afrol.com, 1 March - Zimbabwe's Chief Justice, Sir Anthony Gubbay, today defied government orders to step down when going to work as usual. He was given until midnight on Wednesday to leave his office, and the government threatens to remove him forcefully in what has become a dramatic "war" for the independence of the country's judiciary.
Sir Anthony Gubbay has been accused of aligning with the white farmers and standing in the way of the Zimbabwean "land reform". Many of the country's top judges, such as Gubbay, are white. After heavy pressure from "war veterans" and the government, including threats to his personal security, the Chief Justice originally had agreed to resign from his post. He however changed his mind, deciding to resist the government's pressure, and to defend the Zimbabwean Constitution.
Gubbay lately seems to have been under substantial pressure by Zimbabwean judges and lawyers not to give in to government threats.
Zimbabwe's powerful Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, reacted promptly on the Chief Justice's change of mind and said that a from today, 1 March, Judge Godfrey Chidyausiku (considered a supporter of the ruling ZANU-PF party) would replace Gubbay as the country's Chief Justice. Four other high court judges are also to be forced to leave their offices, according to Moyo.
Protests to the government's attack on the free judiciary are widespread, both inside Zimbabwe and from the outside world. The UN Special Rapporteur Dato' Param Cumaraswamy yesterday repeated his alert on the independence of the Zimbabwean judiciary, saying the government's eviction was "an unacceptable threat" to the judiciary.
Judges, including the Chief Justice, are not employees of the Government or any other authority, the UN representative said, stressing that their offices were constitutional appointments and that they were not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority. "I once again appeal to the Government to honour and comply with its obligations undertaken under international and regional instruments and moreover under the Constitution of Zimbabwe," Mr. Cumaraswamy said.
Protests have also come from the UK, where Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, already last week expressed his "mounting concern" at the pressure being applied to the judiciary and the media "by the Government of Zimbabwe."
Finally this weekend, the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, Mugabe's most loyal ally until now, expressed his first public critics towards the decay of Zimbabwe. Mbeki said the attacks on the judiciary and press in Zimbabwe were "matters of very serious concern" to South Africa. A taboo was broken with this statement, demonstrating the seriousness of the attacks against the Zimbabwean judiciary and Constitution.
Also professors of the Faculty of Law at the University of Zimbabwe have repeatedly confirmed their support to Gubbay and the other judges evicted from the government. They claim the judges could not have done another thing than moving against the illegal farm occupations supported by the government. One professor told the local Daily News "there is nothing in any of the rulings by the High Court and the Supreme Court relating to land that shows that the courts are opposed to land reforms."
All critics point towards the unconstitutional move by the government. Following the Zimbabwean Constitution, judges can only be forced to step down after a special tribunal has found them guilty of mental incapacity, misconduct or gross abuse of office. The President or the government is in no position to fire judges, only to appoint them.
Zimbabwean judges and lawyers are believed to be generally in support of Gubbay, his conduct and his verdicts. There is no reason to believe that a special tribunal would find any ground to accuse Gubbay of misconduct, most observers say. The most controversial about Chief Justice Gubbay has been his colour of skin, a constant irritation to President Robert Mugabe, who keeps saying that he wants to see the whites of Zimbabwe "thoroughly beaten" before he resigns.
Gubbay's turning up at his office today will further accentuate the crisis and national and international observers will closely watch the steps taken by the Zimbabwean government. An unconstitutional, forceful removal of Chief Justice Gubbay might be met with violent protests.