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MDC Outrage Over Top Judicial Appointment

Opposition say they were not consulted as they should have been over selection of attorney-general.
By Chipo Sithole

The opposition have expressed anger at the appointment of a ZANU-PF loyalist to the post of attorney general, claiming the move breaches the power-sharing agreement.

Johannes Tomana was installed December 16 at a State House ceremony – witnessed by top officials in the judiciary – filling a the post left in the hands of a caretaker after incumbent Sobusa Gula-Ndebele was fired amid questions about his credibility.

The oath was administered by President Robert Mugabe, who oversees the department through the parent ministry of justice, legal and parliamentary Affairs.

Welcoming Tomana to the cabinet, Mugabe called him "the right man" to confront the challenges as government's chief law officer, according to state newspaper, The Herald.

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, has expressed outrage. The swearing-in for Tomana, said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa, was a contemptuous violation of the global political agreement between Mugabe and the MDC which stipulates consultation on all key government appointments.

The MDC was not consulted before Tomana was appointed.

"Just like the unilateral appointment of the [central bank] governor, it’s a violation of the global political agreement," Chamisa said. "It’s consistent with ZANU-PF's attitude of decimating and disregarding the global political agreement."

Tomana takes over a powerful position as the government's top lawyer, a position that also makes him an ex-officio member of the cabinet.

He fills a post left vacant by Gula-Ndebele, an ex-military supremo, who was fired in May after a three-man tribunal found him guilty of conduct inconsistent with a public official.

High Court judge Justice Bharat Patel has been acting attorney general since May and now steps aside for Tomana, who was deputy attorney general.

Gula-Ndebele was fired after accusations that he had offered to help fugitive banker James Mushore in September 2007. Mushore, who had fled the country after allegations of currency offences three years earlier, was arrested in October 2007 after his return to Harare from London. Mushore was on the police's wanted list when he is said to have secretly met Gula-Ndebele in a restaurant in Harare and reportedly clinched a deal that would spare him prosecution if he returned to stay in Zimbabwe.

After Mugabe fired Gula-Ndebele, local media claimed the charges against the law chief were politically driven. Gula-Ndebele had clashed openly with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa in refusing to prosecute some politically motivated cases.

Tomana’s focus appears to be on ordinary crime. Soon after he was sworn in on December 17, Tomana sought to set a new tone for the justice department.

"In my own assessed view, the reason why Zimbabwe is suffering is because we have allowed crime to dominate our lives. I want to promise everyone that the security services are ready, the judiciary is ready and I am more than prepared to help the nation fight crime," he said.

The attorney general’s post is highly politicised; the incumbent has to contend with heavy executive meddling and deal-making with prominent members of the Mugabe establishment.

Tomana, who joined government from private practice, something highly unusual in Zimbabwe's legal fraternity, has well-placed political connections. He is the right-hand man of powerful ZANU-PF legal affairs secretary Emmerson Mnangagwa and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono.

Official sources say he is steeped in ZANU-PF’s succession politics and is a card-carrying member of Mugabe's party, which observers point out is likely to compromise his administration of justice.

"There is no doubt that President Mugabe has complete trust and confidence in him as a well known ZANU-PF functionary, but as he embarks on his new responsibilities, he has to stand up to his principles and refuse to be used," said Lainos Mhara, a paralegal in Harare. "That is what integrity is all about."

Chamisa declined to comment on the integrity of Tomana as attorney general, stating "we would rather look at the processes and the integrity of institutions that installed him into office instead of the integrity of the individual".

Tomana represented the Zimbabwe government in several cases under his private law firm – Tomana, Muzangaza and Mandaza – where he was a senior partner. He has defended government policies with gusto and regularly features in the state press as a pro |ZANU-PF political analyst. His steady rise started in 2005 when he was appointed commissioner to the impotent Anti-Corruption Commission that has seen top-level corruption spread like wildfire under its watch.

Tomana has been a cheerleader for the repressive Media and Information Commission – a quasi-government body created to suppress the Zimbabwean media – by proffering legal advice to the commission. He has described the repressive media law, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, AIPPA, used to shut down four newspapers since 2003, as "entirely reasonable".

He has been at the forefront of defending Mugabe's land grab programme that saw ZANU-PF loyalists seize productive white-owned farms for redistribution to regime loyalists and high-ranking government officials. Most of these farms now lie derelict.

The opposition has accused Tomana of bias during his tenure as deputy attorney general. In August, the MDC alleged Tomana was at the centre of a ring including the Central Intelligence Organistion that was trying to secure convictions against MDC members of parliament, in a bid to reverse the MDC's new-found majority in parliament.

The MDC said as deputy attorney general he denied bail to several MDC activists, but more importantly to several MDC parliamentarians.

As Tomana settles into his new job, there is a serious crisis of expectation from a battered and restive nation for so long denied justice. He faces the mammoth task of rebuilding the shaky leadership at the justice department and declining public confidence in the judiciary.

He will under pressure to immediately secure the release of the 23 MDC activists and other pro-democracy leaders held incommunicado in secret state facilities for several weeks.

A brother of missing human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, who has been holding a prayer vigil every night for the safe return of his sister, abducted on December 3, said, "I just hope he can safely bring our sister and mother back home. As they say, new brooms usually sweep cleaner and we hope he will do this for us as the new attorney general. We would be so much grateful. We are also praying for him."

Chipo Sithole is the pseudonym of an IWPR reporter in Zimbabwe.

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