The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson, Justice Simpson Mutambanengwe, has resigned just months before the country holds crucial harmonized elections.
The Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa confirmed to the state media on Tuesday that Mutambanengwe resigned on health grounds.
Mutambanengwe, a London-trained lawyer, was appointed as ZEC chairperson on 31st March 2010. But a Harare based lawyer said since his appointment the former Judge of the High Court has never been in charge of ZEC, leaving that role to Joyce Kazembe, the deputy chair.
'He has been a captain of a plane who was never in charge of the cockpit. It was only the first officer (Kazembe) who has been in charge since 2010,' the lawyer said.
Senator Obert Gutu, the deputy Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, said the former Judge's resignation is 'one of the saddest pieces of news' he'd heard.
Gutu, who only knew of the resignation from reading the state controlled Herald, told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday: 'It is the timing of the resignation that has taken me by surprise. The telltale signs of Mutambanengwe being not fully in charge of ZEC were there for all to see.' He added that anyone taking over from the former judge will have to be an individual with a legal background.
This requirement rules out Kazembe, who holds a Bachelor of Administration degree from the University of Zimbabwe. There are accusations that Kazembe and most members of the ZEC secretariat are too pro-ZANU PF.
Gutu explained that for anyone to be appointed chair of ZEC, they should be a qualified lawyer with at least 7 years experience in legal matters.
Already several names are being touted around as replacements for Mutambanengwe. These include former Supreme Court Judge Wilson Sandura and current ZEC commissioners, Professor Geoff Feltoe and Theophilus Gambe.
Feltoe is a world renowned criminologist having spent 40 years teaching law, mainly at the University of Zimbabwe. Gambe is a senior legal counsel of the High Court of Zimbabwe, and a senior partner in the law firm Gambe and Partners.
Commenting on the sudden resignation, Hopewell Gumbo, a Harare based social and economic justice activist, said Mutambanengwe had had health problems for some time. He added: 'His decision to resign when important assignments are around the corner is a bit worrying. The fear is that he will be replaced by a partisan person worse, before the new constitution comes into effect. What is more worrying is the developing trend of high profile resignations, after the Human Right Commission chairperson resigned recently'.