The harassment of justice: A tale of a tale


A couple of months ago, I published “The Story of Beatrice Mtetwa-A Red Herring’ in which I posed a number of theories pertaining to Beatrice’s arrest. One of them was that Beatrice’s arrest was an intimidation tactic by state agents of all citizens who would wish to take the same stand as Beatrice; i.e. the stand to fight against any injustice visited upon individuals who are fighting for human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens. I emphasised that Beatrice’s persecution and vilification was meant as an example calculated to ensure that sufficient fear was planted in all of us so that whoever doesn’t toe the correct political line, will face the full wrath of those in power, under the guise of the law.

This theory seems the most relevant given the continued onslaught that the state has launched against Beatrice. This blog however seeks not to over-analyse the reasons behind the onslaught but rather to give an update of how this case has proceeded.

  •  17 March: Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested in Avondale. On arrest she was charged with obstructing or defeating the course of justice in contravention of Section 184 (1) (g) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
  • 18 March: at exactly 0151 a.m.  High Court Judge Charles Hungwe, from his home, ordered Beatrice’s immediate release. He argued that there was no basis for her continued detention since the allegations laid against Beatrice did not reveal a criminal offence.
  • 18 March: around 0230 a.m. Beatrice’s lawyers served Justice Hungwe’s order on officers at Rhodesville police station. The police officers refused to release Beatrice.
  • 18 March: Beatrice’s lawyers lodged an application in the High Court stating that the refusal by the police to enforce Justice Hungwe’s order was in contempt of court.
  • 18 March: Beatrice was told that she would appear in court on 19 March and based on this information her lawyers withdrew their application.
  • 18 March: Justice Hlatshwayo dealt with the withdrawn application and dismissed it with no reasons given.
  • 19 March: Beatrice appeared before Magistrate, Marehwanazvo Gofa, at Rotten Row Magistrates Court represented by Advocate Thabani Mpofu to determine her remand conditions. Advocate Mpofu argued that this hearing should not have been done in the Magistrates Court since an order of the High Court a more superior court had already granted Beatrice’s release.
  • 19 March: Advocate Mpofu argued that Beatrice had not been treated well in police custody because in the dead of the night, on 18 March two male police officers entered Beatrice’s detention cell at Rhodesville Police Station and attempted to uncover her from her blankets. Beatrice feared that she might be raped.  Further, she had not been allowed to bath since her arrest.
  • 19 March: the Magistrate ruled that the case was rightly before the Magistrates Court because the issue of her placement on remand was separate from the issue of her detention in police custody.
  • 19 March: Beatrice’s lawyers proceeded to request that she be remanded out of custody and gave reasons why she should be granted bail including that she is a highly reputable and established lawyer, with no criminal record.
  • 19 March: the Prosecution requested an adjournment to respond to Beatrice’s lawyers’ argument and the Magistrate adjourned the case to 20 March 2013.
  • 20 March: the State argued that Beatrice should not be granted bail because the charges she was facing were very serious, that she would likely abscond because she had a foreign passport, or that she would interfere with investigations if released and that her release would set a dangerous precedent. “Anarchy would prevail”, they argued.
  • 20 March: Magistrate Gofa bought into the prosecutor’s argument and dismissed Beatrice’s bail application and remanded her in custody to 3 April.
  • 21 March: Beatrice’s lawyers appealed this decision in High Court.
  • 22 March: Justice Joseph Musakwa heard the appeal.
  • 22 March: State requested adjournment of the appeal to ‘allow time to submit their response.’ Justice Musakwa agreed to the adjournment and set down the appeal hearing for 25 March.
  • 25 March: Justice Musakwa granted Beatrice $500 bail setting aside the Magistrate’s on the basis that Beatrice’s reputation was too great to be ignored and that the police had not shown how much of the investigation was left to be “interfered with.”
  • 3 April: Beatrice appeared before Donald Ndirowei for a routine remand hearing. Magistrate Ndirowei postponed the matter to 8 April to allow the State to determine a trial date and her lawyers to challenge her being remanded.
  • 5 April: the prosecution served Beatrice with papers setting out their case against her.  The prosecutors added fresh allegations against Beatrice.  The fresh allegations stated that on top of saying “Stop whatever you are doing, it’s unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic,” as was the case in the initial charge, Beatrice had also said “You confused cockroaches”  “Murimbwa dzaMugabe” i.e. “You are Mugabe’s dogs” and that she had conducted herself in an ‘indecent’ manner when she threatened to relieve herself in a public place.The case named nine witnesses set to testify. These were:
  • Chief Superintendent-Luckson Mukazhi
  • Detective Assistant Inspector-Wilfred Chibage
  • Detective Constable-Ngatirwe Mamizi
  • Detective Sergeant-Taizivei Tembo
  • Assistant Inspector-Thabani Nkomo
  • Chido Chawanikwa-a police officer
  • Stembiwe Vera-a caretaker at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s research and development office
  • Brian Mutusva-a computer technician in the Prime Minister’s Office and
  • Zororai Mudariki-a driver.
  • 8 April: Beatrice appeared in the magistrates’ court. The state’s case was led by Tawanda Zvekare, Acting Director of Public Prosecutions in the Attorney General’s Office, assisted by Michael Mugabe, a chief law officer.
  • 8 April: Beatrice was remanded on bail and the case was adjourned to 27 May when the trial was expected to begin.
  • 27 May: Beatrice’s case was set to start at Rotten Row Magistrates Court presided over by Magistrate Tendai Mahwe. The trial failed to start on time because Tawanda Zvekare, the Acting Director of Public Prosecutions in the Attorney General’s Office and Michael Mugabe, the chief law officer who were leading the prosecution did not arrive at the court on time. The trial was also delayed because the designated courtroom did not have the necessary equipment to record the proceedings. Then when eventually a courtroom with equipment was found, power went off.
  • 27 May: Magistrate Tendai Mahwe postponed Beatrice’ trial to 8 June 2013.
  • 8 June: Magistrate Tendai Mahwe recused himself from presiding over Beatrice’s trial after she had filed an application for such recusal stating that Magistrate Mahwe had already heard the testimony that her witness would give in another case.
  • 10 June: Beatrice’s trial kicked off at Rotten Row Magistrates Court presided over by Magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa. She was represented by her lawyer, Harrison Nkomo. Beatrice pleaded not guilty to charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice.
  • 10 June: Magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa postponed Beatrice’s trial to Saturday 15 June 2013 to allow her lawyer to attend to some other matters in the High Court.
  • Meanwhile the trial continues with hearings held each Saturday and we wait to hear what the final verdict will be.

Anomalies with this case

  • Arrest of a legal practitioner while conducting her duties;
  • Contempt of court by police officers ignoring a High Court order;
  • Retrial by the Magistrates Court of an issue that had already been decided by a higher court;
  • Harassment of a High Court Judge for ordering the release of an upright human rights defender;
  • Display of political intolerance and disregard for constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom and rights of citizens.

**** If convicted, Beatrice stands to serve a maximum penalty of either a fine of $400 or 2 years’ imprisonment, or both fine and imprisonment. ****

 Acknowledgement goes to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Sokwanele, Veritas, Kubatana and a few other independent sources of information for the information resources used to compile this update.

Free and Fair Elections?


Since 2010, RAU has been pointing out that the most important matter to be resolved ahead of any future elections is the reform of national institutions. This position has been repeatedly supported by SAPES and the Zimbabwe Liberators Platform. SADC, both through the Troika and the Summit, has also insisted on the deep message beneath the GPA: constitution AND reforms, then elections. Most recently, President Jacob Zuma himself has pointed out the need for urgent action ahead. Speaking at the recent meeting in Pretoria of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence, and Security, Zuma made the following points:

  • “Security sector realignment cannot be postponed any longer”;
  • “In this regard Jomic needs to be activated as a matter of priority”;
    “The facilitation team supplemented by the representatives of Tanzania and Zambia must be enabled to participate actively in Jomic”;
  • “Namibia as a member and incoming chair of troika should now be included” ;
  • “Without the above two points it will be difficult to ensure that there is no intimidation and that violence is not allowed to escalate, if and when it occurs.”

So, when the President and the Minister of Justice are quoted as saying that elections will be held by 29th June, and in the shenanigans around the continued detention of Beatrice Mtetwa and the 4 MDC officials and repeated harassment of NGOs, the total absence of reforms is now critical. The kinds of reforms now needed must be realistic and effective, for there is no longer time for the kind of wishful thinking that has characterized most calls for reform by Zimbabwean political parties and civil society bodies.

As we pointed out recently and several times previously, there are four key areas of reform that can change the electoral playing field[1]:

Firstly, the security sector needs oversight, what some have termed Security Sector Governance as opposed to Security Sector Reform. The latter is a decade-long process, while the former merely requires strong civilian oversight of the uniformed services and the intelligence agencies. This achieved in two ways: appointments of the senior officials through full consensus by all political parties, and a wholly civilian oversight body – in Zimbabwe’s case, agreement between the President and the Prime Minister of the appointments to the army, the police, the prisons, and the intelligence service, the disbanding of JOC, and a wholly civilian National Security Council.

Secondly, ensure that all state institutions adhere completely to their enabling legislation. The police are not allowed to be members of political parties or participate in political activities, and shall carry out their duties in a wholly non-partisan manner. Traditional leaders – chiefs, headmen, and village heads – are not allowed to be politically partisan, and must report all crimes in their areas of jurisdiction, without exception, to the police.

Thirdly, the Office of the Attorney-General (and the Attorney-General) must be completely non-partisan. The Attorney-General should be appointed with the agreement of both the President and the Prime Minister.

Fourthly, the state media – television, radio, and the press – shall be regulated by an independent body for instances of bias and the propagation of hate speech. Reform of the state media will a lengthy process, and, thus, in the short term all that is feasible is that there is an effective stop to all political bias and hate speech.

Add to this President Zuma’s latest comment that SADC observers need to be deployed well in advance of the election – now actually if the statements by the President and the Minister of Justice are to be taken seriously.

All of this will be difficult to achieve, but not impossible, but the big question is what to do if there is no credible attempt at reform. There can be only one position, that responsible political parties should not dignify flawed elections by participation. Actually, this should be their position right now. Whatever the constitution says, either the old or the new, adherence to minimal legalism will not solve the Zimbabwe crisis or bring legitimacy to the state if elections are a farce, and elections are farcical if citizens cannot speak, assemble, associate, and vote in complete freedom.

South Africa and SADC seem to see this quite clearly, but do Zimbabwean political parties. So, no reforms, no elections must be the call by all!

written by

Tony Reeler


[1] RAU (2012), On Restoring National Institutions and Elections. The Governance Programme. March 2012. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT; Reeler, A. P (2013), Of Camels, Constitutions, and Elections. February 2013. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

What is Election Violence?


This seems a rather stupid question to ask, and especially in Zimbabwe where we talk about this endlessly. However, this is not a trivial question, and we remember 2008 and 2002 more clearly than we do 2005. Simply put, is the killing, beating, and raping of citizens worse from the point of elections than the threatening, terrifying, and starving of the them? It all depends on the purpose and the consequence.

 

If the consequence is to change the result of the vote and hence who governs, then surely both are equivalent as regards the final result: that those who use either strategy subvert the real purpose of elections? Which is what? Surely that the citizens can ensure, freely, that those that govern have the mandate to govern?

 

So, we need to be very clear, when we talk about elections, and we talk about election violence, that we are clear about what this is. So, when killing, beating, and raping do not happen, but threatening, terrifying, and starving does, we are certain that election violence still happened. We need no repeats of 2008 and 2002, or  even 2005!

 

So what do we mean when we talk about election violence? Consider this definition:

 

…Acts or threats of coercion, intimidation, or physical harm perpetrated to affect an

electoral process or that arises in the context of electoral competition. When

perpetrated to affect an electoral process, violence may be employed to influence the process of elections – such as efforts to delay, disrupt, or derail a poll – and to influence the outcomes: the determining of winners in competitive races for political office or to secure approval or disapproval of referendum questions.

 

As Timothy Sisk points out above this is considerably broader than the presence of physical violence: it is the range of activities aimed at subverting the will of ordinary citizens to freely exercise their choice[1].

 

Electoral violence is a sub-type of political violence in which actors employ coercion in an

instrumental way to advance their interests or achieve specific political ends. Similarly,

societies prone to experiencing election-related violence are normally vulnerable to

broader kinds of political violence; Kosovo, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, or

Colombia are examples of instances in which electoral violence is embedded in a

broader, often ongoing context of deep-rooted social conflict.

 

Electoral violence includes acts, such as assassination of opponents or spontaneous

fisticuffs between rival groups of supporters and threats, coercion, and intimidation of

opponents, voters, or election officials. Threat and intimidation is a form of coercion

that is just as powerful as acts of violence can be. Indeed, one purpose of acts of

terrorism such as tossing a grenade into a crowd of rival supporters is an act

diabolically designed to induce fear and to intimidate (e.g., to suppress mobilization or

voting by that group).

 

Violent acts can be targeted against people or things, such as the targeting of

communities or candidates or the deliberate destruction of campaign materials, vehicles,

offices, or ballot boxes.

 

Electoral violence is more than just physical violence: it is the purpose behind violence, and the oscillation between physical violence and psychological violence that enable us to understand this purpose in Zimbabwe. The results of the elections in 2005 can only be understood in the context of the violence of 2002 and 2008. That 2005 was less violent than the two previous elections is not really the point, and it would be useful here if the South African Government would stop contesting the release of the Khampepe/Moseneke report: we could then see the nexus between 2000/2002 and 2005.

 

And, just maybe, SADC would own up to the Principles that it promulgated so piously in 2005, and start to insist that the GPA required constitutional change and reform, then elections, rather than accepting the weak compromise offered by the GNU of constitutional change, then elections and reform. Then maybe the SADC Treaty would be a real, substantive document as opposed to a loose-leaf folder from which pages are removed whenever they are inconvenient! And they are especially inconvenient when elections (and sometimes courts and court decisions) leave the members in potential conflict with each other over who has the right to rule.


[1] Sisk, T. D, Elections in Fragile States: Between Voice and Violence. Paper Prepared for The International Studies Association Annual Meeting. San Francisco, California. March 24-28, 2008.

Displacements: Old Wine in New Bottles


Over the decades, forced displacement has been frequently used in Zimbabwe as a political weapon. During the Liberation War, hundreds of thousands of rural Zimbabweans were forced from their homes and into “keeps”, so-called “protected villages”, in order to prevent their support for the freedom fighters. It is a tactic that has been repeatedly used subsequently since 2000, with Operation Murambatsvina the most notorious of the many examples.

However, it is not so evident to many that there has massive displacement, probably exceeding that of Operation Murambatsvina [OM], under the land reform process begun in 2000. This displacement has not been as overtly dramatic as OM, but has permanently displaced many more than under OM.

It is certainly the case that the displacement of the white commercial farmers has received huge media coverage whilst that of the black commercial farmworkers has not received anything like the same attention.

RAU has been examining the effects of displacement over the past 5 years, and issued a number of reports on this, as well as a documentary that has received critical appreciation. The report and the film on the effects of displacement on the commercial farm workers can be found by following the links below:

GAPWUZ (2009), If something wrong…The invisible suffering of commercial farm workers and their families due to “land reform”. Report prepared by the Research & Advocacy Unit and the Justice for Agriculture Trust. November 2009. HARARE: GENERAL AGRICULTURAL AND PLANTATION WORKERS UNION OF ZIMBABWE.

 

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=142&Itemid=90]

 

RAU (2009), “House of Justice”. 26 minute documentary on the SADC Tribunal and current farm invasions in contempt of the ruling. HARARE: RESEARCH & ADVOCACY UNIT.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqOjiq19rHk].

 

JAG/GAPWUZ (2007), DESTRUCTION OF ZIMBABWE’S BACKBONE INDUSTRY IN PURSUIT OF POLITICAL POWER. A qualitative report on events in Zimbabwe’s commercial farming sector since the year 2000. Report prepared by the Justice for Agriculture Trust [JAG] & the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe [GAPWUZ]. April 2008. HARARE: JUSTICE FOR AGRICULTURE TRUST.

 

[http://www.researchandadvocacyunit.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=142&Itemid=90]

 

Of “communication devices”-Are we going back to the stone age?


Stone age era…

In the olden days, there were no radios, neither were there telephones and I am sure if anyone had foretold that an age would come when people could talk to each other, seeing each other’s faces on surfaces that look like the deep clear waters of a still pond, -the people of old would have dismissed this as mere falsehoods or witchcraft. The telephones came with the long code linked to the post and telecommunications poles then came the radios. The cell phones came, huge as bricks at first (Ericson’s, Nokia 5110 and 6210) then small enough to fit into the palms (Nokia 3410,3310), then tiny (Nokia 1100,1110) and then they grew big again but this time they were predicted to be smarter than those who owned them (the age of Apple iPhones ).  I thought and believed all these were wonderful innovations that would allow information to flow easily, accurately, quickly. Indeed it is owing to smart phones that citizen journalism has found its best expression via blogs, twitter, facebook, etcetera etcetera…

Moving on to the present…in Zimbabwe…

The current Zimbabwean Constitution (as agreed upon on 21 December 1979 at Lancaster House in London and amended 19 times by the Parliament of Zimbabwe) has its own weaknesses. However, the absence of protections of freedom of speech and the media is NOT one of those weaknesses. Section 20 (1) of the Constitution clearly provides for the protection of every citizen’s entitlement to receive and impart information without any interference. Who then would have dreamt that on the eve of the 89th birthday of the President of Zimbabwe, Zimbabweans would wake up to be told that radios are now deemed ‘illegal’ or that modern technology such as smart phones is now labelled as “subversive tools” aimed at “communicating hate speech?” Whose imagination could have conjured thoughts of radios and cellphones being banned?

Are the actions of the police legal…

Two things need to be interrogated in this case. First we need to establish if owning a radio is prohibited under Zimbabwean law and second assess the efficacy of the argument that the police are putting forward for the confiscation of radios and smart phones; namely that these gadgets are being used to disseminate “false” information. This is not only critical, but prudent too given that a sizeable chunk of the population is now questioning whether it is now a crime to own a radio and whether it is wise to own ‘smart’ phones, particularly for the rural folk.

Of communication devices…

It is clear that there is no legal provision under Zimbabwean law that prohibits ownership of a radio. For a moment let us assume that the “communication devices” are “broadcasting apparatus” as provided for in the Broadcasting Services Act, which defines them as “apparatus constructed or adapted for use in transmitting or receiving broadcasting services.” Let us also assume that the reason why the radios are being confiscated is that they broadcast information on Short Wave frequency from radio stations that have not been approved or given permission to broadcast in Zimbabwe by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe. I fail to see how the actions of the police can be seen as a legal action, even with this scenario. The Act prohibits the“establishment or erection of broadcasting apparatus which is not of a class, type or standard approved by the broadcasting Authority for use.” If we go the legalese way can owning a radio be equated with establishing or erecting a “broadcasting apparatus?” I think not.

Assuming that I am wrong in my interpretation and owning a radio IS “erecting a broadcasting apparatus” could the intention and purpose of the legislators in crafting this provision have been to micro-manage the types of radios that people and organisations or businesses bring into their homes and offices.  If the answer is yes and the Act is interpreted in this manner then the police have a blanket 365 day/24 hour warrant of search and seizure in people’s private homes to ensure that any radio that broadcasts short wave radio including the old gramophone that my father and I used back then in 1993 to listen to BBC World News every morning goes into the “safe” hands of the state. Surely such blanket powers of entry into, and search and seizure of private property would be ultra vires the Constitution in particular provisions protecting individuals from arbitrary search and seizure.

Operating illegal stations…

Let us also assume that the police argue their case differently and say that the Broadcasting Act prohibits the operation of a signal transmitting station on a broadcasting service band which is not approved by the Broadcasting Authority and we assume that short wave radio is one of those service bands that are prohibited, would the confiscation of the radios be reasonably justifiable in a just society? It seems pretty clear to me that what the Act prohibits is the “OPERATION” of broadcasting service bands such as radio stations without being given permission to do so. Is ownership of a radio that receives information from such a service band “operating” the service band? I think not because whether or not radios are confiscated from individuals who could access that particular service, the confiscation will not render the service inoperational, hence that action of confiscating a radio cannot be justified as a means of putting the service band out of operation.

Mere intimidation and abuse of power…

The reality is that the police confiscated mere radios that receive information that is being passed through the airwaves. Firstly, the individual who owns it has no control over what is broadcast on the different available channels. Surely the responsibility of what information is imparted lies with the service provider in this case the broadcaster from where the transmission originates.  Secondly,the individual who owns the radio has no way of imparting the information that they have received via the radio using the radio itself, unless they do so by word of mouth hence in that instance the radio device cannot be construed as a two way communication device, can it? Thirdly, it would seem quite conclusive that confiscating the radio from the individual who is at the receiving of the channel of communication is therefore as futile and as misguided as cutting a branch to destroy a tree. It appears the motive in confiscating the radios was not guided by any legal basis but was a mere confirmation of the exigencies of limitless power by a powerful force that is unregulated.

If we choose to deem the actions of the police legal and buy into their argument that the “devices” are being used to broadcast “false information” then would that also justify the confiscation of all televisions and satellite dishes and the closure of the Multi-choice offices in Zimbabwe where BBC NEWS, CNN, Sky News and such other television stations release information that consistently contradicts government positions and which information is persistently dismissed in state media as “falsehoods”?

Radios as threats to peace and security…

The Rwandan genocide bears witness to how a radio can be used as a medium for transmitting hate speech that could lead to instability and conflict. Hate speech is defined as language, which by its very nature is intended to excite hostility and public contempt for individuals or groups against whom verbal attacks through disparaging the social group or member. Hate speech is used to systematically undermine and subjugate the reputation of identified victims through the use of insulting and offensive language. However the issue remains that the responsibility of the transmission of hate speech is not with the radio -“the transmission device” that broadcasts such information but the radio station “the source of transmitted information.” Confiscating the radio would not change the content that continues to be broadcast by the source of the hate speech.

Is it hate speech…

The question is; in the Zimbabwean scenario, when an alternative (read non-state aligned) radio station or newspaper or television station publishes TRUE INFORMATION that discredits the sitting government in the eyes of the general public, is that hate speech? And while we are on the topic of hate speech, would it not be prudent for the police to also follow up and ensure confiscation of “broadcasting apparatus” from radio and television stations that call other citizens “sellouts” “puppets” or “traitors.” Maybe, just maybe if these words would not conjure images of burning bodies, disfigured and amputated arms and legs, and lashed backs-images of the fate of individuals perceived to be “sellouts” and “traitors,” “vatengesi,” “abatakhati” during the liberation struggle (as narrated by my revolutionary family), maybe then they would not appear to incite violence and hatred now. Many a woman have reported that they have been labelled “so and so’s prostitutes” as they were raped for holding certain political opinions, is that not hate speech? The MMPZ has also issued a detailed analysis of incidents constituting hate speech, should the police not be guided by this report to know where to go to confiscate “communication devices” that feed hate speech? 

This incident makes one thing very clear to me, that it was mere rhetoric when the Principals pledged in the Global Political Agreement to “create an environment of tolerance and respect among Zimbabweans, and that all citizens are treated with dignity and decency irrespective of age, gender, race, ethnicity, place of origin or political affiliation.”

The Arrogance of Power


“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Lord Acton’s words are as true today as they were in 1887. When politicians become corrupted by power, they become arrogant and tend to think that they own the people. They completely forget that their mandate is to serve the people. Instead, they demand to be called titles like “chef” and in most cases join the looting spree.

The very basis of the Inclusive Government in Zimbabwe was that it would give the warring parties, ZANU PF and the MDC formations the opportunity to institute political and legislative reforms that would create an environment conducive for free, fair and credible elections. The reforms included crafting a new charter for the country, bringing transparency, accountability and non-partisanship to the security sector, and ensuring the existence of a free media amongst others. The emphasis was on reforms before anything else and this was clear even from the SADC perspective. The ZANU PF congress resolution in 2011 pushed for early elections and the move was resisted by all parties. This was consistent with the message – REFORMS FIRST.

What happened to the reform agenda?

A constitution does not guarantee free and fair elections; these are guaranteed by the institutions of the state, which are currently exceedingly compromised by their political partisanship. The real challenge for the Inclusive Government, and something being continually demanded by SADC, is to create institutions that are manned by competent professional people that discharge their mandate without fear or favour.

We need traditional leaders who are non-partisan and who abide by the Traditional Leaders’ Act. We need a police force that is not manned by people who publicly attend political party rallies and declare their allegiance, thus not obeying the Police Act. There is a need to address the structures of violence in the communities where women were attacked and raped, where children had to witness violence targeted at their teachers, and where schools were threatened with closure. This machinery is still intact and this is a priority for reform. It is what people expect of its leaders and anything short of addressing these problems, and claiming that they are solved by a constitution that no-one has had time to examine, is misleading. Leaders must remember that they are in power due to the will of the populace, which is where real democratic sovereignty lies.

John Makumbe – a true hero


Very few people can be described as heroes. It is a term that should be used to describe a person who overcomes enormous adversity for the common good: such a person was John Makumbe. To be born an albino in Zimbabwe 63 years ago, and to die being remembered for being one of the most tolerant, non-discriminatory, peace-loving, and open persons in the nation is to be a hero. Others will describe his contribution, but I wish to honour the remarkable man that John Makumbe was.

John once told me that this gift of his for being tolerant and loving did not come easy. Until a caring pastor showed him that he was not a freak, he dealt with the mocking and ridicule through violence, and through the support of his loving family. The first he gave up, but he never lost the gift of loving: his caring and understanding of the trials faced by people carried him into a special place in the hearts of the nation. More than anyone alive today, John Makumbe showed the qualities of the true democrat because he knew that the way in which democracy should develop depended on tolerance and respect for others. He lived this more than any other person that I have ever met.

He was also the most courageous man that I have ever met. He turned adversity into strength, and strength into love. No one that I have ever met was less daunted about speaking truth to power. John, in the hearts of tens of thousands of Zimbabweans, is the person we will all remember as the person who said what no-one else would dare to say, who would speak the words we all wished to say, and it always would be the words that could carry us forward into a better place. When he spoke, the words resonated in all of us.

John also had another extraordinary gift. He could take very complex problems and then make them simple, and, even better than this, then make the very simple funny. Laughter was very close to the surface in John: he could so easily have been a sarcastic and cynical commentator, after all he was a deeply respected academic and academics have this training in the art of debate and criticism. John was no less a critic, but he delivered the criticism with wit and immense good humour. The stories that described this gift are legendary.

I remember John sitting in the Sheraton with a group of us waiting to see the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers, and the Zimbabwe Government delegation walking out of the meeting, led by John Nkomo. They greeted John – mainly because he had deliberately placed his chair close to their path and the watching cameras – and he responded by alternatively showing the closed fist and the open hand, and saying loudly, “which team are you”? Everyone laughed, even the Government delegation, but whom else in Zimbabwe in 2000 would have dared tease ZANU PF in that way.

He was an outrageous political tease: in the House of Lords, Brussels, Washington – in fact everywhere – John would push the high and mighty through his unique gift of allying humour to clear political analysis.  In the House of Lords, I have a vivid memory of him teasing the Lords attending a briefing, suggesting that they visit Zimbabwe to see things for themselves, and, when one eminent Lord pointed out that they might be deported or arrested, John told them, straight-faced, that this was the point. Their faces were a sight to behold, but were relieved when John burst into his inimitable laughter.

But whilst he debunked and teased the high and mighty, he had a touch for the ordinary person, for these were the people he understood and fought for his whole life. From the formation of FODEZI through his chairmanship of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition to his final acceptance of joining a political party, John always kept close to his heart (and his expression) his deepest beliefs in democracy, citizen power, and, above all, his deepest belief in the family and the community as the bedrock for both of these.

But John’s greatest strengths were his zest for life and love, expressed with his inimitable humour. Even those who disagreed with him, and found his opinions often outrageous, would find themselves laughing in spite of themselves, and later seeing his point. This was why he was our greatest teacher, one of the very few who could get us to see the important things in life, the ways in which we could be better than we are, the ways in which we could overcome adversity, and then see the deeper message.

John Makumbe lived life to the fullest. He lived his beliefs to the fullest. He was the best example to our nation of how an ordinary person can become extraordinary. His legacy to Zimbabwe is immense, not because he enjoyed power, but because he showed as all by example that we can be personally powerful. He was clever, brave, honest, compassionate, and caring, and the only sadness is that he did not live to see the democracy for which he gave so much of his living. We must remember his legacy, but never forget the way in which he lived that legacy: principle and love were his greatest gifts.