President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s stunning revelation that he ordered the release of MDC Alliance co-principal Tendai Biti on Thursday has been condemned by the legal fraternity, which strongly feels that it has exposed how the Executive interferes with court processes.
In an image-sprucing attempt that went horribly wrong — judging from the responses from legal experts and even from some in his own Zanu PF — the former Justice and Legal Affairs minister went on micro-blogging Twitter to announce that he intervened to ensure that Biti is released.
“Tendai Biti was released earlier today following my intervention. At such a crucial time in the history of the new Zimbabwe, nothing is more important than unity, peace and dialogue,” Mnangagwa said.
Instead of receiving kudos for his apparently benign intervention, the Zanu PF strongman, was accused of interfering with court processes with some questioning the independence of the judiciary.
Constitutional law expert Lovemore Madhuku said Mnangagwa’s public confession leaves little doubt that, behind the scenes, the legal process is manipulated by the Executive.
“What the president did was very wrong and it sends the wrong signals. There is no role for the president to play in the courts. It is a disturbing revelation that shows that there is a lot that happens behind the scenes — influencing outcomes,” said Madhuku.
Prominent law lecturer Alex Magaisa said Mnangagwa scored an own goal when he revealed that he had leaned on the judiciary to ensure that Biti was freed.
“The bungling regime has been scoring own goals in the past week, attracting lots of condemnation. The handling of the Biti matter has just exposed the regime and removed the benefit of the doubt.
“Self-defeating statement or whoever is in charge of his handle is busy undermining this gentleman,” Magaisa said in response to Mnangagwa’s tweet.
“While the desire to take credit for Biti’s release is understandable as part of the PR campaign to portray ED as a reasonable man, you can’t claim this credit without at the same time confessing to having interfered in the judicial process, which is far worse.”
A professor of constitutional law at the University of Zimbabwe Craig Lennington also rapped Mnangagwa saying he should respect the doctrine of separation of powers.
“I am very surprised by that statement. What the prosecutor can do is to drop the charges or not oppose bail, the president cannot do that, it is illegal, there is no basis for that, I am happy that Biti is out on bail but separation of powers must be respected,” said Lennington.
Mnangagwa’s bitter rival, Nelson Chamisa, who claims to have won the elections and is alleging gross manipulation of the electoral process to favour Zanu PF, said Mnangagwa was now slowly showing the man behind the facade of a reformist he has been wearing since coming to power through a coup last November.
“The Prosecutor-General is supposed to be independent, the magistrate is supposed to be independent. That is how elected president Chamisa reads the Constitution. So who did the declared president Mnangagwa influence,” Chamisa’s spokesperson said on Twitter.
The courts are presently under the spotlight from the international community over how they will treat the MDC Alliance’s petition, disputing the outcome of the harmonised elections.
Zimbabwe is hogging the limelight for all the wrong reasons after soldiers killed at least seven people in Harare central business district as they quashed a demonstration by MDC Alliance supporters.
Biti, a prominent opposition figure, was arrested on Thursday after his attempt to seek refuge in Zambia was thwarted by the Lusaka administration.
However, the way he was hounded by authorities has left Harare with egg on the face, with global economic giants now piling pressure on Mnangagwa to respect human rights.
Mnangagwa has lurched from one legal mistake to the other since assuming the high pressure job in November last year — from his decision to mess up ministerial appointments; his pronouncement in Davos that elections will be held in May when under the Constitution the earliest date for polling was July 23rd and the last date for polling is August 21st, or also giving an ultimatum to those who “externalised” money and assets when there does not seem to be a legal basis for it.