HARARE, ZIMABABWE - Zimbabwe’s High Court has ordered the country’s chief justice to step down after he reached 70 years of age, despite a recent constitutional amendment that appears to allow him to serve five more years.
The court's ruling Saturday came after human rights lawyer Musa Kika made an urgent application asking Zimbabwe Chief Justice Luke Malaba to step down.
Kika was elated after the Saturday ruling outside the courtroom.
“This is a wonderful moment for us. I think it’s the vindication of the rights of the people. It’s a victory for the people of Zimbabwe, who are the stakeholders of the constitution who own this social contract. Our hope is that the powers that be, the executive, is going to respect the decision that has been made by a court of law. So, this is a defining moment for Zimbabwe. We hope that it heralds a new trajectory that we will witness going forward,” Kika said.
Thembinkosi Magwaliba, the lawyer representing Malaba and the Judicial Service Commission, which opposed Kika’s application, said he was unsure as to next steps.
“We do not know yet. We have to take instructions on that. The options are to live with the judgment or to appeal it,” Magwaliba said.
Malaba was not immediately available for comment.
Veteran lawyer Tendai Biti — who represented Kika — was one of the authors of Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution, which forbids incumbents from benefiting from changes to the charter.
“It is important that we protect this constitution. It is important that we implement this constitution. Not to mutilate a constitution. So, we are very grateful to the court for standing up [for] the constitution and the people of Zimbabwe,” Biti said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been expected to swear in Malaba Sunday for his last five years in office.
Earlier this month parliament passed constitutional amendments, which allow the president to hand pick judges and the country's vice presidents — and to extend the chief justice's age of retirement by five years, to 75.
Critics say Mnangagwa took advantage of coronavirus pandemic restrictions, which forbid protests, and introduced the amendments. Some constitutional experts say Mnangagwa was testing the waters for the removal of presidential term limits imposed in 2013.
Last week Tafadzwa Mugwadi, director of information for the ruling ZANU-PF political party, told VOA that the removal of a running mate clause was meant to ensure a president can choose his vice presidents and ensure stability of the government. On hand-picking judges, Mugwadi said Zimbabwe was copying other jurisdictions — such as the United States. He was, however, incorrect. In the United States, presidents nominate Supreme Court justices but they must be confirmed by the Senate.