Zimbabwe’s Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku last week made one of the most unexpected yet clearly logical statement — telling the National Prosecuting Authority in no uncertan terms that there is absolutely nothing wrong in calling President Robert Mugabe a goblin.
THE ORACLE BY TANGAI CHIPANGURA
The Prosecutor-General had gone to the Constitutional Court trying to convince the bench that it is criminal to call the President names. Admore Nyazamba, who was representing the prosecuting authority, failed to say what really was wrong — or criminal — in calling Mugabe a goblin (Chikwambo).
MDC-T’s Douglas Mwonzora called Mugabe a goblin while addressing a rally sometime in 2009 and the State wants him jailed for that. That is how the case reached the Chief Justice’s court.
Justice Chidyausiku tore into the prosecutors’ reasoning capacity, likening the kind of mind that could believe the President was a goblin to that of an idiot.
The Chief Justice’s trend of thought effectively throws into the judicial sewerage hundreds of pending cases against Zimbabweans that have called Mugabe names.
Criminal cases are based on evidence and reality, so the Chief Justice was questioning if Mugabe or his office really suffered any harm from being called imaginary names.
“You have to be an imbecile to believe that the President is a goblin,” Justice Chidyausiku charged and went on to question the logic of taking such cases to the highest court in the land, suggesting the State was wasting the court’s time with mundane and senseless issues.
This ruling by the Chief Justice confirms how our overzealous State apparatus — keen to curry favour with the powers that be — go into bootlicking overdrive, abuse their offices and needlessly trample on the rights of citizens.
It does not matter that even the magistrates’ courts have dismissed countless such cases before; the Prosecutor-General was still determined to have political name-calling of Mugabe deemed a prosecutable criminal offense.
That is why the learned judge took Johannes Tomana’s office to the cleaners: “Politicians call each other names such as weevils and Gamatox; are you suggesting that you prosecute people for that?”
“If somebody calls the President a weevil or Gamatox, are you going to prosecute that person? It is part of the trade of politics. Why are you bringing such matters to the Constitutional Court? The President is not a goblin and we all know that. Why should the law bother itself about it? You have to be an imbecile to believe that the President is a goblin,” the Chief Justice said.
On that same day — last Wednesday — Justice Chidyausiku also presided over another similar case requiring a constitutional ruling. This time it involved a Bulawayo girl who sent a caricature of a naked Mugabe to a friend via WhatsApp.
Tomana’s office argued that the action insulted and undermined the President in that the offending image had been sent to members of the public.
The court put the Prosecutor-General to task asking them to explain how a WhatsApp platform which is meant for private communication between individuals could be defined as a public platform.
And, as in the goblin case, the prosecutors were left with egg in the face after the court made a very simple and plain observation that it was clear to everyone that the image in question could not possibly be that of President Mugabe.
The court told the prosecution that it was an undisputed fact that it was simply not possible for anyone to be able to find Mugabe without his clothes on and then take photographs of him in the nude.
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba who sat on the bench with his boss Justice Chidyausiku, stabbed and turned the judicial knife of reason into the heart of the prosecution, blasting Innocent Muchini, who was representing Tomana’s office in this case, for bringing senseless cases to court.
“It can’t be true,” Justice Malaba, charged. “Where would any person get the picture of the President in the nude? The charge does not make sense. You charged the girl with something that does not make sense!”
It was clear, the court heard, the caricature was made up of a picture of Mugabe’s head that was stuck onto a picture of a nude body through Photoshop.
Among the hundreds of cases that the State has sought to have people jailed for, include several where accused persons — mostly ordinary Zimbabweans — used unprintable words to insult Mugabe and others that wished the President dead.
One of the people, a music lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University in Masvingo, who was apparently angry with Mugabe’s rule, called him an “impotent wife snatcher” while he was at a bar in Mashava.
Five months before this incident, the same lecturer had also called the President “a dirty rotten old donkey”. He was convicted by the magistrates’ court and sentenced to three months in prison but he appealed against both sentence and conviction.
He was, like all the rest, charged of undermining the authority of, or insulting the President as defined in section 33 (2) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. Almost all cases brought under this law have crumbled at the lower courts for lack of evidence. The few for which evidence was availed, had their constitutionality challenged.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has represented scores of individuals who have been taken to court for calling Mugabe all sorts of names in anger, frustration, excitement or in jest.
The Mugabe name-calling and insults can be attributed to growing resentment of the 91-year-old leader by his subjects, who blame him for their individual predicament.
What should be clear to the Prosecutor-General’s office is that the President occupies that office by virtue of his being a politician and should, therefore, be open to criticism in a democracy. They should appreciate that political opponents should be free to say their minds about the President for the purpose of winning votes.
It is however true and more worrying that the growing number of cases of insulting the President are an indicator of deepening frustration among the people, or hate of the leader.
Although cases of presidents being insulted by their subjects may be common, Mugabe and those that surround him must get concerned with the amplified messages being sent to the President where you find simple villagers being bold enough to insult the person of the President without fear of the consequences, or where they tear up images of the President or pelt his portraits.
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