NATIONAL Social Security Authority (Nssa) boss Arthur Manase (pictured) — sent on leave of absence to pave way for corruption investigations last year — is vigorously and further pushing for the criminalisation of The NewsHawks journalists for legitimate reporting in the public interest.
In the process, he is making vague claims of defamation while raising nebulous technical complaints like saying he is not suspended, but “on leave of absence”.
Manase has been on a warpath against The NewsHawks, sending piles of letters of complaints — through Rubaya & Chatambudza Legal Practitioners — for merely reporting and exposing corruption at Nssa, including Public Service minister Paul Mavima’s US$400 000 Borrowdale house scandal.
Manase features in the story as he was suspended from Nssa in July last year under a heavy dark cloud of renewed corruption to facilitate investigations by various state agencies and institutions.
First, Manase took his complaints about The NewsHawks stories on his suspension to the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, which has a dispute resolution mechanism.
Secondly, Manase then reported The NewsHawks to police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga, begging him to act or investigate the reporters, which implies arresting journalists. Thirdly, he has now written a new letter threatening to “institute criminal charges against the editor, board members and reporters” of The NewsHawks.
Criminalisation of journalism, intimidation of journalists and infringements on citizens’ rights are embedded into the historical fabric of this nation.
Yet the truth is journalism is simply not a crime. In a desperate bid to further raise the already high stakes, Manase now seeks to incite Mavima and the Office of the President and Cabinet against The NewsHawks, while not dealing with legitimate issues of corruption being raised at Nssa.
Manase, who denies he was suspended amid corruption allegations at Nssa, was put on leave of absence to facilitate a “comprehensive investigation” into allegations of corruption at the US$1.2 billion statutory pension fund.
In his frantic lobbying of police for punitive action against journalists, Manase did not only demand that law enforcement agents descend on The NewsHawks, but also wants the Office of the President and Cabinet to take action.
While he denies it, Manase was practically suspended under a cloud of corruption as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), Nssa board and the Corporate Governance Unit, a department within the Office of the President and Cabinet set up in terms of the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act, [Chapter 10:31], investigated Nssa.
Zacc even camped at Nssa Building conducting the probe. By his own admission, Manase was probed by Zacc and supposedly cleared, meaning there were issues arising with regards to him. When Manase was sent home in July last year, Nssa was facing “multi-layered challenges attributable to a variety of factors”.
“A comprehensive investigation has been instituted to get to the bottom of the matters. To support this and ensure that the exercise is conducted in an independent and transparent environment, the board is sending the General Manager (Manase) on leave until the exercise is complete,” a board statement by former chair Percy Toriro said.
“The board fully supports all investigations as it believes this will restore confidence in Nssa.”
Toriro has since resigned and replaced by Emmanuel Fundira as board chair.
In a six-page letter to police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga, Manase, through his lawyers Rubaya & Chatambudza, says police must investigate and deal with The NewsHawks under the Data Protection Act, [Chapter 11:12].
On 3 December 2021, Zimbabwe enacted its first data protection law, the Data Protection Act [Chapter 11:12], which addresses the control, processing, and cross-border transfer of personal data. The law establishes the Cyber Security and Monitoring Centre, while it grants data protection authority to Zimbabwe’s existing telecommunications regulator, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz).
It also imposes various requirements on data controllers, including mandatory notification to Potraz within 24 hours of a data security breach. The Act amends cybercrime laws, including Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) and the Interception of Communications Act, and imposes penalties for data offences — depending on the crime — which include fines and multi-year imprisonment.
“We urge you to consider Section 164B, 164C of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (Chapter 9:23) as amended by the Cyber and Data Protection Act (Chapter 12:07) to investigate The NewsHawks newspaper,” Manase says. Manase claimed he was subjected to “cyber-bullying, harassment and transmission of false data messages intending to cause harm” at the hands of The NewsHawks.
“Our client and his family fear for their safety due to the threatening activities of The NewsHawks and seek the law protection,” Manase said.
In the process, he also sought to curry favour with Public Service minister Paul Mavima whom he claimed was a stumbling block to a faction of two Nssa directors who want to take control of the organisation with the support of The NewsHawks.
Mavima was recently embroiled in a corrupt US$400 000 Borrowdale house scandal. In the same letter to Matanga, Manase claims The NewsHawks was writing Nssa stories because its editor was connected to some two directors currently out on bail on fraud charges who want to take over the managerial leadership of the organisation.
“Our client’s continued stay at Nssa has been construed as militating against the interests of those two (unnamed), The NewsHawks newspaper being used as part of their strategy to destroy our client and the honourable Minister Professor Mavima who is seen as a stumbling block to their agenda,” Manase said.
The sidelined Nssa boss goes on to curry favour with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, complaining on his behalf — yet the head of state has not raised any issues himself.
“The name of His Excellency the President is being abused and smuggled into the articles by The NewsHawks as a way of pressuring him to act according to their agenda,” he said.
“In the light of the above, our strict instructions are to request your office (Matanga) to act on our client’s complaint in investigating the potential accused persons on the basis related to above.”
In Zimbabwe, the delict of defamation — deemed justifiable in a constitutional democracy as it safeguards the right to privacy which also forms the cornerstone of human rights — is a civil matter, not a criminal one.
While Manase seems bent on criminalising journalism through his letter to the police boss, the offence of criminal defamation was abolished in Zimbabwe after the Constitutional Court found it to be unconstitutional in the case of Madanhire & Anor v The Attorney-General 2014 (1) ZLR 719 (CC). Essentially the court found that the criminalisation of speech that carried with it a threat of imprisonment for offenders had a stifling effect on free speech and it was a disproportionate instrument for protecting reputation, especially because there was an alternate civil remedy available.
This offence was not one which is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. However, there are still other criminal laws that have a highly constraining effect upon the freedom of the media like the ones that Manase is wielding over the media. One of these is the criminal offence of publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state.
In the case of Chimakure & Ors v The Attorney-General of Zimbabwe CCZ-6-2014, the court declared section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law Code to be unconstitutional and null and void. This provision deals with publishing a false statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention of undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe.
The challenge to the constitutionality of this provision was made under the Lancaster House constitution that was in effect prior to the new 2013 one. The Constitutional Court decided that this provision violated section 20(1) of the pre-2013 constitution.
The effect of this ruling is that no prosecutions can now be brought under section 31(a) (iii) as currently worded. The court decided that the restrictions that this provision imposed on freedom of expression were not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. On substantive issues, Manase says he was not suspended.
He is on leave of absence, which stopped or suspended him from going to work. He denies that he has received any benefits in terms of allowances more than what he was entitled and also claims he regularised his cars problem. Although he makes noise about it, the Borrowdale house — No.49A Borrowdale Road, Harare — was indeed renovated for him. — STAFF WRITER