BY TINASHE KAIRIZA
THE incarceration at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison and delayed acquittal of two opposition activists by the Supreme Court last week is symptomatic of Zanu PF’s desperate attempt to weaponise the law and the judiciary system to crush dissent.
Last week, Tungamirai Madzokere and Last Maengahama — who were jailed in 2016 on unfounded allegations of killing a police officer — were finally acquitted by the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court judges, Justices Rita Makarau, Susan Mavangira and Elizabeth Gwaunza, set aside a judgment handed down by High Court judge Chinembiri Bhunu in 2016 resulting in wrongful incarceration of Maengahama and Madzokere.
The incarceration of Maengahama and Madzokere is pointed to by analysts as evidence of how the government is deploying lawfare.
Ironically, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who came into power via a military coup blended with a relatively overwhelming public approval, pledged to roll out a raft of political reforms that would ensure that Zimbabwe would shake of its pariah status that had stuck during the late former president Robert Mugabe’s near four-decade rule.
However, in his bid to consolidate power, Mnangagwa, in a typical case of old wine in new skins, has plucked every strategy in Mugabe’s rule book to curtail dissent and punish political opponents while at the same time devising new devious tactics.
With the judiciary emerging as the new stage of Mnangagwa’s plot to silence the opposition, manoeuvres by his administration to restore Luke Malaba as Chief Justice have attracted widespread outrage.
Through a series of controversial constitutional amendments, Mnangagwa extended Malaba’s tenure by another five years after he had reached the stipulated retirement age of 70. But the High Court nullified Mnangagwa’s controversial appointment, triggering the ongoing constitutional crisis that has piled more criticism against the government.
Malaba, who is widely perceived to be Mnangagwa’s loyalist within the context of simmering factional battles tearing apart Zanu PF, presided over the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) application by the then MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa challenging the 2018 general election results. Malaba upheld Mnangagwa’s contested victory, but ignited fresh debate about Mnangagwa’s legitimacy.
The case of Maengahama and Madzokere is one of the many examples where Zanu PF has attempted to arm-twist the law and the judiciary system to dismantle the opposition while entrenching its stay in power.
Three opposition activists Cecilia Chimbiri, Netsai Marova and Johanna Mamombe were last year allegedly abducted for taking part in demonstrations against the government.
A year earlier, state security agents were also accused of abducting former Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) leader Peter Magombeyi. Though Magombeyi later resurfaced, the government said the abduction was stage-managed.
Mnangagwa’s administration also sparked the ire of the international community following the arrest of award-winning journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who is largely credited for exposing the irregular manner in which former Health minister Obadiah Moyo awarded a US$60 million tender to Drax International for the procurement of Covid-19 consumables.
The multi-million-dollar scandal sucked in Mnangagwa’s sons through their association with Drax International representative Delish Nguwaya.
The fatal shooting of six civilians by armed forces in the aftermath of 2018’s disputed polls also stained Mnangagwa’s rule despite pledges to turn the page from his predecessor’s rule.
Mnangagwa’s administration drew criticism after the deadly shootings, which were triggered by protesters who were demanding the release of the poll results.
Though Mnangagwa was quick to assemble a commission of inquiry, led by former South Africa’s president Kgalema Motlanthe, the government drew fresh criticism as it dithered on implementing the recommendations by the commission.
Among the recommendations, the Motlanthe-led commission told the government to bring to book the state security agents who opened fire on the civilians as well as compensating the victims.
Nearly three years after the killings, the government has not disbursed any compensation to the surviving victims, some of whom sustained life-threatening injuries.
State security agents shot dead six civilians in January 2019 during protests against a 150% fuel increase.
At home and abroad, Mnangagwa’s administration was excoriated for using excessive force.
Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe director Blessing Vava lamented the state of Zimbabwe judiciary system, highlighting that it was not dispensing justice in accordance with the law.
“We have a rotten judiciary system which is heavily politicised. The trend is even getting worse under the Mnangagwa administration whereby the courts are now being used to fight political battles,” Vava said.
Political commentator Prolific Mataruse applauded the judiciary system for overturning the conviction of Madzokere and Maengahama, but warned that Mnangagwa would likely resort to arm-twisting the law to silence the opposition, as Zimbabwe hurtles towards the 2023 elections.
“It is always good when wrongs are corrected,” he said. “The law has become the current arena of contestations that trouble the Zimbabwean polity. We are likely to see more drama as elections approach and the political fever heats up. The state controls the levers of the law and will increasingly make use of its advantages,” Mataruse said.