In Zimbabwe, All Eyes Are On The Constitutional Court On Wednesday, the court hears the opposition's challenge to the recent presidential election. The Movement for Democratic Change narrowly lost to the incumbent and alleges "gross mathematical errors."

In Zimbabwe, All Eyes Are On The Constitutional Court

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


In Zimbabwe, all eyes are on the country's Constitutional Court. It's hearing a case challenging that country's presidential election. The case is raising fears of more political violence, but also hope of a historic decision. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from the capital, Harare.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: A day before the big court arguments, Zimbabwe's war veterans called a press conference. Soon after they entered the room, they begin to sing songs of liberation.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: This group, many of whom took arms to end minority white rule in Zimbabwe, was instrumental in ousting longtime President Robert Mugabe. And they had gathered here to protect their gains, to send a message that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the man declared president by the Electoral Commission, would not be cowed by a Constitutional Court.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The president-elect won by 50.8 percent, full stop.


PERALTA: The election, held July 30, has been criticized by American and European observers. But Victor Matemadanda, the leader of the veterans group, defended the process by attacking the U.S.


VICTOR MATEMADANDA: They forced us to believe in the Abraham Lincoln definition of democracy - rule of the people, for the people, by the people as though people agree on one thing at the same time.

PERALTA: Here in Zimbabwe, it is majority rule, he says, with just an acknowledgment of the minority.


MATEMADANDA: What do we have here is African democracy. We define our own democracy.

PERALTA: And whether they like it or not, this court case has potential to shape Zimbabwe's democracy in fundamental ways. Constitutional lawyer Eric Matinenga.

ERIC MATINENGA: In terms of developing a jurisprudence of the separation of powers, I think this is the time.

PERALTA: One of the big questions facing Zimbabwe is, can the Constitutional Court look at the case before it and actually rule against a sitting president, actually rule against those powerful veterans? Kenya's Supreme Court did exactly that last year, and scholars called it an African Marbury v. Madison moment, the judiciary establishing itself as a co-equal branch of government. Cases like these, says Matinenga, present unique opportunities to advance democratic theories.

MATINENGA: I would have thought that they would grab this opportunity and say, right, here we are. We are free judicially, and we are not going to get anybody whispering in our respective ears as to what we should or should not do.

PERALTA: But Matinenga says this court is also walking a tightrope because the decision will be about much more than law. It will also be judged in the court of public opinion. And in the streets, the analysis is much simpler.

So what are you expecting?

JOSHUA: I'm just expecting that justice will prevail.

PERALTA: That justice will prevail. That's Joshua (ph). He only gives me his first name because he is scared of retribution. When Mugabe was ousted, he had hope that Zimbabwe had changed. But in the past few weeks, he has seen the military beat up his friends for their political views. This court case, he says, gives Zimbabwe one more chance to truly choose change. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Harare.


Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.