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Editor’s Memo

We beg to differ, Your Ladyship

By Vincent Kahiya

The judiciary has a key role to play safeguarding human rights and upholding the rule of law. Our gripe with the judiciary in Zimbabwe has invar

iably been prompted by fawning attitudes towards the state which is only too pleased to see members of the bench reduced to mere appendages of the executive.

Judge President Rita Makarau’s speech at the police pass-out parade in Harare two weeks ago is pregnant with the same political commentary that has littered speeches by ruling party politicians and government spin doctors.

The judge said our police force “continues to be an icon to reckon with not only on our borders but also indeed the world over”.

She said the completion of the curriculum which the officers went through, including subjects like police duties and investigations, criminal law, human rights and policing, political history of Zimbabwe and public order management “empowers the graduates with the right aptitude to meet the demands of the organisation in contemporary policing”.

The judge also spoke about the harmonised elections scheduled for next year.

“Let me remind you that the harmonised presidential, parliamentary and local government elections are just around the corner and it is another opportunity for the country to demonstrate to the whole world our traditional competence in administering peaceful and democratic elections.

“It is my fervent hope that people of Zimbabwe will not be hoodwinked and get involved in sponsored violence as wished by our detractors. I trust and hope that the police, as they usually do, will create a peaceful arena for all political parties to jostle for positions …”

By employing the language and diction of Zanu PF politicians, Justice Makarau runs the risk of sailing in the same boat with them. The judge in her past statements has demonstrated a measure of independence and to some extent judicial activism.

Despite warning the police graduates to conduct themselves in a professional manner and to desist from abusing police powers, I felt the judge lost the plot by insinuating that we have a professional police force which can be trusted to ensure there is peace during elections.

I want to differ with the Judge President’s assertion that the ZRP has become an icon to reckon with because officers are always being called to serve on United Nations missions.

If anything, over the years, the competency of the force has degenerated due to the unsavoury politicisation of command structures. This has made the police a key instrument in Zanu PF’s rule of terror. A professional police force does not engage in arbitrary arrests of suspects with no shred of evidence to support their arraignment. But this is happening.

This week the state could not proceed with prosecutions against MDC officials accused of terror attacks earlier in the year. The officials arrested in the dozens, had spent months in remand prison as police said they were still gathering evidence. Eventually they produced before the court false information that the suspects had been trained in South Africa and that police officers had gone across the border to investigate.

The “iconic” police failed in court to produce any evidence that they travelled to South Africa. They could show no evidence of militia training by the accused and no evidence of petrol bombing.

That is grossly unprofessional conduct which should be frowned upon by the bench. Then there are the ever-increasing incidents of torture and assaults on suspects to extract evidence or as a political punishment. This has not been given due attention by the courts as police officers accused of torture and assault have continued to use police stations as outposts of terror on civilians.

Evidence abounds that our police force have fallen short when called upon to deal with politically motivated cases. Justice Makarau knows about the number of murder cases that have remained unsolved even though perpetrators of the crimes are known. The emblematic Joseph Mwale case has remained in abeyance because the police — with all its competence — cannot locate the suspect in government corridors.

Also does the Judge President have a view on the executive congratulating police for bludgeoning opposition and civic leaders in March? What advice can she proffer to the police on the interpretation of the Public Order and Security Act, especially sections which deal with holding of public meetings? Her comments on these issues are key to having a professional police force.

This was also a good opportunity for the Judge President to remind the new officers of the importance of respecting court orders which have been ignored with impunity by the force.

We cannot let the Judge President get away with the belief that the state machinery has a tradition of running peaceful and democratic elections.

Is this a personal view or the thinking of the whole bench which has in the past been called upon to adjudicate on electoral challenges where opposition candidates were shown to be the victims of partisan violence?

It is vital that judges in Zimbabwe uphold the rule of law and demonstrate a conscientious concern for the Bill of Rights. As it stands the Zimbabwean judiciary is found wanting by legal monitors at home and abroad. Justice Makarau’s address to the police recruits tells us why.

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