuse of office charges.
These included ex-finance minister Ignatius Chombo, former health minister David Parirenyatwa as well as former energy minister Samuel Undenge.
Also hauled before the courts were former ministers Walter Chidhakwa, Supa Mandiwanzira and Saviour Kasukuwere.
Not to be spared was Mugabe’s son-in-law Simbarashe Chikore who was charged with unlawfully detaining a secretary at Air Zimbabwe when he was the boss for the airline.
Similarly, Shuvai Gumbochuma, sister to Mugabe’s wife Grace, was also arrested over dodgy land deals.
Businessmen connected to the ruling elite including the controversial Wicknell Chivayo and Genius Kadungure also found themselves in the dock on fraud and other criminal charges.