Some lawyers have urged High Court judge Justice Thompson Mabhikwa to resign to preserve the dignity of the bench following allegations of an intimate affair with a member of support staff, although the Judicial Service Commission is still investigating whether a relationship with such a work colleague breaches the judicial code of ethics.
Investigations into the judge’s alleged intimate affair with a member of the support staff in Bulawayo, Ms Oratile Nare, are underway after nude pictures and raunchy WhatsApp messages, allegedly from the judge’s phone, recently circulated on social media. The judge is a widower.
Some lawyers who spoke to our Harare Bureau said the Judicial Service Commission was right to move in swiftly to “deal with a clear reputational risk” and to see if two sections of the judicial code of ethics that all judges must follow had been breached.
“The judge owes it to the profession and to the people on whose behalf he exercises judicial authority to resign,” said a veteran Harare lawyer speaking on condition of anonymity, querying how the judge can face the lawyers and members of the public in court.
Another lawyer based in Bulawayo said the alleged actions of Justice Mabhikwa were in clear breach of section 7 of the Judicial Code of Ethics.
He described the judge’s liaisons with a subordinate as manifestly improper.
“The fact that he has been taking and keeping such images which have now been circulated makes a bad situation worse,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“Judges are justifiably held to a higher standard than ordinary citizens. It does not help matters that this scandal has blown out with such fury only two months after the judge lost his wife. Could the judge not have waited? What example is he setting?”
Section 7 (1) of the judicial code of ethics demands that a judicial officer “shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of improper behaviour in all his or her activities, in and outside court, and shall avoid any conduct that may result in bringing the judiciary into disrepute”.
Subsection (2) says, “As a subject of constant public scrutiny, a judicial officer must accept personal restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizens. In particular, a judicial officer must conduct himself or herself in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.”
On Tuesday, the JSC issued a statement advising that investigations into the matter were underway and the public would be advised of the outcome in due course.
Allegations are that Justice Mabhikwa and Ms Nare, an assistant of fellow Bulawayo judge Justice Maxwell Takuva, have been in an intimate relationship and that Ms Nare, jealous over what she allegedly believes is another lover of the judge, reportedly forwarded what are described as the judge’s exchanges with the other woman to almost all his contacts, including a judges’ group.
Ms Nare had reportedly gone through Justice Mabhikwa’s phone and discovered that the judge had sent pictures of his body to another woman only identified as Petty or Patie.
The offensive package included the judge’s raunchy messages exchanged with Patie or Petty, who also sent the judge pictures of her body.