nvestigate the matter and to discipline those responsible’
BULAWAYO – Last weekend both factions of the MDC attempted to hold meetings, as is their right in terms of section 21 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, which were frustrated through the actions of the police, the courts and the Minister of Home Affairs.
In Bulawayo the MDC (Mutambara) intended to launch its defiance campaign at the City Hall on Saturday. Having initially received no objection from the police, it was then subjected to a police raid on February 15 and the effective arrest of its administrator, who was then advised that the meeting had been banned.
When Secretary General Welshman Ncube appealed to the Minister of Home Affairs in terms of section 25 (5) of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) he was told a decision had been taken to issue a blanket ban on all political meetings due to the “volatile situation prevailing in the country”. Given the fact that the minister has no right to issue blanket bans a decision was taken to defy the illegal ban and launch a challenge in the High Court.
An urgent court application was made seeking an interdict preventing the police from banning the meeting. One of the points raised was that section 25 (5) of POSA violates both sections 18 and 21 of the Zimbabwean Constitution. Section 25 (5) gives the Minister of Home Affairs the ultimate power to determine whether political meetings should be allowed to take place or not. The minister is obviously not a neutral arbiter.
Section 18 (9) of the Constitution states: “every person is entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court”. Section 25 (5) of POSA clearly violates this right as it gives a member of one political party the right to determine the affairs of competing political party.
This also offends section 21 (1) of the Constitution, which states: “the person shall not be hindered in his freedom of assembly and association”. The power given to the minister is an unreasonable hindrance in the exercise of the right to assemble and associate freely.
The registrar of the High Court in Bulawayo was unable to locate a single judge who could hear the urgent application. Judges have a constitutional obligation to be available 24 hours a day. At the very least a duty judge should be readily available at all times. This resulted in a serious breach of the MDC’s constitutional rights to seek an urgent interdict against the police and the minister. The Judge President is urged to investigate the matter and to discipline those responsible.
These events confirm that the Zanu (PF) regime is determined to flout the rule of law. Unlike what happened in Bulawayo, the MDC (Tsvangirai) was advised of the banning of its meeting, scheduled for February 18, early enough to lodge an application in the High Court during normal business hours.
Commendably, the High Court in Harare granted an application in favour of the MDC confirming that its meeting could go ahead. However, the police reportedly disregarded the order and refused to allow the MDC to hold the meeting. Hundreds of police officers were deployed in a determined effort to prevent it.
If these reports are correct, and we have no reason to doubt their veracity, the police must be condemned in the strongest possible terms for this flagrant disregard of an order granted by the High Court of Zimbabwe.
The weekend events sadly endorse my belief that the Judiciary will always be seen by Zanu (PF) as some cumbersome appendix which is necessary to maintain the façade of democracy and which on occasions can be useful in furthering a political goal. But the Judiciary will never be an institution which is revered by Zanu (PF) as an indispensable part of a Zimbabwean democracy”.
In any normal democracy the flagrant disregard of an order of court and its constitutional obligations by the police would result in the head of that police force being forced to resign. That of course will not happen in Zimbabwe because it is not a constitutional democracy. Nevertheless, we call on both the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of Home Affairs to resign in view of the disgraceful events that occurred in Zimbabwe this past weekend.
photo: credit for pic: Bishop Asare. Captions: Police block the road leadind to the MDC Tsvangirai Rally
venue in Harare on Sunday in defiance of a High Court order.