The appointment of Acting Judge of the High Court Moses Chinhengo and his subsequent assignment to take on the Fishrot trial this week raised eyebrows on the alleged opaque world in which the judiciary operates.
On Monday, Judge President Petrus Damaseb unveiled Chinhengo in the Windhoek High Court as the man in charge of one of Namibia’s biggest cases, known as the Fishrot fraud, corruption and racketeering trial.
Late yesterday, Judiciary spokesperson Vikitoria Hango indicated that they were not yet ready to respond to detailed questions on the issue.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) also had no answers regarding its recruitment procedures.
Some political parties, including the Landless People’s Movement and the Affirmative Repositioning movement, were not entirely satisfied with the appointment of Chinhengo, particularly due to what they termed the secretive nature of the appointment of judges in Namibia, a process wherein transparency is almost non-existent.
“The Zimbabwean judge issue; we’ll really have to investigate… there are others from Zimbabwe who fled and said we’ve had enough of this nonsense. Professor Walter Kamba, when [Robert] Mugabe started interfering in the University of Zimbabwe, he decided to go, and he was called by [Peter] Katjavivi and founded the faculty of law [at the University of Namibia], for which at some stage he was dean of the faculty. There are those good Zimbabweans who decided out of their conscience to come and play a good role,” LPM leader Bernadus Swartbooi said.
“But others are here on a mission. They are mercenaries. You can be clothed in a judicial dress, with a black gown, projected up there, and we can call you ‘my lord’, but you know that you don’t have a soul, whether you are called a ‘lord’, you know you are a dirty man, even if you’re in black.”
“Everything has its time. Every end is predictable.”
The sharp-tongued Swarbooi was not done: “I hope the Zimbabwean judge will not be appointed for the genocide case.”
Swartbooi is an admitted legal practitioner of the High Court.
He said during a press conference held on Wednesday that criticising the Judiciary comes with threats, including revocation of practising licences.
This was corroborated by two lawyers who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution by the ‘powers that be’, who opined that the lack of transparency in the appointment of acting or permanent judges of the High Court or Supreme Court leaves much to be desired.
Swartbooi’s orange army and others are currently in court, suing the Namibian government over the 1904-08 genocide meted out by the German colonial regime on the Ovaherero and Nama.
Reiterating their perennial dissatisfaction with the Judiciary’s modus operandi, AR’s head of legal Maitjituavi Kavetu said “in November 2020, we petitioned the JSC to be more transparent in their operations. But the JSC seems to have continued with their lack of transparency in the appointment of judges. In order to pay lip service to our demands, only the Ombudsman’s interview was done in public to date”.
At present, interviews for the Electoral Commission of Namibia’s head and the Ombudsman are being held in public.
“Vacancies on the High Court bench or Supreme Court bench remain a secret to the public. Any judge appointed in a manner which doesn’t include public interviews or announcements of vacancies can never receive the blessings and confidence of the public or the leftist movement,” Kavetu continued.
He added that their issue is not about the individual judges appointed, but the process.
The process, Kavetu said, “is rather too secretive, and the fact that they seem to insist on the secretive process makes us wonder whether the Namibian people will even see justice in the Fishrot case, especially with a judge coming from Zimbabwe, when one considers that country’s judicial reputation and the Namibian history regarding one of the judges who was appointed in the north [Maphios Cheda].”
In 2018, AR organised the #ChedaMustFall demonstration against former Zimbabwean High Court Justice Cheda, who is embroiled in a nasty land row in Oshakati.
Two years later, AR was camping at Chief Justice Peter Shivute’s residence in Windhoek, demanding transparency in the JSC’s recruitment processes.
They also demanded that the commission embarks on a public consultative process regarding the recruitment process, including conducting the interviews in public to ensure transparency.
All judges of the Supreme Court and High Court are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the JSC.
The JSC is a group of legal experts that suggests people who have the right skills to be judges. All judges must take an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution, and to fearlessly give justice to all people without prejudice.
The five-member commission is chaired by Shivute, who is deputised by Damaseb.
Attorney general Festus Mbandeka, advocate Vicky Ya Toivo and advocate Sakeus Akweenda are the other members.