A sound jurist, a real patriot

Dr Simbi Mubako
Cde Godfrey Chidyausiku served Zimbabwe as Chief Justice remarkably for nearly 17 years. His death shocked those of us who knew him personally.

I got to know Cde Chidyausiku in 1979 at the Lancaster House Conference in Britain as he came from Zimbabwe to join our legal team.

I was chairman of the Zanu legal team and Professor Walter Kamba was deputy chair. We worked well with the Zapu team that was led by Justice Leo Baron and had the likes of Justice Kennedy Sibanda.

Justice Chidyausiku was a very intelligent lawyer and was politically alert.

Everybody, including the opposition, were really impressed with our accomplishments during the conference.

I remember how Mr Anderson, the Abel Muzorewa team’s legal advisor and the then Justice Minister, congratulated us when we returned home. It was thanks to people like Cde Chidyausiku and others that we did a good job.

Cde Chidyausiku and I later met after Independence when we were both invited to join Government. I took the post of Justice Minister while he left his law practice to be Local Government Deputy Minister.

A Cabinet reshuffle shortly afterwards saw him become my deputy in the Justice Ministry. It was a privilege to work with him again as he was clear about Government’s and the party’s political objectives.

His understanding of the law and its application was superb. We crafted laws together, laws like the one on the legal age of majority.

He was also key in constructing a new Judiciary, which was my ministry’s major priority at the time. There was no Supreme Court, so we created one.

In all this, I found Cde Chidyausika extremely helpful.

He was more familiar with the law than me as I had qualified outside (Zimbabwe). He helped me get acquainted with the practical side of things here at home.

Before Independence, white lawyers would not allow many of their black counterparts to practice.

Cde Herbert Chitepo was the first black advocate. He was exceptionally good, exceptionally good, and was the only one who managed to get a few cases while others starved. Then he left for Tanzania and eventually went into politics.

Walter Kamba, Zimbabwe’s first black attorney, also left for Scotland and became a professor there. When he came back, he did not go back into the profession.

In the meantime, very few people had studied Law here and qualified.

There were people like Minister (Patrick) Chinamasa, Chihambakwe, Owen Mukushi, Godfrey and Kennedy Sibanda, all of whom found it difficult to practice.

It was difficult for black advocates to get briefs from white firms, and Godfrey understood all that because he had actually been in practice.

Cde Chidyausiku was later appointed a judge, becoming the second black judge after Justice Enock Dumbujena.

I joined the bench at a much later stage, and was to recruit two Ghanaian judges and another from West Indies since we did not have many of our own justices.

Everybody knew that Justice Chidyausiku was one of the best judges. He was highly regarded and it was no surprise that he became Judge President.

He was elevated to Chief Justice in 2001 when I was in Washington DC as ambassador. I was satisfied that the bench, the courts were in good hands as he was a firm administrator.

It was around the time of Fast-Track Land Reform, and the Judiciary was in crisis.

Supreme Court judges and the executive clashed, leading to the resignation of the then Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay.

I knew he was the best person to lead the judiciary in those circumstances. A no nonsense judge, he was firm and had control.

He was heavily criticised – particularly by white lawyers, judges and farmers – but he pulled through, bringing justice administration and national politics together.

I visited him each time I came home from Washington.

He actually didn’t care about the criticism; clear in his mind that land redistribution was necessary, even though the question was: how?

After my tour of duty abroad, he asked me to head a study on Zimbabwe’s law and judiciary. I conducted that research with three others, and wrote a report which the Chief Justice was pleased with.

But some felt our report had not been critical enough.

Justice Chidyausiku used to come to my house here and there just to discuss national affairs, particularly the land question which had settled down at the time.

It was clear the policy he had set was working.

And I can add that the policy is still working as there are no legal disputes over land and we have land.

Some judges once said no judges should own land because they could be compromised, a line borrowed from white commercial farmers.

I still think that was an invalid argument. There was no logic there because one is not a judge for life. When he/she leaves the bench, he/she becomes an ordinary person.

In the end, the majority of judges agreed that they, too, could get land. That was the position the Chief Justice himself took. These were the kinds of problems we settled everytime we met.

The Chidyausiku Supreme Court acquitted itself well.

For instance, the on notice employment termination judgment was spot on. I would have decided the same way.

When he retired, I hoped he would continue to contribute to society for much longer. However, we have to accept what God has decreed.

Go in peace, Godfrey. Zimbabwe will continue to be grateful to you for your service. Future generations will appreciate the greatness of Cde Chidyausiku.

Dr Simbi Mubako shared these views with The Sunday Mail’s Harmony Agere in Harare on May 5, 2017

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