HomeOpinion & AnalysisA regime of double standards

A regime of double standards

The Zimbabwean regime is behaving as if it is the only country that is facing the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet it is becoming the exception in the region. Plenty of other countries are going ahead with elections. Among African peers, Malawi, Burundi, Guinea, and Tanzania have all held elections during the pandemic. Namibia is due to hold regional council and local authority elections on November 25. The elections authority has devised a Covid-19 Mitigation Strategy. This is what Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) had done before it was bullied into submission by the regime.

BY ALEX MAGAISA

Another neighbour, South Africa is also going ahead with municipal ward by-elections on November 11. Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour has had far greater cases of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is going ahead with electoral processes having worked on risk-mitigation mechanisms considering the pandemic. Zec was simply doing what its peers were doing to prepare for elections during a pandemic. However, the Mnangagwa regime would have none of it.  

The great irony is that this week President Mnangagwa flew to Tanzania to attend the inauguration of President John Magufuli whose re-election took place during the pandemic. A man who has banned elections in his home does not see the irony of going to congratulate another man who has held an election in his home. It might appear as if the hypocrisy eludes Mnangagwa but on the contrary, he knows exactly what he is doing. He simply does not care for the rights and freedoms of the citizens and elections for him are a nuisance that can be avoided if he does not want them.

The reason for suspending elections is because the Mnangagwa regime has no incentive to hold them. The bulk of the by-elections are in opposition strongholds where Zanu PF has very little chance of success. More significantly, Mnangagwa does not want to disturb the false narrative that places Thokozani Khupe and her party as the legitimate opposition. Khupe returned to Parliament via the backdoor following the controversial expulsion of MDC Alliance members. Holding these by-elections would lead to a mass return of MDC Alliance MPs into Parliament because the surrogate opposition led by Khupe has no chance of winning them.  A heavy defeat will debunk Khupe’s fraudulent claim to be leader of the legitimate opposition.

The strategy of the authoritarian regime has been to lock out and exclude the legitimate opposition led by Nelson Chamisa while promoting Khupe’s outfit. By-elections in MDC Alliance strongholds are therefore not in the regime’s interests. The regime has found false cover in the Covid-19 pandemic to avoid these by-elections. Therefore, the regime contradicts itself by relaxing restrictions in other sectors while maintaining tight restrictions when it comes to elections.

It is behaving like the authoritarian regime that it is. It is averse to competitive elections.
 
Persecution of Hopewell Chin’ono
Last week, the regime once again arrested prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono. A group comprising police officers and officers from the Office of the President took him from his home early evening on November 3. He was detained at Harare Central Police Station. The initial charges against Chin’ono were that he had allegedly committed contempt of court through a tweet. Chin’ono had made a comment on a letter which was written by judges raising several allegations against Chief Justice Malaba authoritarian style of leadership of the judiciary.

Later another charge was added, namely that Chin’ono had obstructed the course of justice. This was in relation to a tweet in which Chin’ono had commented on how the state was handling the gold smuggling case involving a high-profile PEP, Henrietta Rushwaya. Rushwaya was caught red-handed at the airport attempting to smuggle 6kg of gold to Dubai. Chin’ono tweeted that his sources at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had told him that the state had made a deal with Rushwaya, in which the state would consent to bail.

Chin’ono’s tweet was accurate, because that is precisely what happened. State prosecutors bizarrely consented to lax bail conditions in a matter where some resistance to bail would have been expected. As it happened, the magistrate stood in the way of the state’s consent thwarting the plan to grant the beleaguered Rushwaya an easy way out of state custody.

Incredibly, the state is now charging Chin’ono with obstructing the course of justice. The man was only doing what journalists do: reporting news backed by sources. It is trite that a journalist’s sources are confidential. Section 61(2) of the Constitution makes it clear that “Every person is entitled to freedom of the media, which freedom includes protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources of information”. The state cannot force Chin’ono to reveal his sources. If journalists were charged with corruption because they have sourced information from confidential sources with the state, every decent journalist would be in jail. To insinuate corruption on the part of Chin’ono as the regime is doing is absurd.

In any event, what Chin’ono reported turned out to be true. If anything, he should have been applauded for the scoop. Instead, the regime has locked him up. They should be investigating why Rushwaya was being treated leniently by the prosecutors.

Regime’s hypocrisy again
The regime’s spokesperson, Nick Mangwana attempted a lame justification of the arrest of Chin’ono by saying that the state was protecting the “integrity of the justice administration system”. “In a democracy there has to be a balance between freedom of speech and protecting the integrity of a justice administration system”, he pontificated. “Unrestrained disrespect to the court can collapse a justice delivery system”, he added. For Mangwana, Chin’ono was disrespecting the court and deserved to be arrested. But Mangwana, like his boss, suffers double standards.

Just a couple of days earlier, Mangwana had issued a press statement exonerating President Mnangagwa’s wife Auxilia and their son Collins who were named by witnesses in the gold smuggling scandal. Before that, the police had also issued a similar statement. Both statements were issued after Auxilia issued her own statement on Facebook, challenging the police to issue a statement clearing her and her son’s names following the allegations. A witness in the case against Rushwaya, one Gift Karanda had allegedly told authorities that the gold in question belonged to Auxilia and her son. Auxilia took umbrage at this and denied any involvement, hence the demand that the police exonerate her.

The fact that the police duly obliged smacked of submission to the demands of Auxilia. The government’s intervention through Mangwana was also unbecoming considering that the matter was already before the courts. It is not for Auxilia to tell the police what to do. If she was named as a suspect, the police should apply the rules that it applies to every citizen. After all, every other named person was arrested and questioned by the police.

lThis is an extract from Magaisa’s latest Big Saturday Read blog post

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