Tino Chinyoka Correspondent
Zimbabwe is a nation governed by law. There is not a thing that happens (or should happen) that is not provided for by any law. We differ from the United Kingdom in one respect: they do not have a constitution.
In the UK, you are allowed to do anything you want, unless there is a law that says you cannot. This places the citizen in the position where they must know what laws are there, in case they violate them unwittingly. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
Our constitutional arrangements are more plain. There are laws that clearly spell out the rights of citizens. Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe lists our rights and freedoms. From section 48 to 85 is a comprehensive list of no less than 35 individual civil, political, social and economic rights.
Our rights are subject to very few limitations, the main one being that they must be exercised reasonably and with due regard for the rights and freedoms of other persons.
Any limitation must be fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom, and must take into account the nature of the right (some rights cannot be limited); the purpose of the limitation (in the public interest); the nature, extent and duration of the limitation; the need to balance the needs and rights of other people; the relationship between the limitation and its purpose; as well as the need, always, to check whether there are any less restrictive means of achieving the purpose of the limitation.
These rights accrue to us all as citizens. For example, the right to property was not made to protect private ownership of land by white farmers.
Instead, it is a right that Mr Fetti Mbele, a villager in Ntabazinduna under Chief Felix Nhlanhlayamangwe Ndiweni enjoyed, and which right was violated when the Chief caused the burning down of his homestead in order to enforce an eviction of the Mbele family after Mr Mbele refused to obey the chief’s directive to divorce his wife.
Under section 78(2), our constitution says no person may be compelled to enter into marriage against their will, which equally means (under the rules of interpretation of statutes) that no person can be compelled to get out of a marriage against their will. That is something the Chief had tried to do, which was a violation of a fundamental right.
There has been a clamour for demonstrations.
The constitution gives citizens the right to freedom of assembly and association.
This is the right that allows people to demonstrate. But, as we have seen, rights are not unlimited. So, when businesses lost their property to riots in January 2019, they have an expectation that anyone arranging future demonstrations must put in place clear and robust measures to ensure that the same thing does not happen.
It follows that a convenor that seriously wants to organise a demonstration must satisfy the relevant authorities, in their notification of a demonstration, that they have taken steps to avoid causing the same damage that was caused previously.
This means having a realistic relationship between the expected numbers of demonstrators and marshals, it means working with law enforcement to ensure that said marshals are trained in crowd control, it means choosing routes that allow for the free movement of the protesters while causing the least amount of disruption to those not involved in the march.
It definitely means making sure that you do not ramp up your protesters’ expectations with claims that the demonstration will achieve something it cannot possibly do, like removing an elected President.
There are clear guidelines on what the citizen, who is aggrieved by a prohibition order stopping a demonstration must do.
Those who planned demonstrations in this month of August have seen fit not to follow these laid down procedures.
Their reason for doing so is obvious: the whole programme has been choreographed to ensure that the lawful response of law enforcement agencies is seen as repression by those that will not bother to read our laws.
We have laws about crowd management during unlawful assemblies.
Those laws are very clear, and they have not been violated, now or in the past.
There are international human rights law guidelines on the management of violent assemblies, starting with the 1979 UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Adopted by the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, in Havana, Cuba, in 1990, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa. None have been violated.
We are a nation of laws. While many have claimed that they will not “do a hundred handstands in order to get their right to demonstrate respected”, the truth is that no-one has asked them to.
They have merely been asked to follow the law, and that same law has avenues for redress when their requests are turned down.
They have chosen to ignore these avenues, choosing instead to use the streets to audition for money and other subversive support from their American and other foreign handlers.
We are a nation of laws. The law will always reply to those that choose to ignore it.