A top Zimbabwean judge has said it is not the duty of the judiciary to spring anyone into political office, in what virtually amounts to a rebuke against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who has petitioned the courts to nullify President Robert Mugabe’s 2002 re-election victory.
Tsvangirai, who lost by about 400 000 votes to Mugabe, wants the courts to overturn the election result and order a fresh ballot, arguing that the veteran president used violence and outright fraud to cheat him of victory.
But Justice Chinembiri Bhunu, a senior judge of Zimbabwe’s High Court, said politicians should not relocate political battles into the courts, but should go to the people to canvass their support in order to win or retain political office.
“Let me warn those who want to use the courts to gain political power that it is not the duty of the courts to spring anyone into power or to maintain anyone in power,” said Justice Bhunu on Monday, marking the opening of the High Court circuit in Masvingo.
He added: “Those wishing to do so should go to the people to garner support because it is the people who can give them such power and not the courts.”
The judge said Zimbabwe’s courts have acted with professionalism and independence in dealing with political disputes between Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change and Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party. He said those criticising the bench are doing so to demonise Zimbabwe as punishment for Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned land.
Zimbabwe’s bench, reconstituted after Mugabe purged independent judges, has been criticised by, among others, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights for failure to defend the rights of ordinary citizens and political opponents of the government.
The courts’ failure to resolve expeditiously Tsvangirai’s petition against Mugabe’s re-election three years ago as well as various other poll petitions by the opposition have often been cited as an example of the bench’s unwillingness to rise up to its role as a neutral arbiter in cases seen as politically sensitive.
The refusal of the courts to grant orders sought by human rights lawyers to bar the government from evicting thousands of families during its controversial urban clean-up campaign last year has also been held as proof that the bench would rather avoid confrontation with the executive than stand up for the rights of defenceless citizens.
Tsvangirai’s petition is now before the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, after the opposition leader sought relief from the court, saying the High Court had inordinately delayed in finalising the matter three years after it was lodged. — ZimOnline