Ex-Namibian elections chief worried about Zimbabwean judge’s political ties

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By The Namibian

WINDHOEK – A former elections chief of Namibia, Gerhard Tòtemeyer, has raised concerns about the political past of Rita Makarau, a Zimbabwean judge appointed as an acting judge in Namibia’s Supreme Court.

In an interview with The Namibian newspaper, Tötemeyer called for clarification on Makarau’s potential association with the previous Robert Mugabe-led regime.

“What is her attitude on the present regime in Zimbabwe? Is it democratic? I am not against the appointment of a qualified person in Namibia, but it must not be to the disadvantage of qualified Namibians,” Tötemeyer said.

Makarau, who is linked to former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, was appointed by President Hage Geingob as one of the acting judges of Namibia’s highest court.

The Namibian Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommendedMakarau for appointment.

She began serving on the bench of the top court from April 1 to the end March next year.

Another political commentator, Ndumba Kamwanyah, said the nation should take seriously the concerns raised over the appointment of Makarau.

“We should be worried in the sense that we don’t want to end up in a situation where we have a judge who will have political influence in making crucial decisions pertaining to the politics and the democracy of this country,” he said.

Kamwanyah said Makarau’s alleged alliance to Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu PF, should worry Namibians. He added that the JSC did a good job when it vetted the judge to ensure that the concerns do not hold water before it recommended her for appointment.

Former elections chief of Namibia, Gerhard Tòtemeyer

Makarau was appointed alongside High Court judges Esi Schimming-Chase and Hannelie Prinsloo, who will also be acting judges of the Supreme Court fromi April to 31 March 2024.

Previously, Makarau served as a judge of the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe, chairperson of Zimbabwe’s electoral commission, judge of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe and was the judge president of the High Court of Zimbabwe.

She has faced criticism from opposition and civil society back home because she was too close to Zanu-PF.

International news agency Reuters reported in 2017 that Makarau was “seen as an ally of 93-year-old former president Robert Mugabe”

Lawyer Norman Tjombe believes Makarau will add value to Namibia’s Supreme Court bench.

He said the existing full-time judges cannot cope with the workload of the Supreme Court and without the occasional appointment of acting judges, the country runs the risk of inferior quality judgements being delivered with long-term negative impacts on the judicial system.

“We have had a number of judges from South Africa — and I think Zimbabwe and Zambia — appointed to the Namibian Supreme Court in the past. I appreciate the fact that we add some international flavour to our courts, as it only enriches our jurisprudence,” he said.

Zimbabwean academic Ibbo Mandaza said Makarau has always been a professional and a leading jurist.

“Both Makarau and Moses Chinhengo are among Zimbabwe’s best jurists, principled and impeccable,” he said.

He added that both Makarau and Chinhengo, who was appointed by Geingob as acting judge of the High Court of Namibia, are smart lawyers.

“I do not know where this comes from that she propped up [the Zanu-PF regime]. People have worked under difficult conditions and she stood her ground […] Namibian opposition members are uninformed and they need to take note of what is happening,” he said.

Various opposition party leaders in Namibia raised concerns this week with the appointment of the judge, with some saying it is “justice betrayed”.

Zimbabwean political analyst Gibson Nyikadzino told The Namibian this week that the recommendation for Makarau’s appointment showed that countries can exchange expertise.

“Remember, justice Rita Makarau is a Constitutional Court judge here in Zimbabwe […] there is nothing sinister about this appointment because what is used to measure these appointments is expertise,” he said.

He said towards the end of last year, deputy chief justice PetrusDamaseb was in Zimbabwe to see the benchmark of the Zimbabwean process in the integrated court management system.

The analyst said the appointment is thus not political.