The President, last week, declared 23 August as the day for Zimbabweans to elect their President, Members of Parliament and councillors.
He also proclaimed that the nomination court would sit on June 21 and if a run-off election becomes necessary, it will be held on October 2.
The judiciary plays a crucial role in elections in Zimbabwe starting from presiding over the nomination court, managing the whole process through the Electoral Act to resolving post election disputes.
Against this background, the government has decided to pamper judges with US$400 000 housing loans.
A source close to the department told Nehanda Radio that the Chief Justice, Luke Malaba and his deputy Elizabeth Gwaunza have already been allocated their benefits.
“It’s US$400 000 per judge. Started off as something for the CJ (Chief Justice) and the DCJ (Deputy Chief Justice). Now going to other judges,” said a trusted source that refused to be disclosed for fear of victimisation.
In the 2018 elections, Mnangagwa won disputably 50.8% of votes, compared to 44.3% for then opposition MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.
The Zanu-PF leader was only declared winner by the Constitutional Court after Chamisa accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of rigging in favour of his rival. These are the same judges getting perks three months before elections.
In an interview with Nehanda Radio, political commentator Pride Mkono questioned the timing of the loans saying that the development had a negative impact on the independence of the judiciary ahead of elections.
“So, the issue of judges getting perks as high as US$400 000 for purchasing of houses and other properties raises a lot of concerns around their professional conduct and independent standing as the judiciary especially when it comes at a time when they are expected to be presiding over a critical process such as the nomination court and possible petitions post 23 August general election,” he said.
“While the idea of improving welfare of government workers is an important and ideal situation, it must not be done in a manner that exposes judges to political posturing and pork-barrelling.
“They must be allowed to do their work professionally and independently and pay raises should be done in a professional and transparent manner without having political undertones.
“Zimbabweans are right to fear that this has a potential of violating the Constitution, especially the principles around the independence of the judiciary.”
Another commentator who preferred anonymity said the move to give judges loans ahead of an election is meant to capture the judiciary.
The analyst further noted that “judicial capture” started when the Constitution was amended to give Mnangagwa the sole right to appoint judges.
“This is once again a clear demonstration that the judiciary in this country is now captured. It is no longer serving its purpose of being an impartial adjudicator of issues, particularly where politics is involved.
“It began with the amendment of the Constitution to allow only one person, which is the President, to appoint, when Zimbabweans had indicated that when it comes to judges they had wanted the Parliament to be involved because the judiciary would be impartial.
“So, this situation clearly demonstrates that Zimbabwe is headed in the wrong direction and those that are presiding over this know that they are responsible and that the people will reject them come August 2023.
“Therefore, they have decided to buy themselves into power by making this decision to ensure that in either outcome; if the outcome is contested in court, the judges will actually prefer to support them,” said the commentator.
This is not the first time President Mnangagwa has been accused of seemingly wanting to buy support of critical government institutions by pampering them with huge benefits ahead of the plebiscite.
Last year, legislators, both opposition and Zanu-PF shockingly agreed to be paid US$40,000 one off payments, totalling US$14 million for 350 members, funded by taxpayers for houses.
Judicial Service Commission’s executive secretary Walter Chikwana’s phones were not reachable during the time of writing.