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Godfrey Chidyausiku leaves bench a disappointed man

Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku this week expressed grave disappointment that he was leaving the bench divided over the issue of his successor.

The former Chief Justice (CJ), who retired this week, told delegates who attended his farewell dinner that was snubbed by all but one senior government officials and even some members of the bench, that he was sad to leave the country’s judiciary divided over what he termed minor differences over the process to select his successor.

“There are times when things do not go the way they should… one of them is the way we are quarrelling about my successor… it is really a big disappointment,” said Chidyausiku.

“I would have wanted to leave one very united judiciary that is fearless, independent and with a backbone of steel.”

He however said as far as he was concerned, the storm that has arisen over the process to choose his successor was much ado about nothing, something that he said he hoped would be overcome with the passage of time.

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Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who presides over the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry, did not attend the farewell dinner hosted by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) in honour of the outgoing JC’s in Harare.

Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, a former attorney general who was justice minister at the time Chidyausiku was appointed in 2001, was the only senior government official who attended the dinner.

Also conspicuous by their absence from the event were Judge President George Chiweshe and Justice Charles Hungwe.

Chidyausiku — who has reached his mandatory retirement age of 70 years — had been at the helm of the judiciary for 16 years.

The process to select his successor has been embroiled in the succession fights currently raging on in the ruling ZANU-PF, something that has stalled a constitutionally defined process that Chidyausiku had set rolling.

There are suggestions that a ZANU-PF faction that is in favour of Mnangagwa taking over from President Robert Mugabe was opposed to the selection process provided for by Section 180 of the Constitution that prescribes the selection of the CJ through public interviews.

This faction — which is believed to be favouring Chiweshe to take over — is pushing for the amendment of the Constitution to give the President the powers to appoint the CJ, the Deputy Chief Justice and the Judge President of his own choice.

Just days before the interviews for the CJ’s post were held on December 12 last year, one ZANU-PF activist, Romeo Zibani, filed an application in the High Court to stop the interviews and Justice Hungwe granted the order.

However, the JSC noted an appeal in the Supreme Court and proceeded with the interviews, which Chiweshe, who had applied and invited for the interviews, later boycotted, insisting that the interviews were illegal.

In February the Supreme Court ruled that Justice Hungwe had misdirected himself in giving himself powers to suspend the Constitution on the basis of a promised constitutional amendment.

The case took a new twist last week when Zibani reported Chidyausiku to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission for alleged criminal abuse of office after the CJ invited retired Constitutional Court judge, Justice Vernanda Ziyambi to join two other judges to hear the appeal against Justice Hungwe ruling stopping the interviews.

This followed the shortage of the Supreme Court judges to hear the case, as some of the judges were interested parties, while others recused themselves citing professional proximity to the parties in dispute.

The charges against Chidyausiku are yet to be investigated.

Chidyausiku however said he was generally happy with his legacy, especially with the thrust that his bench took on the question of land.

Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba will be acting CJ until a substantive CJ is appointed.
It is not clear which process President Mugabe will follow to fill this strategic post.
Chidyausiku — whose appointment also divided the bench — was Zimbabwe’s fifth and the longest reigning CJ of Zimbabwe. Justice Hector Macdonald, the last CJ of Rhodesia, continued briefly at Independence before resigning.

The first JC of an independent Zimbabwe was Justice John Fieldsend (July 1980 to February 1983) followed by Justice Telford Georges (March 1983 to February 1984), who was succeeded by the first black CJ, Justice Enoch Dumbutshena (1984 to 1990) followed by Justice Antony Gubbay (1991 to 2001) before Chidyausiku came in 2001. Financial Gazette