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Ban on demonstrations: Who will police regulatory authority?

Demonstrations

By Farai Chirimumimba

It’s fair to say that the government is now trolling sections 56 and 59 of the Constitution that talk of equal treatment before the law and give citizens right to peaceful demonstrations respectively. I hope the courts haven’t decided to be concocted in this shame.

In a recent press conference, the minister of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, Cain Mathema made it no secret that the government will not entertain an MDC lead demonstration. Just yesterday he said the MDC wants to cause anarchy at growth points. As superbly highlighted by several media outlets, the hypocrisy around this blanket ban on demonstrations is startling and completely lacking any self-awareness from the government.

I’d like to think that someone with even a passing interest in right to demonstrate and petition the government would now understand what an absolute kick in the teeth this is for rule of law and democracy. Only a couple of months ago we learned that there is power in numbers.

Nowhere in the world would a government expect zero demonstrations. Let alone when it has strapped a suicide vest around its people with the obscene austerity measures that only directly impact hard on the poverty stricken workers and the general populace. We’re not talking about a mere inconvenience, a cut-back on a few luxury items in the trolly, or one less drink down the pub. We’re talking about the absolute definition of the poverty line.

Not only have the obscene austerity measures crushed the people, but the government is also doing very little to address issues around political reforms, the axis of most of all these challenges we are facing. For nearly two years I’ve observed a stubborn and arrogant government propagate austerity measures for the poor whilst the elite swim in high end perks. It’s no secret that a plane is hired 8 000 kms away to fly President Emmerson Mnangwagwa for a distance of 271 km. Is this the austerity?

I have seen a series of articles. One of them highlighted the crucial need to reinvent ourselves  if we’re serious about making the government accountable and give ourselves a proper chance at survival. But with each harsh prohibition order comes a period of inaction. Without lawful action, nothing can really change with the regime. As Edward Snowden aptly put it:  “Wherever you are, remember that a constitution cannot protect people: It is  paper. Rather, it is the people that protect the constitution.”

The reason I’ve chosen to write this article is out of a personal mix of fear, pride, embarrassment and stigma. Yes, it really is hard to admit you’re for propping up the government to action in 2019.

I’m in fear, primarily, of what comes next. As it currently stands, police prohibition orders are back- to -back raising fears of perpetual blanket ban on MDC peaceful demonstrations. What other language does our government understand besides peaceful demonstrations? When will it fix the broken economy? When will we be withdrawn from misery? Who would put it right? My weight is dropping due to a brew of anxiety and low income. I type this latest piece on my phone that’s comprehensively broken, because my laptop package stopped working several month ago. The small chance I stood of finding trickles of income are now diminishing as I find myself without the tools to forage.

The regulatory authority issued a prohibition notice against the holding of the demonstrations on 16 August 2019 in Harare Central Business District, in terms of Section 26 (9) of the Public Order and Security (POSA) Act, Chapter 11:17.” Using the same section, police were to also ban demonstrations in Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and even in Mashonaland East, where protests were targeting Mahusekwa, Mutoko, Murehwa, Marondera, Goromonzi and Wedza, while Rusape, Chipinge and Nyanga were prime targets in Manicaland.

By effecting back- to-back ban on demonstrations and right to petition the government we’ve reduced the complexities of living in Zimbabwe down to a linear assessment which lasts as long as the regulatory authority wish, and then ultimately one’s rights are decided on political standing. Demonstrations  have become one of the few avenues which has maintained its voice in challenging the government’s brutal mishandling of the dissenting population.

The blanket ban on demostrations remind of the Constitutional Court judgment that repealed section 27 of POSA Act that allowed the police to issue prohibition orders in certain districts for up to a month. In her blistering concurrence judgement with eight other Justices, Justice Rita Makarau ruled that a despotic regulating authority could lawfully invoke these powers without end.

“In addition to failing to pass the test on fairness, necessity and reasonableness, there is another feature of section 27 of POSA that I find disturbing. It has no time frame or limitation as to the number of times the regulating authority can invoke the powers granted to him or her under the section,” she said.

“Thus, a despotic regulatory authority could lawfully invoke these powers without end. This could be achieved by publishing notices prohibiting demonstrations back-to-back as long as each time the period of the ban is for one month or less. It, thus, has the potential of negating or nullifying the rights not only completely, but perpetually.”

Every so often you do get a glimmer of hope, even if it’s fleeting. The Constitutional Court in striking off section 27 championed rights to demonstrate and petition the government. You could almost compare Section 26 (9) blanket or back to back ban on demonstrations  to “nullifying the rights (to demonstrate and petition the government) not only completely, but perpetually.” The same reason why section 27 was declared unconstitutional. Will there be another Constitutional Court challenge? Only time will tell as POSA will soon be repealed and replaced with another draconic Maintenance of Order and Peace Act (MOPA).

It’s not often I fail to come up with a suitable sign-off paragraph to a article, but on this occasion I do admit to struggling. My own circumstances now lack hope. This blow by the regulatory authority in back to back invoking of section 26 (9) is hard to compute and becomes the fuel of recurring dreams.

You’re never quite able to fall asleep owing to a busy mind, trying to figure out the next step towards survival.  We desperately need to collectively do more to solve this perpetual gear the regulatory authority has decided to strike. I don’t have much hope of that happening soon unless we reinvent ourselves within the confines of the law.

Remember, “(T)here are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”- Vladmir Lenin. I find solace in Psalm 60:12: “In God we will be strong.”

 

 

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende