Her Ladyship for a change

Opposition leaders desperately in search of an issue are making noise about the recent appointment of Zimbabwean Justice Rita Makarau as Acting Judge of the Supreme Court in Namibia. We take issue with those unjustified rumblings.

Ostensibly, statements about The Honourable Justice Makarau’s past connections to late President Robert Mugabe seem to headline opposition blustering both here and in Zimbabwe’s newspapers. Namibian opposition parties add whipped cream and a cherry on top of their hollow arguments against Makarau by appealing to xenophobia to whip up the usual uninformed nationalistic prejudices against any foreigner earning money in Namibia. Let us drop that argument and focus on facts, not populist emotion.

A further telling indictment against those who are whingeing about Justice Makarau is that they ignore the stated commitment of the SWAPO government and the Judicial Service Commission to bring qualified and dignified women into the highest levels of the judicial system in Namibia. Those against Makarau have yet to produce evidence against her qualifications, competent judicial experience, and legal skills as a fit for her temporary assignment to the bench. We take this opportunity to laud her achievements over nearly 25 years in law as the primary reason for her appointment. Her post is a publicly assessable, skilled position that requires proven ability. Grabbing someone randomly from a grocery store line just to have a female face in a robe and wig will not work. We do not recall a similarly visceral uproar at the appointment of foreign male judges to temporary positions within the Namibian judicial system.

Surely, right-thinking people agree that justice delayed is justice denied. This newspaper has, in the past, loudly complained about the snail’s pace of court proceedings in Namibia. With an equal voice, we applaud productive steps taken to move forward on this critical area of injustice and find more qualified judges, magistrates, and court staff to handle backlogs, adjudicate cases, strike down old laws, clarify the constitution, and cut the time needed to obtain final judgments. Her Ladyship Makarau’s appointment is a welcome part of the government’s efforts to stop delaying justice in Namibia.

We chuckle at opposition statements that the appointment of Makarau is unconstitutional. Unless there is independent, credible evidence of an administrative or procedural faux pas in the process of her appointment, that statement is unfounded and unfair. We reiterate that Justice Makarau is not the first foreign judge asked to work in our country and add their knowledge to resolve Namibian cases at all levels. With luck, she will not be the last. There are other countries with legal systems identical to ours in Namibia who have and will continue to add their skills to our process.

Since independence, outside judges have been asked to review or assess certain cases; these jurists have been and will continue to be actively recruited in this endeavour. As needed, the appointing authority is correct to look internally and outwards to ensure vacancies and gaps are filled and move Namibia’s justice system forward and keep it effective and learned. We must serve those who seek justice within our system more efficiently and dutifully than what has been happening before now.

Either the political ‘zebra’ system has stripes, or it doesn’t. With the present Supreme Court Chief Justice as the distinguished Lordship Peter Shivute, High Court Judge President, Honourable Justice Petrus Damaseb, and Deputy High Court Judge President, the Honourable Hosea Angula, there must be gender parity considerations when those top-level positions eventually become available. It is an unacceptable fallacy that there are no women competent, experienced, and available to take on any role in the judicial system in Namibia. We point to Lady Justices Esi Schimming-Chase and Johanna Prinsloo as High Court judges in Namibia, colleagues of the newly appointed Justice Makarau, who certainly, at the appropriate time, could ascend to even higher levels of the judiciary should they choose to do so. Let us not forget that it was not so long ago that judges of color were victims of the racist “not-enough-experience-or-skill” excuse and other vapid mutterings as a way of keeping the courts as white as possible. Are
there those determined to keep the bench as male as possible in the same way?

Thankfully, before Justice Makarau’s appointment, a few other female judges, such as Justices Kato van Niekerk, Naomi Shivute, and Marlene Tommasi, served the law and justice in Namibia. There are female magistrates, law professors, legal drafters, and senior counsels that enrich the judiciary landscape of the land of the brave. We look to our growing pool of talented female law students studying at UNAM and abroad who will seed the legal fields of the future and may rise to be a Ladyship Chief Justice of the Supreme Court sooner rather than later.

We urge opposition leaders and court watchers to look critically at Her Ladyship Makarau’s outputs, workflow, and decisions and not give credence to posturing political commentary about her. During her one-year appointment, let us judge the judge fairly.

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