Unmasking the man behind the JSC dispute

HARARE - Romeo Zibani is not your conventional university student who rolls to school in a high-end vehicle and can afford to splash cash on frivolities. If anything, his friends say, he struggles to get by.

Some suggest that were it not for a scholarship from a top Harare lawyer (name withheld), he would probably have dropped out from university, allegations he strenuously denies.

The unassuming University of Zimbabwe (UZ) Law School fourth year student grabbed headlines last week when he took the bold step to file an urgent chamber application that sent shock waves across the judicial sector.

Zibani sought an interdict to stop the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) from conducting public interviews of candidates for the post of Chief Justice.

The JSC had made a call for the nomination of candidates in October 2016, carrying out its constitutional mandate in terms of Section 180 of the Constitution.

Four candidates were nominated and were due to be interviewed on December 12.

Zibani launched his application five days before the scheduled interviews. The matter was brought before Justice Charles Hungwe who delivered an order on December 11, stopping the interviews.

He did not give his reasons on the day, promising to do so the following day. Justice Hungwe’s reasons became available on December 14.

“It occurs to me that where a lawful process leads to an absurd result, in the sense that colleagues select each other for entitlement to public office, as argued by applicant, it cannot be sanctioned on the ground that it is provided for in the law. Such an approach is irrational,” Justice Hungwe controversially ruled.

The reaction to the victory has been one of firm, but measured applause.

Legal experts scorned the ruling as “bizarre”, encapsulating “weak and contradictory reasoning.”

“Here is a judge basically trashing what he knows is a lawful process,” said constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa.

“If a judge cannot sanction a constitutional process on the basis that it is provided for in the law, on what other basis would he make the determination?”

Meanwhile, the JSC immediately noted an appeal at the Supreme Court suspending the operation of Justice Hungwe’s judgment. It decided to proceed with the interviews.

In challenging the composition of the interviewing panel and applicants, Zibani insisted they were friends and some of the interviewers too junior, therefore no fair assessment could be derived from that “incestuous” relationship.

Coincidently or by convenience, Zibani found support from “third respondent” Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The Justice minister, through an affidavit presented in court, stated he had begun processes to amend Section 180 of the Constitution as requested by Zibani.

It emerged in his ruling that Mnangagwa’s submission of the Executive’s intention to amend the Constitution played a huge role in his decision.

While debate raged on the constitutional ramifications of Hungwe’s order, eyebrows have been raised on the man behind the application, his status and standing.

Zibani’s legal team, Venturas and Samukange Legal Practitioners, comprising top lawyers Everson Samukange, Jonathan Samukange and Silvester Hashiti, are not your usual run-off-the-mill lawyers.

A visit to the law firm this week established that for consultation, the firm charges anything from $200, $300, $500 and $1 000 per billable hour. The lawyers usually attract big clients willing to pay top dollar for services in high-stakes situations.

Mudzi South Zanu PF Member of Parliament and senior partner Jonathan is among the most experienced law counsels in the firm, and the attorney can command four figures hourly.

So how could a student who has no source of income except that of his relatives be able to finance a sustained lawsuit, if not for the involvement of a third force, questioned observers.

Zibani’s friends interviewed by the Daily News on Sunday have not been entirely convinced.

“He is just like many other students; only that he gets by because he is on a scholarship at the benevolence of this lawyer,” insisted one of his friends who declined to be named.

Efforts to get comment from the lawyer (name withheld) hit a brick wall, as he had not responded to questions sent to him at the time of going to print.

However, Zibani profusely denied the allegation that the lawyer was footing his tuition.

“No, why?” he sharply questioned.

He also staunchly denied that the powerful lawyer lent him financial and moral support.

Zibani seems heavy with relief and exhaustion rather than elated with victory.

“The question here should not be about where I got the funds but the merit of my application,” he protested.

“Do you ask all litigants where they get the money from?” he asked rhetorically as he denied the litigation had been sponsored by a third force bent on pushing a Zanu PF factional and succession agenda.

Zibani claimed he had paid his own legal fees with the assistance of his aunt based in the Diaspora.

He said what made the lawsuit fees manageable was that he had a personal relationship with his legal representative Samukange, whom he knew way back from the time he was a student and later temporary teacher in the legislator’s Mudzi South constituency.

“I am just an ordinary citizen and being a law student, I am directly affected by the position of Chief Justice,” the 25-year-old said.

Zibani said he was equally stunned by the actions of Mnangagwa who did not oppose his application and instead submitted an affidavit that was supportive of his cause.

“That was a coincidence,” Zibani pointed out.

“I don’t know where or when that Bill was drafted. I was just as surprised when I saw it being presented in court.”

The court case is certainly set to continue dividing opinion, with the glare of the media following every step of the way. The attention has naturally thrust an unassuming Zibani into the spotlight at school and at home.

“Of course, a lot of people are asking me, ‘what’s going on?’ Some think I am now into politics, others say a lot of things, but I did what I did because there was need for it to be done,” he said.

“It did not need a rocket scientist or someone with money as you seem to suggest. It just needed someone with the drive to see that justice prevails. No one gets arrested for seeking redress from the courts.”

Comments (3)

Romeo is very correct and i, uhuru also take this opportunity to thank who ever influenced him . The interviews where like MAHUMBWE . Very young people interviewing experienced people like Malaba.

uhuru - 21 December 2016

This requires Judge President Chiweshe to do a meticulous verification of facts surrounding the whole issue. This may take a month or so.

dobbs one-four - 28 December 2016

Romeo Zibani is just another of Mnangagwa's proxies. Whilst he is challenging the JSC Mnangagwa is busy crafting a law to amend the constitution. What a coincidence!

ulreka - 28 December 2016

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