Judicial Capture

A brief history of judicial capture in Zimbabwe

Alex Magaisa

8 April 2016

Last week, most Zimbabweans watched in awe as the Constitutional Court of South Africa delivered a seminal judgment on executive and parliamentary accountability.  In a powerful judgment, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was critical of South Africa’s Presidency and Parliament, declaring that they had violated the country’s constitution.  It was an important decision that caught worldwide attention.

There were murmurs of envy among Zimbabweans, encapsulating a belief that our southern neighbour is blessed to have an independent judiciary that is bold enough to express such criticism against the country’s leader and Parliament.  It’s something we have not been accustomed to during recent years in our own country, such is the low confidence that most people have in the judiciary when it comes to matters with a political theme.

But things were not always like this for us.  A younger generation of Zimbabweans who have grown up in the shadow of the current judiciary may not know, let alone recall, a time when Zimbabwean courts commanded high respect worldwide both for the quality of their jurisprudence and defence of their independence from the executive.  Indeed, there was a time when the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe under the leadership of Chief Justices Dumbutshena and Gubbay in the 1980s and 1990s produced important human rights judgments which have been cited as legal authorities in major jurisdictions.

But something happened along the way and it wasn’t pretty.  The story of the Zimbabwean judiciary is also an instructive one for South Africans, even as they bask in the present glory of their Constitutional Court’s courageous and exemplary judgment.....

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