The strike was called over an indefinite period by the Magistrates Association of Zimbabwe which gave a warning of the strike last Friday saying its members had “exercised elastic patience”.
“There would be no magistrate’s court sitting throughout the country starting on Monday the 4th of April 2011 until all our demands are met,” the union warned last Friday.
Some magistrates were seen at Harare’s Rotten Row and Chitungwiza court but said they were not going to hold any trials as they were already on strike. Some did not report to work at all.
Witnesses and accused persons were seen milling around the corridors of the two courts visited by Radio VOP.
“We are here for marriage and are so disappointed that our plans cannot go ahead because of the strike,” said a couple.
The magistrates have accused Finance Minister Tendai Biti of “waging a war” against them and “keeping the judiciary under his armpit” by frustrating plans for a pay hefty pay hike that had been proposed by the Judicial Services Commission after the budget announcement early this year.
This would have seen their salaries leap by over 400 percent.
But Biti hit back on Monday saying salary matters were not his primary concern.
“That has nothing to do with me,” he said in a telephone interview with Radio VOP.
“The Minister of Finance does not deal with salaries. That is the duty of the Public Service Commission. I deal with the budget for every vote and ministry.”
However other reports said only the Harare provincial magistrates went to work on Monday as all the other senior and junior magistrates embarked on a strike to press for better salaries and working conditions.
A court interpreter at the Rotten Row magistrates’ courts in Harare said provincial magistrate, Mishrod Guvamombe presented himself to work while all the other magistrates absented themselves from work. Harare has over 20 magistrates.
The strike by the magistrates is expected to aggravate the already backlog of cases at the courts.
“The magistrates are on strike. Only provincial magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe, came to work. Prosecutors and interpreters we are just seated and doing nothing,” the interpreter told Radio VOP on condition of anonymity.
Magistrates once went on strike at the height of the economic crisis in 2007. At that time magistrates were earning equivalent Zimbabwe dollars of $US 24. Magistrates at the moment earn between US$ 270 and US$ 350.
Now the magistrates are demanding monthly salaries of US$600 for trainee magistrates, US$1000 for junior magistrates, US$1500 for senior magistrates, US$1700 for provincial magistrates and US$2000 for senior provincial magistrates.
Zimbabwe’s judicial system has stricken by long delays in hearings and prisoners can spend up to two years awaiting trial because of a critical shortage of magistrates, scores of whom have migrated to neighbouring countries for better working conditions.