Mnangagwa’s multiple personalities
IN the 1950s, the Mnangagwa clan of Shabane was known to have regular run-ins with officials of the white minority government of the then Southern Rhodesia.
The Mnangagwas had decided to challenge existing laws like cattle destocking that they felt were so unjust as to make life unbearable.
For questioning the white man’s wisdom, members of this clan were in 1954 banished from Southern Rhodesia and part of the family ended up squatting in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
It is there that Emmerson Mnangagwa — now Vice President of Zimbabwe — grew up.
It was in Zambia where Mnangagwa joined the liberation struggle that resulted in him being part of the ill-fated “Crocodile Gang” some of whose members ended up being hanged for the acts of banditry they committed in their effort to liberate their motherland from the fetters of colonial rule.
Mnangagwa escaped the gallows by the skin of a tooth after he used his youthful facial features to convince the court that he was below the hanging age of 21.
He ended up serving a 10-year jail sentence, after which he was deported back to Zambia where he completed his law degree before joining the war of liberation in Mozambique.
With independence arriving in 1980, Mnangagwa became a career Cabinet minister, hopping from one ministerial portfolio to another until December 2014 when he was elevated to become one of the country’s two Vice Presidents.
The treatment that Mnangagwa’s family endured at the hands of the white settler regime, as well as the harrowing experience he went through to liberate the country appears to have helped him appreciate the importance of laws that serve justice, not to protect private privileges.
It is therefore, not surprising when Mnangagwa takes to the podium to express his deep-seated dislike of the death sentence; a penalty that he says is inhuman and should not be administered on anyone.
He is also on record for opposing corporal punishment, which he says is barbaric and therefore should not have any place in the statute books of any civilised country.
Of late, he has been pushing through a seemingly progressive law that seeks to stop criminal prosecution in cases of consensual sexual activity between girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 16.
To many, the soft-spoken veteran politician appears to be one of the most liberal and open-minded leaders in Zimbabwe.
But this is only but one side of the country’s powerful politician, who also doubles up as the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs as there appears to be another side to his butter-will-not-melt-in-my-mouth personality.
While Mnangagwa is busy preaching justice for all in broad daylight, at night, the same man who is a senior member of the Executive, is busy burning the proverbial midnight candle as he tries to smuggle back into the statute books some of the most obnoxious laws that the other two arms of government — the Judiciary and the Legislature — have openly raised the red flag on.
The full bench of the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) in September last year struck down Section 121 (3) of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act as patently unconstitutional.
This particular law gave State prosecutors unfettered powers to detain suspects in criminal cases who had been freed on bail for extended periods of time.
This is a law that has, in the past, been used wantonly to settle scores with members of the opposition and other perceived enemies of the State.
Mnangagwa is currently making spirited efforts to restore this notorious detention law, albeit in a watered down version.
The proposed new version still leaves prosecutors in control of an accused person’s liberty after a court has granted bail.
The only difference is that an accused person will spend less time in custody if no appeal is lodged — up to 72 hours as opposed to the seven days allowed by the provision struck down by the ConCourt.
Again, on October 28 last year, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku headed the full ConCourt bench that made a landmark ruling in a case in which Prosecutor General, Johannes Tomana, was defying several court orders instructing him to issue certificates to allow private prosecution in cases that his office would have refused to prosecute.
Not only did Tomana lose a constitutional challenge on his purported “right” to withhold certificates nolle prosequi from would-be private prosecutors, but was also convicted of contempt of court and was slapped with a 30-day jail term that was wholly suspended on condition that he complied with the backlog of court orders within 10 days, lest he was also barred for life from practising law in Zimbabwe.
Tomana grudgingly complied with the ConCourt ruling, but not before Mnangagwa had introduced in the House of Assembly a Bill seeking to amend the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to effectively outlaw private prosecutions.
The amendment also seeks to exclude companies from bringing private prosecutions, effectively overturning the Supreme Court’s decision on that point as in the Telecel case, at least for the future.
The two amendment Bills, sponsored by Mnangagwa, referred to above, have received adverse reports from the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC), which for the first time in the life of the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe, is made up exclusively of practising lawyers, forcing Mnangagwa to repeatedly go back to the drawing board as he puts up a determined fight to bring the hazardous laws back into the statute books.
The PLC, which is chaired by Jonathan Samkange (ZANU-PF) and also comprises Jessie Majome (MDC-T), Innocent Gonese (MDC-T), Fortune Chasi (ZANU-PF) and Ziyambi Ziyambi (ZANU-PF) has been giving the Vice President a torrid time with one adverse report after another.
In June 2014, the ConCourt also struck down criminal defamation as unconstitutional in a case involving journalists from Alpha Media Holdings, but Mnangagwa is fighting tooth and nail for the law to remain in the statute books.
“I pray that the offence of criminal defamation as defined in Section 96 (of the Criminal Code) should remain in the statute books and not be struck down as being null and void. I therefore urge this honourable court to dismiss the application with costs,” Mnangagwa argues in a constitutional case in which Zimbabwe Newspapers (1980) Limited and Herald editor, Caesar Zvayi, are seeking to have the law struck off the statute books.
Zimpapers is arguing that Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which criminalises defamation, is in violation of journalists’ right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
The same law, Zimpapers argues, infringes on the people’s freedom of the media guaranteed in the supreme law.
“I deny that the said Section 96 impinges on applicants’ rights in the manner alleged or at all, or that there is anything cynical about it . . .
“What Section 96 seeks to do is to guarantee the right to dignity, a right that is also specifically guaranteed in Section 51 of the same Constitution, through criminalising defamation.
“Any harm to a person’s reputation affects their dignity, and the right to human dignity must therefore be respected and protected,” Mnangagwa argues.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights programmes manager, Dzimbabwe Chimbga, said they find it strange that Mnangagwa — a freedom fighter — and his office are desperately trying to preserve several obnoxious laws.
“These include sections of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act; Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Electoral code and the Code itself,” Chimbga told the Financial Gazette.
Follow us on Twitter on @FingazLive and on Facebook – The Financial Gazette