Zimbabwe leader’s extension of chief justice tenure illegal, says court

Zimbabwe’s High Court on Saturday ruled that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s controversial extension of tenure of the country’s top judge is illegal.

Mnangagwa announced last week that he had extended Luke Malaba’s term of office by five years, just hours before the Chief Justice was to due to retire, in a move seen as aimed at consolidating the president’s power.

Three high court judges sat through Friday night as lawyers slugged it out on the legality of the extension.

The court ruled on Saturday that “Malaba ceased being a judge and Chief Justice of Zimbabwe at 0000hrs on 15 May 2021.”

Malaba has been accused of favouring Mnangagwa’s administration since he dismissed opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s presidential election petition following the 2018 vote. 

Prior to seeking to extending the chief justice’s tenure, the president signed into law a controversial constitutional amendment that changed provisions relating to the appointment of judges. 

A litany of petitions are before the courts challenging the amendment which was railroaded through parliament and signed into law by Mnangagwa two weeks ago, in what critics argued was a plot to keep a maileable judiciary fronted by Malaba.

Critics fear that changes to the constitution, adopted in 2013, will undermine the independence of the judiciary and consolidate Mnangagwa’s stranglehold on power ahead of the next presidential election in 2023.  

Mnangagwa took over after longtime ruler Robert Mugabe was forced to resign by the military in November 2017.