Corruption Watch WITH TAWANDA MAJONI
When President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrested power from Robert Mugabe with the help of soldiers in late 2017, he promised his government would give us the economy, economy, economy, and less of badass politics.
When he said that at his inauguration in late November that same year, he must have been either lying through his teeth or was just a plain victim of delusion. If you know that chap
well enough, you will also know that the former is true. Because, especially after the disputed 2018 elections, we have been getting an overdose of the badass politics and much of a poor economy.
Well, there is hardly any economy to talk about, thanks to the badass politics. There is no cash in the banks. No jobs. No industries. Just mega-deals that look and smell like pies in
the sky. And the politics is getting nastier by the week. Take last week’s planned demonstration that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-A) had organised.
The organisers gave the regulating authority—in this case the Officer Commanding Harare district—more than a week’s notice of the demo. The Public Order and Security Act (Posa) says “at
least four days”, so that was ample time. There were backs and forths between the regulating authority and the organisers in between. Then on the eve of the demo, which had been
scheduled for 16 August, the police issued an oral prohibition of the protest march and sent their spokesperson to announce it on television.
That looks perfectly in sync with the law. Posa says prohibitions of demos can be made in one of the following ways. In a newspaper that circulates in the area where the demo is
planned. Or by notices distributed or stuck upon public buildings. Or through an announcement by a police officer that is broadcast or made orally. Provided, of course, that this is
accompanied by a written notice to the organiser that the demo has been banned.
After the prohibition of the march, the organisers rushed to the High Court, which, upon its own learned discretion, dismissed the application to proceed with the march. The reason was quite queer. MDC-A must have gone to a lower court first. As if that was going to change anything!
It’s not clear if MDC-A was given the written prohibition order. What’s abundantly clear, though, is that there was a lot of duplicity and badness in the way the government responded
to the demo notice. The timing of the prohibition order says it all. It’s a pretty Machiavellian tactic. If you want to effectively undermine your enemy, tarry for long and strike at
the last moment. That way, you will for sure cause confusion and drive the enemy into disarray.
From the time the demo notice was given, the police hardly said anything. That’s the tarrying part of it. The signs that they didn’t like the idea of a demo were always there, of
course. They made all sorts of demands to bear on the organisers. Like, after MDC promised to provide marshals to ensure that the demo would proceed peacefully as they law recognises,
the cops started making funny demands. They wanted to know who the marshals would be, where they lived, their cellphone numbers, et cetera. No law in Zimbabwe provides for such demands.
So people out there were budgeting for a demo. President Mnangagwa, before he departed for a SADC talk show in Tanzania, didn’t hint at anything like a ban. He just urged Zimbabweans to
be peaceful—as if that’s going to be feasible given the circumstances—and offered the opposition a chance for dialogue. The MDC-A made repeated attempts to make the demo as peaceful as
an angel’s sleep. But then, kaput, the police banned the demo.
Let’s get some things clear here. The Zimbabwean constitution provides for peaceful demonstrations and it’s very clear on that. That’s the first thing. Two, the police invoked sections
of a badass law to prohibit the demo. Posa is on its way out. A less badass bill, the Maintenance of Peace and Security bill, is likely to be enacted into law sometime in the future and
There is undisputed acknowledgement and recognition that Posa is not fit for democracy. If it was, why would it be repealed? Granted, Posa still exists and can still be used. But
things must be done in context. You can’t keep using a badass law unless you don’t mind being called badass too. And pretty badass the Mnangagwa administration is for deciding to use
a law that has been universally condemned.
The decent option was always to go back to what the constitution says. It’s a fundamental right to express your opinions about the manner in which you are being governed. And it’s
fundamentally right to let people do that through demonstrations, as the constitution says. The administration has slipped back into politics mode, so it must know that politics
always comes with a context.
It’s one thing to know how to use legal technicalities in politics and a different one to get your politics right. When the police decided to ban the MDC-A demo and beat up defenceless
women, that quickly became the front page story across the globe. The story was not very flattering. It presented the Mnangagwa administration as a badass outfit that was, in a short
space of time, outdoing what Mugabe had done in close to four decades. In other words, it left the administration with more egg on its face.
Yet that tag was preventable. Government should just have let the people exercise their constitutional right to demonstrate. Simple. As it is there would never be a good reason to stop
the demo. The police claimed, in a big stutter, that the demo posed a security threat. What’s that? Because, you see, never at any time did the cops provide proof that the demo was
going to threaten national security.
Demos in the recent past have, admittedly, turned violent. But it’s bad reasoning to say future demos will turn violent because past demos have been violent. They call that a fallacy in
the science of reasoning. Government sometimes feign dumbness if that’s going to help them get what they want. In any case, there has never been a conclusion on who was responsible for
violent protests. But, if you ask, security units have played an active role in provoking violence in the past.
It’s not clear why the message never sticks with successive Zanu PF governments. The more you suppress the people, the more desperate and angrier they become. And the bigger the mess
Tawanda Majoni is the national coordinator at Information for Development Trust and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org