Losing the war for the rule of law

The indefensible decision by a magistrate in Harare to convict the 'Egypt 6' forconspiracy to incite public violence is another devastating blow to hopes of a genuine transition to a freer, more democratic and more open society in Zimbabwe - and a fatal blow to the rule of law in the country. The magistrate was clearly following poiltical orders since even a cursory examination of the 'evidence' shows that the six (Munyardzai Gwisai, Tafadzwa Choto, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Edson Chakuma, Hopewell Gumbo, and Welcome Zimuto) had less than no case to answer.

Richard Lee's picture

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Strategic communications for WWF

March 20th, 2012

The indefensible decision by a magistrate in Harare to convict the 'Egypt 6' forconspiracy to incite public violence is another devastating blow to hopes of a genuine transition to a freer, more democratic and more open society in Zimbabwe - and a fatal blow to the rule of law in the country. The magistrate was clearly following poiltical orders since even a cursory examination of the 'evidence' shows that the six (Munyardzai Gwisai, Tafadzwa Choto, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Edson Chakuma, Hopewell Gumbo, and Welcome Zimuto) had less than no case to answer.

The fact that this utterly ludicrous case was not thrown out months and months ago was a serious indictment of the judicial system but the fact that the magistrate could listen to the farcical (and non-existent) prosecution case and then pronounce them guilty shows that the judicial system has been co-opted by forces loyal to President Mugabe - and that there is no longer such a thing as a fair trial or due process in Zimbabwe. And no longer any respect for the rule of law.

Sadly, this situation is not confined to Zimbabwe. Across southern Africa, governments have launched an assault on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. From the ANC's increasingly strident anti-court rhetoric to the Malawian government's utter contempt for court orders to Swaziland's escalating judicial crisis, it is clear that ruling parties (and kings) want to rein in the third arm of government so that there is one less check on their activities. The region's Heads of State have even gone as far as to destroy their own regional court, the SADC Tribunal, for having the temerity to rule against Zimbabwe over land issues - and to provide an outlet for civil society to take governments to task over human rights violations.

And yet - governments keeping talking about democracy and progress and development - even though none of these are possible or sustainable without a fully functioning and independent judiciary. In many ways, the fight for the rule of law in southern Africa is the region's most important fight - and it's a fight that is currently being won by the forces of executive power rather than those in favour of the separation of powers. If they are allowed to win, the consequences for the people of the region will be dire.

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