By Anna Chibamu/Leopold Munhende
LAWYERS who filed a High Court application leading to the removal of Chief Justice Luke Malaba from office have dismissed government claims they were pursuing a political agenda but instead vowed to sacrifice their lives fighting and defending the country’s Constitution.
Prominent human rights lawyers Tendai Biti and Thabani Mpofu were speaking at a press conference Monday while responding to threats issued by Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi following the High Court ruling.
The minister said the three judges, Justice Happias Zhou, Justice Jester Charewa, and Justice Edith Mushore, were judiciary officers “captured” by unnamed foreign powers and the government would not accept that.
However, Biti and Mpofu said their main agenda for filing the High Court application was not political, but the protection of the country’s Constitution, which was voted for by more than 93% of Zimbabweans in a referendum in 2013.
“We are not pursuing any political agenda. We want to protect the Constitution of the country which was approved by 93% of Zimbabweans in a referendum. We are prepared to die for that Constitution,” said Biti, who is also the MDC Alliance Vice President.
He went on to castigate senior government officials for fast-tracking Constitutional Amendment Bills No. 1 and No. 2 in a “shambolic manner” that has now created a “constitutional crisis”.
Last Saturday, the High Court of Zimbabwe judges Zhou, Mushore, and Charewa issued a landmark judgment that brought Malaba’s tenure as the chief justice to an abrupt end.
However, the government appealed Monday at the Supreme Court against the lower court’s ruling.
Biti and Mpofu told journalists that whilst the government could appeal against the judgment, the legal position is that an appeal does not suspend the operation of the High Court’s Saturday ruling.
“We have thought these things through. We know what may or what may not happen. We are prepared to fight, not only in defence of our consultant but the Constitution of Zimbabwe, judicial independence and democracy.”
The lawyers’ consultant is Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director Musa Kika who engaged the legal counsel to file the High Court challenge.
In a separate statement the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said; “That being the case, the noting of a (y) appeal cannot suspend the operation of the judgment of the High Court. Malaba is now former chief justice of Zimbabwe and in accordance with provisions of section 181 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013, the substantive Deputy Chief Justice Elizabeth Gwaunza has now become the country’s acting chief justice. This is a constitutional imperative.”
The Forum added Malaba cannot also exercise any function either as the chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) or as a judicial officer, save in rendering judgment in cases that he presided over whilst still a judge.
“For that reason, if the retired chief justice contests the judgment of the High Court, he can only do so in his personal capacity. That position comes with certain consequences for the JSC and in particular as regards its right to note an appeal on behalf of the retired chief justice.”