Weaponisation of law dents Mnangagwa regime’s re-engagement drive
THE release from prison of the Nyatsime 14 political prisoners after 150 days of pre-trial detention — meant to appease the visiting Commonwealth team on a mission to assess Zimbabwe’s suitability to re-join the bloc — dented the country’s image as it clearly showed how far President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime can go in weaponising the law.
The visit by the delegation, led by assistant secretary-general Luis Franceschi, saw Chitungwiza MP Godfrey Sithole being released on the eve of the programme after five months without trial.
He had been arrested together with Zengeza West MP Job Sikhala whose concerted bids for freedom have been turned down by the courts on numerous occasions.
As the Commonwealth began meeting government officials to assess the situation on the ground, 14 Nyatsime residents charged with inciting violence were freed on ZW$50 000 bail each by the High Court after spending five months in remand prison.
They were being represented by advocate Thabani Mpofu who was instructed by Noble Chinhanu of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.
High Court judge Justice Munamato Mutevedzi ordered the 14 Nyatsime residents to report twice at their nearest police station, not to interfere with state witnesses and to reside at their given addresses. offence. Sikhala faces another separate charge of obstructing the course of justice, which he says is trumped up.
What cannot be over-emphasised is that the rule of law should always prevail and one of its tenets is that bail is a constitutional right.
It should not have taken the Commonwealth team’s visit for Sithole and the Nyatsime 14 to be released after such a long time behind bars. The law should not be politicised.
Zimbabwe would be in a better place if the rule of law, property rights and other constitutional rights were respected.
As Zimbabwe seeks re-admission to the Commonwealth, it should commit itself to the Commonwealth principles as enshrined in the Harare Declaration.
The Harare Commonwealth Declaration spells out the core principles and values that must be upheld by member states.
The declaration was issued in Harare on 20 October 1991 during the 12th Commonwealth Heads of States and Government Meeting.
It reaffirmed the political principles laid out in the Singapore Declaration of 20 years prior.
The Singapore Declaration had committed the Commonwealth to several principles in 1971 such as individual liberty and egalitarianism as well as opposition to repression such as that practiced by Zimbabwe in cases such as those of Sikhala and the Nyatsime 14.
The Harare Declaration reaffirmed in principle that member countries must: “believe in the liberty of the individual under the law, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or political belief, and in the individual’s inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives;” “recognise racial prejudice and intolerance as a dangerous sickness and a threat to healthy development, and racial discrimination as an unmitigated evil;” “oppose all forms of racial oppression, and we are committed to the principles of human dignity and equality;” “recognise the importance and urgency of economic and social development to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the peoples of the world, and seek the progressive removal of the wide disparities in living standards amongst our members.”
In 2002, Zimbabwe was suspended for breaching the Harare Declaration. The then president Robert Mugabe angrily withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003 when the club refused to lift the suspension.
Zimbabwe is however now pushing for re-admission using all sorts of mechanisms.
In the case of Sikhala and Sithole, there is however clear weaponisation of the law and the continuation of the abuse points to a regime that is incapable of reform.
Sikhala and Sithole’s trial has taken too long to start while for the former, his right to bail has been denied as he is punished for his political beliefs.
The posturing by government spin doctors that the judiciary must be left to handle cases independently falls away after what happened to the Nyatsime 14 who were released because of the Commonwealth delegation’s visit.
Political analyst Professor Stephen Chan, when asked whether he believed that the Nyatsime 14 were released because of the Commonwealth team’s visit, said: “Yes, this is certainly an effort to impress the Commonwealth delegation. This delegation is very worldly and won’t be very impressed at all by the ‘coincidental’ timing. And they will take special note of the case of Sikhala — arrested 67 times and not once convicted in any court of law, yet held for inordinately lengthy periods. The delegation will note in its report that this is an instance of pure political harassment.”
Political analyst Rashweat Mukundu also said the release of the Nyatsime 14 confirmed the government’s weaponisation of the law.
“We know that the courts are working under political instruction instead of being fair and considerate. This essentially presents to us the contradictions in Zanu PF’s policies. We cannot tell what the party’s intentions are because they talk of engagement and democratic reforms, but at the same time they are brutal on those that speak against them.”
“These contradictions therefore mean that nothing can be achieved in terms of re-engagement. So if Zanu PF is serious about international engagement, they really need to be sincere in their dealings with the opposition by de-politicising and de-millitarising the judiciary and other state institutions. They must allow more political freedoms, [for people] to speak up and mobilise freely without harassment,” he said.