DESPITE government claims that the rule of law is thriving in Zimbabwe after the recent acquittal of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai on treason charges, th
e situation on the ground shows that this is a fallacy.
Although Tsvangirai was acquitted on trumped-up charges of plotting to kill President Robert Mugabe in 2001, overwhelming evidence of clear denials or miscarriages of justice is abundant.
Few objective observers of the Zimbabwe political situation would deny that there is a degree of lawlessness in the country, largely stemming from the current political crisis and the chaotic land reform programme.
It is also evident that the judiciary has been politically restructured and suborned in the process. This has resulted in the handing down of court rulings which on the face of it, if not in reality, fit squarely into designed positions.
There have been at best questionable decisions or simply partisan rulings that support the view that the rule of law has either been undermined or essentially collapsed.
Judgements on land, newspaper closures, election petitions, and various cases of flagrant human rights abuses have been questioned by human rights lawyers and civic activists. A pervasive culture of violence and impunity has taken root due to the breakdown of the rule of law.
A number of well known human rights violators are currently roaming the streets with little or nothing being done to bring them to book.
The recent reported abduction and torture of four Zanu PF youths at Emganwini high-density suburb in Bulawayo by Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operatives bring into sharp focus the impunity that is eroding the fabric of the nation. The ruling party cadres were tortured and sustained broken bones.
Bulawayo CIO boss Innocent Chibaya and four CIO operatives have been named as suspects. Zanu PF insiders allege that the youths were brutalised in the presence of Chibaya for supporting a faction opposed to the political machinations of Jabulani Sibanda, the war veterans’ leader based in Bulawayo.
Vice President Joseph Msika has reportedly had to intervene to get the police to act against the CIO agents named in the act primarily because the victims are Zanu PF activists. Otherwise, it would be business as usual for government had the victims been members of the public not affiliated to the ruling party or worse still if they were MDC supporters.
MDC MP Job Sikhala and his colleagues Taurayi Magaya, Charles Mutama and Gabriel Shumba were arrested and tortured by police last year but no action has been taken against the culprits.
President Robert Mugabe assured Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in February last year that Sikhala’s torture was under investigation but nothing concrete has been done yet.
Sikhala, Magaya and Mutama had to receive specialist treatment in Denmark. An affidavit signed by Dr Faith Ndebele, a psychiatrist, said Sikhala was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with depressive features.
Despite the legal suit brought against Mugabe at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights by Shumba, a human rights lawyer based at the University of Pretoria earlier this year, there has been no action from the local police.
Sikhala said last week that Mugabe had misled Obasanjo. “That promise to Obasanjo never went anywhere,” Sikhala said. “It was a gimmick by Mugabe to win sympathy, no investigation took place.”
In the run-up to the 2000 parliamentary poll, two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activists, Talent Mabika and Tichaona Chiminya, were petrol-bombed by a known state agent and his accomplice.
Joseph Mwale, a CIO operative, and Tom Kitsiyatota Zimunya, a war veteran, have been named as suspects. Zimunya and two others were arrested by police and subsequently appeared in court for initial remand before they were released on $5 million bail three weeks ago.
High Court judge Justice James Devittie two years ago ordered that a record of the case involving the constituency challenge in Buhera North be sent to the Attorney-General with a view to a possible prosecution of the alleged killers of the activists. At the bail hearing earlier this year, the court heard testimonies from an eyewitness that Mwale and Zimunya killed Mabika and Chiminya. The judge said “the killing of Chiminya and Mabika was a wicked act”.
Acting Attorney-General Bharat Patel had promised to bring the alleged perpetrators to book but there has been no prosecution to date of Mwale.
At the height of farm invasions from March 2000, 12 white commercial farmers and an estimated 100 opposition supporters lost their lives to marauding militias and self proclaimed war veterans, but so far there have been few, if any, successful prosecutions.
The first white farmer to be killed in cold-blood was David Stevens. He died on April 15 2000 in Mashonaland East province after having been seized from a police station by a Zanu PF gang.
A priest who conducted a memorial service said it was essential for the “soul of the country” that Stevens’ killers should be brought to justice. A few days after Stevens’ death, another farmer, Martin Olds, was brutally killed in Nyamandlovu in Matabeleland North province.
In 2001, Olds” mother, Gloria, was also killed on the same farm. Justice for Agriculture, a farmers’ organisation, said on its website that “no arrests have been made in connection with any of these murders”.
In both the Stevens and Olds cases suspects were interviewed but released.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena had not responded to written questions he requested two weeks ago.
It was reported last year that Henry Dowa, a chief inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department (Law and Order section) who had been serving in the United Nations administration in Kosovo, returned to Zimbabwe after he was accused by human rights groups of torturing detainees here.
The UN made a request for his withdrawal from the Kosovo mission after an internal inquiry, it was reported.
Bvudzijena confirmed at the time that the UN had written to government about the matter. But Dowa remains active in police duties.