Zim's first black judge dies

2000-12-16 13:05

Harare - Enoch Dumbutshena, Zimbabwe's first black judge and a jurist unafraid to rule against the government, died after a long battle with liver cancer, his family said on Friday. He was 80.

Dumbutshena, the nation's former chief justice, died at his Harare home late on Thursday.

The eminent lawyer was widely credited with transforming the colonial court system into a highly respected, independent judiciary after independence from Britain in 1980.

Dumbutshena was also a long-serving member of the International Commission of Jurists, who, in recent years, advised in arbitration cases, supported human rights organisations and undertook lecture tours.

Trained in law in Britain, Dumbutshena was appointed the new nation's first black judge in 1980. He became chief justice in 1984.

He was forced to retire in 1990, despite fellow judges' pleas to President Robert Mugabe to allow him to continue past the usual retirement age of 70.

Earlier this year, Dumbutshena headed a fledgling opposition party to challenge Mugabe's ruling party in national elections. The party folded after winning no parliamentary seats.

Dumbutshena had campaigned for political reform and criticised Mugabe for undermining the judiciary and using sweeping presidential powers to overrule court judgments.

Soon afterward, a state-controlled bank revoked loans borrowed by Dumbutshena to run a small farm outside Harare, and he was declared bankrupt.

The bank insisted he had defaulted on loan repayments. Members of his disbanded Forum party showed evidence that the Zimbabwe Banking Corp. allowed ruling party officials to default on much larger debts.

Dumbutshena practiced in 1963 as an advocate in the High Court in Rhodesia, as colonial Zimbabwe was called. His specialty in defending black nationalists opposed to colonial rule sent him into exile in neighbouring Zambia four years later.

He practiced as a senior advocate in Zambia until 1979, when constitutional talks began the path to Zimbabwean independence.

In 1983, Dumbutshena acquitted six white air force officers charged with sabotage after ruling that their confessions were made under torture. He criticised the government after the officers were re-arrested and detained for two more years before being freed.

He is survived by his wife and four adult children. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.