Zimbabwe leader extends tenure of controversial top judge

Luke Malaba has notably been criticised for dismissing an opposition petition which sought to annul the 2018 presidential election results over alleged rigging in favour of Mnangagwa.

FILE: Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa at Loftus stadium for the inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as the sixth democratically elected president. Picture: Abigail Javier/EWN.

HARARE - Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday extended the tenure of the country's controversial top judge by five years, just days before he was to due to retire, in a move seen as aimed at consolidating the president's power.

Luke Malaba has notably been criticised for dismissing an opposition petition which sought to annul the 2018 presidential election results over alleged rigging in favour of Mnangagwa.

The prolongation of Malaba's term comes three days before his 70th birthday and just two days after Mnangagwa signed into law a constitutional amendment allowing him to handpick senior judges.

In a letter to Malaba quoted by the state-owned daily The Herald, the government said Mnangagwa had "considered and accepted the medical report... as proof of your mental and physical fitness to continue in that office".

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.

The move "points to a dark chapter it the history of Zimbabwe in which the judiciary and the executive are working in cahoots... to further the personal interests of the two men... mutually reinforcing their positions in order to strengthen their power," Alex Magaisa, a law lecturer at the University of Kent, told AFP.

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

Lovemore Madhuku, a Zimbabwean politician and democracy activist, told a news conference in Harare that Mnangagwa "has gone much beyond what... Mugabe was doing in terms of loving power," adding: "Power is not being consolidated in the hands of an office, but of an individual".

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.