Fears abound that President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government will influence the Constitutional Court’s decision in the landmark case in which opposition leader Nelson Chamisa wants the results of the July 30 presidential elections nullified. But Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi (ZZ), in this exclusive interview with NewsDay senior reporter Richard Chidza (ND) told Mnangagwa had no appetite to usurp the power of the judiciary. Below are excerpts;
ND: Is our judiciary captured?
ZZ: Our judiciary is protected by the Constitution of Zimbabwe which guarantees its independence. If you go into the Constitution, it’s very clear that it is not subject to the direction or control of anyone in the exercise of its duties.
ND: But the President seemed to indicate he had leaned on the judiciary following the arrest of opposition MDC Alliance principal Tendai Biti?
ZZ: There have been assertions that the tweet by the President meant he was interfering with the judiciary. It’s to the contrary. You will recall that before the new dispensation, people would be arrested, brought to court in leg irons and denied bail. At his inauguration, he made a policy pronouncement that under his administration let’s respect all State institutions and strengthen them. Basically, the President was saying; in dealing with anyone, let’s be fair and all are innocent until proven guilty. The statement was misconstrued to mean that he had given a directive to say that the judiciary must act in a certain manner. The President gave an undertaking that his administration wants all the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution to be upheld. Even State institutions mandated with arrests must change the way they operate and you saw Biti was not brought to court bundled in the back of a car. All his rights were upheld and he was treated with dignity. The President is just saying; let’s treat our citizens as citizens of the 21st century, not as if we are in the 18th century.
ND: Did the President-elect have to then amplify the policy stance you say was made at his inauguration by tweeting specifically on the Biti issue?
ZZ: My belief is that we have a social media that is polluted with hate speech. His tweet was meant to assert what he had already said. You will recall that there were rumours circulating on social media that there were attempts to abduct Biti or do all manner of harm to him inconsistent with the upholding of human rights. My sense is that the President wanted to assert what he had already said, that this was not a policy of government to trample on human rights.
ND: What kind of intervention did the President-elect make on the Biti issue?
ZZ: As far as I know there was no direct intervention on a specific case, but a general policy direction that if someone is arrested, their rights should be asserted in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution. What was perhaps amplified by the tweet was that as a country, the policy of ensuring fundamental human rights is carried forward.
ND: The opposition has brought in lawyers from the region and beyond, do you have their application to operate in the country?
ZZ: My secretary has indicated that indeed, we have their application for their advocates to operate and we will process it. We don’t want to be seen to be blocking what they are trying to do. As practice, we will forward the application to the Law Society of Zimbabwe and if they grant the request, so be it. But we will not block anyone. Our hope is that the Constitutional Court will apply its mind to the issues being raised. Our belief is that election issues are addressed not in the courts, but at the ballot box. So at the end of the day, we hope the will of the people will be upheld.
ND: Is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission independent?
ZZ: Zec is independent. I am the minister who administers the Zec Act, but you have never heard me speaking on their behalf serve on issues that relate to funding and they need Treasury’s assistance on logistical issues. But in so far as their work, they have been absolutely independent and they have followed the Constitution to the letter. I have allowed them to do their work.
ND: What does the latest amendment to the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act mean to Zimbabwe?
ZZ: I don’t believe in legislating against another country. Issues that pertain to our internal affairs cannot be legislated for by another country. However, we will continue with efforts to engage the United States and work on improving our economy as well do whatever is necessary to be part of the community of nations.
ND: Has Zimbabwe done enough to be part of this community of nations?
ZZ: Since November (2017), we have had demonstrations that have not been disrupted and fundamental human rights have been upheld more than any other period in our history. We have had largely peaceful, free and fair election, but had an unfortunate incident after the elections which we believe should not mar the good work we have done.
ND: Is the State hounding opposition leaders to upset their court challenge?
ZZ: Not at all. I don’t believe in that. We had a scenario in the campaign period, we had people who consistently declared that if there is a result that was not in their favour, they would make the country ungovernable. Events that happened thereafter confirmed those utterances. Law enforcement agents were, therefore, keen to explore if there is a causal link between those utterances and what happened (after the elections). When the police were on this, these people then started panicking and claiming non-existent human rights violations.
ND: Any movement on repealing Posa and Aippa?
ZZ: From November, nobody has complained about those laws. I believe it was a question of perception and an attitude by the previous regime. We have had demonstrations and you as reporters are doing your work and nobody is harassing you. Those pieces of legislation are not affecting anyone. Going forward, however, we will have to look at these laws.
We have identified certain sections that will improve our laws for the improvement of the justice delivery system.
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