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Do not let the judges fool you

Corruption Watch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI

Take a glance at the list of the seven civil society members who were recently arrested for the imagined attempt to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration. None of the seven can stand the sound of a firecracker.

It would always be a long haul, therefore, to try and make the world believe that those ladies and gentlemen travelled all the way to the Maldives to learn how to produce and detonate bombs in order to push out Mnangagwa and his cohorts on behalf of the opposition. Since the departure of Ian Khama last year, the conspiracy theorists in our panicky government have stopped accusing Botswana of training bandits. They are searching deeper and wider as their imagination runs wilder and weirder.

The Zanu PF administration never runs short of absurdities. Arresting and detaining perceived critics is an old tactic the authorities have been using since independence in 1980. Not many people buy the bluff that these critics are bandits, of course, but that won’t force the officials to stop the circus. And a
High Court judge, Justice Tawanda Chitapi, last Friday confirmed the absurdity of using state machinery to persecute government critics.

He granted bail to five of the members of civil society and, as he did so, accused the police of abusing its power by arresting the activists in order to start doing investigations. You know things are supposed to be done the other way round. Justice Chitapi even had the cheek to refer to people’s fundamental rights in the constitution.

He sounded and looked like he was trying hard to put up a convincing show in the blonde wig. He sounded nice and professional for blaming the cops for victimising the civil society activists. But don’t get fooled. There wasn’t a single thing noble or honest about his ruling on the application for bail by the activists.

Have a look. Justice Chitapi strapped himself in all manner of contradictions. He said the police arrested the activists in order to investigate them. That’s exactly the same thing as saying the police had bad intentions right from the start. They were abusing their positions to persecute the suspects. This is certainly immoral, and most probably illegal too. Then he said the police had no evidence that the suspects had gone for quasi-military training as claimed by the state. That’s the same thing as saying he was of the opinion that the activists were innocent people.

But look at what he does next. He allows the activists to go out on bail, but sets very strict conditions for their temporary freedom after two draining weeks in detention at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. They will now be reporting daily to the police. And they had to pay a whopping $1 000, never mind that it’s ZWL$. Why is this wrong? A judge almost admits that the activists did nothing wrong and, therefore, the state case is weak. Yet he goes on to tether the suspects to a tree like that. The least you would have expected from him was to award them free bail.

But he didn’t. Why? Because, clearly, the judiciary is part of the state machinery that is being used to persecute the regime’s opponents. The arrests and subsequent detention of the seven civil society members was a calculated move designed to cow government’s critics. So much so that, if you are a member of civil society and you are invited to a workshop next time, you won’t go even if the hosts tell you they will be training you on how make candy. It’s a strategy meant to instil fear in people. It’s been used all this time around and has, in a big way, succeeded.
Here is how the scheme works. Get people arrested on all sorts of charges and never mind their awkwardness. The cops are handy pawns so you can blame everything on them. Make sure they are detained long enough and, in most cases, tortured. That will sober the troublemakers up and give them manners. After that, get a judge to appear to be sympathising with the suspects. He or she will deliver a good-looking judgment. That will fool the world into thinking that there is rule of law in Zimbabwe.
Next thing, the activists will have the bail conditions relaxed by the same High Court. And they will be told that the state will proceed by way of summons. That’s what they say when they mean that they have lost interest in your case because there is nothing in it. But the damage would have been done. People’s rights would have been severely undermined. Government critics would have been silenced. Democracy would have suffered.

So you see, this is how they are trying to fool you. They are selling you a façade. The script is just so familiar. It shows just how things don’t change in poor Zimbabwe. Do you remember Mnangagwa’s inauguration speech after the coup, on November 24, 2017? He spoke about people’s rights, the need for political tolerance, harmony, freedom and rule of law with so much passion he almost appeared like he was convinced that’s what he meant.

But we now know he didn’t mean a single word in that 15-page speech. It was bad enough to see protesters getting gunned down in broad daylight, the internet being shut down and jobless people being harassed in the post-Mugabe era. And it’s so sad that we are seeing the same levels of political intolerance, hate and intransigence that whole generations have been born into.

Mnangagwa acknowledged in that inauguration speech in 2017 that Zimbabwe had become a pariah State because of the mistakes successive Zanu PF government had made. That means he knows where the problem lies. And he knows where the solutions lie too. He must stop seeing shadows everywhere. He must walk his 2017 inauguration speech. If he does it in any other way, it will not work. Simple.

Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust (IDT) and can be contacted on tmajoni@idt.org.zw

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