The proposed amendments to the law bring renewed hope to a citizenry increasingly disillusioned with the behaviour of politicians who display a penchant for squabbling at the expense of nation building.
Amendments to Posa should be regarded as a precursor to the real work that lies ahead for legislators. President Mugabe’s dictatorship has long trampled on civil rights and it is time that parliament took its rightful place in checking the excesses of the executive. During debate in the House, legislators noted that the law had been used to impede freedom of speech and assembly as well as other freedoms both before and after Independence in 1980.
Zvishavane MP Obert Matshalaga and Mberengwa legislator Makhosini Hlongwane said the proposed amendments would ensure that the people’s freedoms would not be tampered with. Although the MPs pointed out the need for the provision of more resources to law enforcement agencies for the execution of their duties, they should also have made the point that the police need to be professional and impartial because it is not only resources that make a police force competent but behaviour. Zimbabwe needs a departure from the status quo where the police see no evil when Zanu PF supporters commit crimes but show huge enthusiasm for the persecution of Mugabe’s opponents.
The amendments to Posa should be followed by repealing or amending of other oppressive pieces of legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Interception of Communications Act, Official Secrets Act, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and other laws used to curtail civil liberties. The government also needs to open up the airwaves and ensure that the public sphere is not interfered with.
Communication is an important part of democracies and it is only dictatorships that fear the voices of their own people. The airwaves should be opened up so that there are diverse voices in the media. Although the government has deregulated the operations of the print media, it is obvious that many Zimbabweans cannot afford to buy newspapers but rely on radio stations for information. There is also need to reform the security sector in general as the army, police and other arms of state security have been used to serve partisan interests.
Dealing with repressive legislation is one of the moves that Zimbabwe needs –– in addition to the full implementation of the global political agreement –– for it to be taken seriously by the international community. Western governments have made their position clear on the need for the reform of democratic institutions in Zimbabwe and they have been consistent in that the country needs to open up its democratic space in order to be accepted into the community of nations.
Only last week the United States made the point that the country’s leadership needs to complement gains made on the economic front with progress in the political arena. The point was further buttressed by the European Union. Small steps such as the proposed amendments will ensure that the country remains on course to fulfilling these expectations, most of which are reflected in the GPA. Politicians need to take note of the aspirations and wishes of ordinary Zimbabwean men and women who want to see the country return to prosperity. MPs could also do well by making sure that their principals fully implement the GPA.
Since its signing, the country’s political scene has been characterised by bickering. The espoused unity is becoming more of a charade. It is imperative to note that most of the issues that need to be attended to in the GPA do not need money to be implemented.
What is needed is political will and the MPs have demonstrated that will. Zimbabwe needs more MPs like Innocent Gonese who proposed the Bill in the first instance. His political will demonstrates that MPs do not need to wait for their parties to sponsor Bills as they can do so themselves.