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Mnangagwa has to walk the talk

EDITORIAL

Over a year after President Emmerson Mnangagwa swept to power on the back of a military coup where he promised “a new and unfolding democracy”, Zimbabwe has hardly changed.

The groundwork had been laid for Mnangagwa when he came to power in November 2017 after Zimbabweans voted for a new and progressive constitution four years earlier.

His predecessor Robert Mugabe was never interested in reforms that would have made it easier for Zimbabweans to challenge his tight grip on power at the time.

As Justice minister under Mugabe, Mnangagwa also failed to ensure the alignment of several draconian laws to the constitution especially those that infringed on citizens’ rights to freedom of association and speech.

He fought tooth and nail to defend criminal defamation laws that were routinely used by the previous regime to silence the media.

It, therefore, came as a relief when Mnangagwa’s government announced that it was repealing two notorious laws enacted during the Mugabe years, which are the Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa).

Some believed Zanu PF was finally embracing democraccy. The two pieces of legislation that have an uncanny resemblance to colonial laws used by Ian Smith’s regime to suppress the indigenous people were Zanu PF’s sharpest tools in the box to the keep the opposition at bay.

So far the government has gazetted a proposed replacement to Posa in the form of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Bill.

However, lawyers have already raised red flags describing the differences between Posa and the proposed new law as “depressingly few”.

According to Veritas, a local legal think-tank, “the provisions of Posa have been copied slavishly in the Bill so that all Posa’s undemocratic features have
been retained”.

These include empowering police to ask political parties for lists of members of office-bearers who attend meetings of committees and structures.

Zimbabweans would still be expected to give police seven days’ notice before they could hold meetings and strangely the Bill does not indicate that Posa is
being repealed.

Veritas rightly concluded its analysis of the proposed law by saying “the draft Bill is not new wine in an old bottle: it is the same old wine in the same bottle with a new label stuck on it.”

And we couldn’t agree more. Mnangagwa and his government need to up their game if they want to be taken as serious reformers.

A year is long enough for the president to show that he is committed to a new democracy. He needs to walk the talk on reforms.

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