ZIMBABWEis a constitutional democratic state where the constitution is the supreme law of the land. In fact, the constitution is the highest law of the land because all laws are invalid if they are inconsistent with it to the extent of their invalidity.
It defines the structure, procedures, powers (extent and limitations) and duties of the government and the corresponding obligation of the citizens.
Through the constitution, citizens and the state enter into a social contract, where each element has its distinct obligations. The constitution also sets out the rights of the citizens in the country which the government is obligated to respect, promote, enforce, protect and fulfil.
The principles and rules that govern the relationship between the government and citizens, including how officials are elected, are also contained in the constitution.
Fundamental human rights and freedoms in the constitution include right to life, right to personal liberty, right to human dignity, freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom from slavery, servitude and forced labour.
There is also equality and non-discrimination, right to privacy, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, demonstration, picketing and petitioning, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of the media, access to information, language and culture, freedom of profession or occupation, labour relations, freedom of residence and movement, political rights, administrative justice, property rights, environment, housing, education, healthcare, food and water, family and marriage, and right to fair hearing before a court.
The constitution applies to every citizen universally.
Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (JMAC) members are first and foremost citizens, therefore, are obligated to follow the secular laws as defined and provided for in the constitution.
The constitution has a self-preservation method where the doctrine of abrogation is applied where the state cannot limit the rights contained in the bill of rights. The doctrine of ultra vires helps to deal with any other laws that are inconsistent with the constitution by declaring such laws or practices invalid to the extent of its invalidity (Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment 20 Act, 2013:16).
With this doctrine, any law or practice that is inconsistent with it is invalid to the extent of its invalidity and must be repealed. With regard to the subject matter under discussion, any theological practice, ritual, teaching or belief system that is ultra vires the constitution is invalid to the extent of its invalidity (ibid, 2013:16). Thus, it is not recognisable at law.
It is the duty of the state to enforce the laws indiscriminately and without fear or favour. The state is obligated not to convive to violate the rights of any section of the society.
The state is accountable to alleged cases of human rights violations obtaining in JMAC. It is the duty of the state to put measures, policies and mechanisms to stop any form of human rights violations indiscriminately. The law is clear under the responsibility to protect doctrine that, if a state fails to protect and promote the rights of its citizens, other states, regional bodies and inter-state agencies can intervene and ensure that citizens enjoy full rights.
The municipal and international law was designed to complement each other to ensure maximum enjoyment of rights by the general citizenry. It is actually a crime for a state to fail to investigate and account for allegations of gross Human Rights violations in JMAC, as reported by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Civil Society organisations (CSOs) and academics.
The doctrine pacta sunt servanda was designed to ensure that states do not deviate from treaties, conventions, constitutions and protocols to which the state is a signatory. With all these provisions, it is the desire of this study to make an inquiry on why the government of Zimbabwe is failing to end human rights violations in JMAC and African independent churches in general.
While the state has the duty to protect the rights of women and children in the religious sphere, there is no much evidence that the government of Zimbabwe intends to take a radical approach to end abuses ecclesiastically.
The issue of abuse in JMAC has been extensively exposed and covered by scholars, NGOs, CSOs, media and human rights peer review documents without meaningful government responses. It is worth noting that annually the president, senior government officials and leaders of various political parties attend and are given platforms to speak during JMAC gatherings and conferences. These leaders in their speeches heap a lot of praises to JMAC and never at any given point in time mention or infer to the abuse of women and children aforementioned herein. In the interactions between the church and the state in Zimbabwe, there is more emphasis on political talk than human rights.
In Zimbabwe, it appears politics has more prominence over all other spheres of human existence.
Zimbabwe is equally known for crisis denial and state-sponsored human rights abuses, making both the state and the church accomplices in human rights abuse.
About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD. He is also doing another PhD and has 12 executive certificates in different fields. Professionally, he is a civil servant and also board member at the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe.