It will be a good day when Didymus Mutasa finally finds love for the rule of law and starts believing in justice. Sadly, like always, this usually happens when the concerned politician is running out of options.
And like we indicated before, it is good to believe in the rule of law, whatever the reason and we should strive to do so all the time, even in good times.
We have encouraged our friends in the legal practice never to give up the struggle for the supremacy of the law, even if we do not like the individuals on the right side of the law.
But we love history. We really do, because the law does not operate in a vacuum. It suffers the developments in history, survives some and surrenders to others.
This is why celebrated jurist Oliver Wendell said the famous words, “The life of the law has not been logic, but experience.”
And for that reason, we are ready to remind the world of a past relevant to the present, so that we do not lose the lessons. Like the past hate relationship between Didymus Mutasa and the law.
The embattled former cabinet minister and Zanu PF strongman, Mutasa has been hogging the limelight recently with his latest attempt to use the judiciary to challenge what he terms the unconstitutional and unprocedural manner which was used to ostracise him from the top echelons of both the ruling party and the government.
Without getting into the politics of Zanu PF, it is our intention not to ignore the justice issues arising from these political developments.
We here seek to discuss the wisdom behind the method adopted by the former Zanu PF secretary for administration to approach the courts seeking an order to nullify the resolutions of the Zanu PF 6th congress.
This on its own is nothing amusing as any citizen of Zimbabwe is guaranteed a right to seek justice in the courts of law.
What is amusing however, is his sudden belief and faith in the judicial system — which he has on several occasions undermined, emasculated and brutalised.
Mutasa’s first mockery of the justice system came immediately after Independence, in the infamous case involving the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith.
Smith had been suspended from sitting in the House of Assembly where he was a member for being in contempt of Parliament after making derogatory statements when he was on a visit to then apartheid South Africa.
The former PM was also penalised with a salary suspension for 12 months, but the former didn’t bother him as much as the latter.
Smith approached the courts for a review of the suspension of his salary, arguing it was a violation of his rights and therefore an injustice.
His application was granted, but non other than Mutasa — then Speaker of Parliament — refused to obey the order of the court.
He made a statement denouncing the highest court in Zimbabwe, saying the Supreme Court had no right to intervene with Parliament business and that he was going to see to it that Smith would not be paid “any cent”.
There is more to Mutasa’s uncheckered past record of disregard of rule of law. In 1992 at a seminar of senior public servants, Mutasa made these remarks, “I do not think the calibre of members is very good; that is why Parliament is meaningless… I wonder if some MPs read newspapers and books, or even discuss with friends before coming to Parliament… Some MP’s are unwitty”.
This did not go down well with other MPs at the receiving end of the insult. Mutasa was subsequently found guilty of contempt of Parliament and he was severely reprimanded by his successor Nolan Makombe.
Mutasa, who has apparently by now suffered amnesia in regards to his insult to the court, rushed to the courts claiming that his freedom of speech had been violated.
He demanded a fair hearing and so forth. The court threw his application away on the basis that the power of Parliament to punish one of its own is sui generis (of its own kind) and therefore not subject to court’s review.
Thereafter, Mutasa was abandoned and left to sink into the quicksand of political oblivion because of his foul mouth — thanks to the politics of patronage in Zimbabwe. The powers that be however recycled him back into the gravy train when they were convinced he had learnt his lesson.
The Mutasa who came back was more brutal, arrogant and ready to please his master at every opportunity he got. He was dubbed and stigmatised “Gamatox” for a reason.
He did not have an iota of respect for the judicial system whatsoever.
Some would still recall sometime in January 1995 how the former security Czar bragged at a meeting in Harare for countermanding a decision of the court.
He boasted to his amused audience that he had prevented the Messenger of Court from presenting an attachment order to a local Zanu PF allied businessman who was falling back on paying his debts.
In his own words: “When he told me that they were only acting on instructions, I told them that there is nobody who can challenge my authority.” Mutasa’s authority reigned supreme.
He had become law unto himself.
What Mutasa failed to learn in his professed more than 50 years of service and loyalty to the ruling party, and perhaps a lesson to some who still enjoy protection of Zanu PF, is that politics does not have the luxury of not changing. More importantly, what goes around comes around.
The tables have turned for Mutasa who is now at the receiving end of Zanu PF’s machiavellian disregard of rule of law.
Suddenly, like the Biblical Saul who saw the light on the road to Damascus, Mutasa is once again invoking the judiciary to come to his aid in his lonely fight to challenge the legitimacy of the process and the system, which has consigned him to political dustbins.
Only time will tell whether or not he is on a wild goose chase, in his quest for justice.
Prosper Maguchu is a human rights lawyer and international crimes expert based at Justus Liebig University of Giessen in Germany.
He writes in his personal capacity. For feedback, write to firstname.lastname@example.org