Love or hate her, Justice Rita Makarau organised and presided over the 2013 elections which brought back President Robert Mugabe to power.
It is no mean feat running elections in Zimbabwe where society is so polarised that the opposition accuses her Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) of assisting Zanu PF to win elections. Before she was handed the task of running the 2013 elections, Makarau had always been a fearless judge.
She is a woman with a sober mind who wears many professional hats. She is a Constitutional and Supreme Court Judge, Zec chairperson and executive secretary of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). She has climbed the ladder in the legal profession from a public prosecutor to a Supreme Court Judge. Justice Makarau (JM) speaks to Parliamentary Editor Chengetai Zvauya (CZ).
CZ: Who is Rita Makarau?
RM: I am a lawyer and a Supreme Court and Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe Judge. I am also the chairperson of Zec and I also head the JSC.
CZ: When were you born?
JM: I was born in Mabvuku 54 years ago in a family of seven. My family name is Munemo. My mother is still alive but my father is now dead.
I still have fond memories growing up as a young girl, playing in the streets and going to school bare-footed, playing games in the school grounds on the sandy fields with my friends.
I remember it was the time of the colonial regime, when we were subjected to house inspection by the city council officials to limit the number of people coming from the rural areas to live in the city. All the city families were being asked to register the number of their children with the local authorities.
At our home, we used to have many visitors from our extended family and we had many frequent night visits from the authorities which were humiliating and degrading as they could make night raids looking for our extended family members.
CZ: Let's talk about your immediate family members?
JM: I am married to Dr Amos Makarau who is the director of the meteorological services department and we have a daughter who is also a lawyer. I also have a son-in-law.
CZ: Where did you attend school?
JM: I attended Donnybrook Primary School in Mabvuku before I proceeded to Goromonzi High School for my secondary education.
I then enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe in 1980 to study for a degree in law. When I finished my high school I did not want to study law, I wanted to read for sociology but my father wanted me to be a nurse.
However, I had passed well my Advanced Level studies which enabled me to study law. I was influenced by my peers at college to take up law as we got to the campus with other students to enquire about the entry requirements.
I ended up being influenced by them to take up law.
I remember some of the students I studied with who included High court judges Justice Ben Hlatshwayo and Justice Annie Marie Gowora.
CZ: Did you ever dream of becoming a judge when you were studying law?
JM: No, I am actually surprised by every appointment I am getting in my professional career as it is always a stepping stone from one level to another.
When I completed my degree, I started to work as a public prosecutor at the Rotten Row Court together with Wilson Manase, another senior lawyer. I then left the magistrate court for Parastatal's Commission then headed by Ibbo Mandaza, where I was in charge of the legal affairs.
I also worked at Kantor and Immerman legal practitioners before I decided to start my own law firm and I opened an all-female legal practitioner firm together with Justice Gowora.
We worked with a lot of young lawyers that included MDC Harare West legislator Jessie Majome and Catherine Muzavazi, amongst many others, who passed through my hands. All this time it never crossed my mind that I would be called to the bench one day.
In 2000, I was appointed to the High Court together with Justice Gowora, and In 2010, I was appointed to the Supreme Court. So I have spent close to 30 years in the legal field interacting with many lawyers.
CZ: Tell us more about your other appointments?
JM: I am chairperson of Zec and I managed to supervise the 2013 harmonised elections which were held in a peaceful environment. The secret behind our success as Zec was that we engaged all stakeholders involved in the elections as we had an open door policy by engaging them fully and creating a good understanding removing all mistrust and suspicions.
I am also heading the JSC which employs over 3 000 workers working in the ministry of Justice Legal and Parliamentary Affairs. It is a big organisation and we are trying to the best of our ability to address the concerns of the workers despite the limited resources.
I was once a legislator from 1996 to 2000 and I learned a lot about the duties of being a legislator of making laws. It was a very interesting time as I rubbed shoulders with some politicians in our country.
I once lectured at the University of Zimbabwe, where I was teaching procedural law, conveyancing law and notarial law.
CZ: Of all these appointments, which among them did you find most interesting?
JM: All of them were interesting but I miss lecturing at the university where I was meeting and interacting with young law students imparting legal knowledge to them. If time permits I would want to return to teaching law at the university.
CZ: What would you want to see happening in the law profession as a judge?
JM: I want to see young lawyers practising good law and going back to basics and being ethical. I encourage them to be patient to enable them to grow up professionally.
I also want to see more female lawyers coming up the ranks and I am also a feminist who wants to see an increase in the number of young professional women either as teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors and senior managers in our society as women constitute majority of the population.
CZ: What do you do in your free time?
JM: I spend most of my time reading and travelling and also try to find time for my family. I am married to the Makarau family so I try to balance my time and also socialise with them. I am a daughter-in-law, auntie, mother, sister to my extended family so I try to juggle my time to accommodate them. I'm a true African woman.